Cities are a puzzle for some and inspiration for others. As engines of economic growth, they are also hubs of rapid urbanization, a rising middle class, and a growing population. These three mega-trends drive global environmental degradation yet are only part of the important challenge facing cities today.
While consuming over two-thirds of global energy supply and emitting 70% of all carbon dioxide, cities are also uniquely vulnerable to climate change. Fourteen of the world’s 19 largest cities are located in port areas. With sea level rise and increased storm activity, these areas are likely to face coastal flooding, damage to infrastructure, and compromised water and food security. Under these conditions, meeting urban population’s growing production and consumption needs for food, energy, water, and infrastructure will overload rural and urban ecosystems.
To tackle these issues, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), in collaboration with the World Bank Group (WBG), launched the Sustainable Cities Program to engage 23 cities in 11 developing countries. Hailing from one of such countries, two urban development specialists working on each side of the Program explain why making cities more sustainable appeals to them.
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As world leaders come together at the UN General Assembly to adopt new sustainable development goals, climate change activists gear up for Climate Week in New York City and the Pope brings his message to the United Nations, a shared vision of our future is coming into clear focus.
If we are to eradicate poverty, we need to tackle climate change. And since 2008, the $8.1 billion Climate Investment Funds (CIF) has been showing it is possible for countries to pursue sustainable development in a way that does just that.
I’ve just returned from a mission to Palestine. During the visit, I met Fatima. She was happily married until last summer, when suddenly she lost everything.
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Lorne Turner served as Manager of Performance Management for the City of Toronto.
Lorne was a city practitioner, tasked with the professional, meaningful and honest monitoring of the progress of Toronto, alone and alongside other world cities. He firmly believed that all cities – in Ontario, