UN tool will map ‘science of cities’ as rapid urbanization emerges as force in sustainable development

June 9, 2016 – With the urban growth boom driving trends that will affect all aspects of sustainable development, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) is set to release today details of a new scientific tool that measures the rate of global urbanization, its characteristics, and the potential effect of urban sprawl on the quality of life for city dwellers.

The UN Sample of Cities uses a representative sample of 200 cities worldwide, both in the developed and developing world, to track and interpret trends relating to aspects of urban life as diverse as air and water quality, the time it takes to travel from home to work, physical proximity to employment, housing affordability, and access to enjoyable public space.

Whilst the world continues to urbanize at an alarming rate, understanding just how cities evolve, how that headlong evolution can be managed, and the effect of urban life on humanity has lagged behind. According to UN-HABITAT, since 2007, more than half of the world’s population lives in urban centres and cities, and by 2050 as many as 70 per cent of a projected population of 9 billion people will be urban dwellers.

The UN Sample of Cities, launched at UN headquarters in New York today by Joan Clos, Executive Director of UN Habitat, Eduardo López Moreno, Coordinator, Research and Capacity Development Branch, UN-HABITAT (via telephone), Shlomo Angel, Adjunct Professor & Senior Research Scholar, New York University, and Anthony Flint, Fellow & Director of Public Affairs, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, provides open-source data to researchers to draw scientifically valid comparisons between world cities.

This ‘science of cities’ adopts cities as units of analysis and studies them together to discover patterns of similarities and differences, and the consequent impact of urbanization on human quality of life. “Cities, how they form, and the effects of urbanization on the quality of human life must now be treated as a science,” said Mr. Clos, which added: “The unprecedented confluence of climate change, population boom, and the rush to live in cities means that our critical human development will take place in cities.”

“How will we manage this vast change? What secrets do we need to unlock? Does life in a city mean doom or boon for our children and the generations that follow?” are some of the key issues raised by the research and findings in the survey.

“We are going to monitor global and regional progress of urbanization worldwide, and this is going to be a tool that is going to give us information in that sense,” Mr. Clos told reporters in New York.

“We encourage the research institutions from the world and people interested in analyzing – in an objective manner – the evolution of urbanization to jump in and to collaborate with this worldwide research exercise,” he added.

The UN Sample of Cities, released ahead of the Habitat III – shorthand for the major global summit formally known as the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, set to be held in Quito, Ecuador, on 17-20 October 2016 – was created, tested, and applied in a series of studies undertaken by a tri-partite collaboration between UN-Habitat, the NYU Urban Expansion Program at New York University, and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

Three additional research programs in this tri-partite collaboration are already making use of the UN Sample of Cities. One programme uses detailed satellite imagery analysis to measure the proportion of public and private space, and the quality of the urban fabric. A second uses a network of on-the-ground informants to gather information on the regulatory regimes governing land and housing, whilst a third program measures housing affordability.

Thousands of desperate civilians on the run as battle for Fallujah continues – UN

Nearly 3,700 people, or 624 families, have fled Fallujah over the past week amid a new offensive by Iraqi forces to retake the besieged city from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), the United Nations said today, with humanitarian officials also reporting that those civilians left behind risk being used as ‘human shields’ by the terrorists.

According to figures provided by authorities, about 1,300 of them are staying in the al-Iraq camp in the Ameriyat al-Falluja district, where the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is working to provide assistance.

Others are scattered in one of several other Government-run camps in the district or staying with relatives.

“Iraqi forces are helping to transport families escaping the city, and have set up a hotline to provide information to people wanting to leave,” said UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler.

UNHCR has received reports of casualties among civilians in the Falluja city centre due to heavy shelling, including seven members of one family on 28 May.

He also noted that 500 men and boys over 12-years-old are held for security screening, which can take five to seven days, and some 27 men were released yesterday.

Meanwhile, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the country reported today that around 50,000 civilians trapped inside the Iraqi city of Fallujah, risk being turned into “human shields” by the terrorist group Da’esh, according to Lise Grande told UN Radio that the UN and other agencies were doing all they can to protect them.

INTERVIEW: Why humanitarian aid is failing

The humanitarian sector is failing to protect civilians from violence, a top UN advisor stressed today at the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) in Istanbul, Turkey.

Jan Egeland, who is at the two-day conference in his capacity as Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, is also the Special Advisor to Staffan de Mistura, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, where millions of people are in besieged areas with little to no food or medical assistance.

The Summit, which ends today, is bringing together government representatives, leaders of the private and public sectors, as well as UN officials, to improve the world’s response to crises. Affected communities, including many youth, and humanitarian workers are also in attendance to share first-hand experiences about the situation on the ground when disaster hits.

We’re doing lots of good work for tens of millions of people but there are still millions we are not even reaching.

The UN News Centre met with Mr. Egeland after a press conference focused on how humanitarian aid has to be more efficient and cost-effective not to fail those most in need.

UN News Centre: What was your main message at the World Humanitarian Summit today?

Jan Egeland: My talk today was that via besieged areas in Syria, and Fallujah in Iraq to Yemen, to many parts of Africa, we are failing millions of people, we are not reaching them. That is a theme we need to focus on at the humanitarian summit. We’re doing lots of good work for tens of millions of people but there are still millions we are not even reaching.

UN News Centre: At the Summit, there are five core responsibilities world leaders are asked to promote. One of them is respecting the rules of war, such as protecting civilians. What can concretely come out of this conference to achieve that commitment?

