A breakthrough for the Commonwealth
The 2022 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kigali agreed a Declaration on Sustainable Urbanisation. This reflects 20 years of advocacy by the Commonwealth Association of Planners, amongst others. The Declaration recognises that 'the long-term trajectory of urbanisation across Commonwealth members will have important consequences for national economies and that by 2050, an additional 2.5 billion people will be living in the world’s towns and cities, almost 50 percent of them in the Commonwealth.'
Rapid urbanisation is a challenge facing many Commonwealth countries. The Declaration calls on 'members to effectively plan for urban expansion to ensure the equitable provision of municipal services and to this end, improved land governance and integrated urban planning is essential in providing access to land and to infrastructure'.
There is recognition that action in cities is crucial to tackling the climate emergency. Data driven urban governance and municipal services is highlighted, along with the need for finance 'to undertake effective urban planning and enhanced climate action'.
The Heads of Government:
- Acknowledged 'the need for integrated strategies for safe and sustainable urban development that enhance community wellbeing and security';
- Committed to support local governments to 'develop comprehensive, scalable programmes to address key challenges of sustainable urbanisation and build climate resilience to reduce risk and vulnerability';
- Encouraged 'cities to create an enabling environment that support local economic development, job creation, and attract investment'; and
- Encouraged cross-Commonwealth dialogue and 'increased opportunities for professional training in urban development, including town planning'.
Just as important, the final Communique from the CHOGM has a section on 'Sustainable urbanisation: smart and resilient sustainable cities and communities'. This includes a commitment to prioritise 'provision of affordable and social housing to mitigate the proliferation of informal settlements, promote social inclusion and cushion the urban poor from social-cultural and economic shocks.'
These high level decisions mark a breakthrough in the Commonwealth. Of course, words are not the same as action, but they are an important starting point. Planning institutes in the Commonwealth should respond by welcoming these important statements, and by developing proposals for action programmes and presenting these to their governments.
In other CHOGM business, two more African countries joined the Commonwealth. Togo and Gabon are both rapidly urbanising countries, and their addition to the Commonwealth simply underlines the importance of finding equitable and environmentally sound solutions to urban growth.
The Group of 7 - the seven richest countries in the world - held their 2022 meeting in Elmau, Germany, and were joined by the Leaders of Argentina, India, Indonesia, Senegal and South Africa, as well as Ukraine. Thanks to the leadership of Germany, a statement on sustainable urbanisation is included in their communique. It acknowledges 'the significant role of cities, their associations, and networks as actors in our transformation towards sustainable development.'
It charges 'Ministers to develop a joint understanding of good urban development policy to be adopted at the first ever G7 Ministerial Meeting for Sustainable Urban Development, and to decide on joint initiatives for unlocking the full potential of cities to promote social, cultural, technological, climate-neutral, economic, and democratic innovation for the common good.'
Why and what next?
It has taken G7 and the Commonwealth decades to catch up with what urban analysts have been saying. Simply, there can be no sustainable development without sustainable urbanisation. The time for talking really is past: we are half way between the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 and their target date of 2030. They apply to G7 countries as much as to Togo and Gabon. Maybe the intensity of crises - climate, poverty, biodivesity and urban - has finally focused thinking.
The World Urban Forum, which was convened in Katowice, Poland at the end of June, made it clear that we now need action, and need it urgently. A just transition will be contested by multiple vested interests, so we all need to redouble our efforts. If not now, when?