Jan Egeland: One very concrete things I would hope is that leaders who travel back from here would say—can we at least stop assisting, aiding, giving arms, giving money to those armed groups that are systematically violating humanitarian law of armed conflict, and bombing hospitals, bombing schools, abusing women and children—that kind of behaviour we cannot continue supporting. So let’s blacklist this division and that armed group and that army and that government. They have to behave better before they get our support. That would be my wish.

UN News Centre: The Security Council recently adopted a resolution on protecting healthcare and civilians. How does that translate on the ground right now?

Jan Egeland: There is unfortunately a big distance from the Security Council chambers to the battlefield in the sense that the men with arms and power on the ground are not getting the right orders, it doesn’t reach them really. And even when they get the orders, they are not obeying them. That’s what the Security Council has to fix. [Member States] have to make their resolution be implemented—which means they have to go systematically to all of those who are sponsors of armed groups, and say end impunity, end assisting those who do bad things, make it less attractive to do bad things and more attractive to do good things. Then we would see change.

UN News Centre: Turning to the refugee crisis, have you seen action on how countries can come together to better support refugees at this World Humanitarian Summit?

Jan Egeland: Well, there are pledges for more funding for humanitarian work, for internally displaced which are at the bottom of the pit and getting the least of the attention and the resources—as well as for refugees. We lack governments saying they will also uphold humanitarian law and the UN refugee convention, keeping borders open and keeping the right of asylum sacrosanct. As Europeans, when we initiated the refugee convention we really felt that asylum was important when we were the asylum seekers. Why don’t we think it’s equally important now, when we are those to whom people come for asylum?

UN News Centre: Today is the second and last day of the Summit. What do you think has been the biggest achievement in Istanbul?

Jan Egeland: The biggest achievement is to assemble so many humanitarian workers in one place at the same time. There are 5,000 people here and there is recognition of their good humanitarian work. But the problem is what will happen afterwards—will we see that we have better tools, will we see we have better resources, and will see that we are better reaching the millions we are not reaching. We have to be more focused next time, and try to get one thing at a time sorted out.

UN News Centre: Leaders are underlining this is the first ever humanitarian summit. Does that imply that there will be many more to come?

Jan Egeland: Not necessarily in this shape and in this format. But this will be part of a process to make the humanitarian system more efficient, more cost-effective. We must do away with all that ridiculous competition for funding, for credit and what not, and really discuss how can we reach all those we are not reaching, how can we get people out of their endless misery, and get them out of their situation as displaced, as refugees, as chronically poor or chronically exposed to disasters.

At climate summit in Washington, UN officials call to take action ‘to the next level’

Recalling that just two weeks ago, 175 countries came to the United Nations to sign the historic Paris Agreement on climate change, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today said it is time to take climate action to the next level.

“We need to accelerate the speed, scope and scale of our response, locally and globally,” Mr. Ban told participants of the Climate Action Summit 2016 in Washington D.C, a two-day meeting that started today and aims to strengthen the multi-stakeholder approach to climate implementation.

In particular, it is expected to deepen and expand the action coalitions of government, business, finance, philanthropy, civil society and academic leaders launched at the Secretary-General’s Climate Summit 2014 in New York.

“I have been looking forward to this event because it is about solutions – innovation and imagination; collaboration and partnerships between the public and private sectors. Today as never before, the stars are aligning in favour of climate action. Everywhere I look, I see signs of hope,” he said.

Noting that the current Summit would focus on six, high-value areas of multi-stakeholder partnership: sustainable energy; sustainable land-use; cities; transport; and tools for decision-making, the UN chief underscored that strong partnership would be needed at all levels to tackle those challenges.

“No sector of society and no nation can succeed alone. I encourage you to collaborate. Innovate. Invest. Together we can build the world we want,” he said.

The signing of the Paris Agreement on 22 April received overwhelming support from all regions of the world; never before had so many countries signed an international accord in one day.

Adopted in Paris by the 196 Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at a conference known as COP21 last December, the Agreement’s objective is to limit global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius, and to strive for 1.5 degrees Celsius. It will enter into force 30 days after at least 55 countries, accounting for 55 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, deposit their instruments of ratification.

“Two of the world’s largest emitters – China and the United States – have pledged their continued commitment and collaboration,” Mr. Ban stressed, noting that leaders must turn the “promise of Paris” into action and implementation as soon as possible.

The UN chief also announced that in September, on the margins of the G20 meeting, he intends to co-convene a meeting in China similar to this one to further solidify coalitions.

Also speaking at the event, the President of the World Bank Group, Jim Yong Kim said there is no time waste.

“Political agreements are critical but they are just the beginning. We must regain the sense of urgency we all felt on the eve of COP21. Inaction means we will not meet our targets set in Paris, and the global temperature will soar above 2 degrees Celsius. That would spell disaster for us, for our children, and for the planet,” he warned.

Mr. Kim highlighted the World Bank Group’s Climate Action Plan, developed soon after the Paris agreement, which aims to increase its support in a range of areas – from water to crowded cities and from forests to agriculture.

“One part of our plan is to help countries put a price on carbon, which will create incentives for investments in renewable energy and in energy efficiency,” he explained. “In many parts of the world, we have seen the price of renewables like solar and wind falling fast – so fast that they are now competitive with fossil fuels. Private sector investments are pouring in. But we need to expand these breakthroughs and help countries establish the right policies that will drive down the cost of renewable energy even further.”

Over the course of two days, the Summit is expected to drive high-level engagement with “global luminaries” addressing plenary sessions on how to deliver on climate commitments and embed the transformation agenda across the globe in government, key sectors and among the general population.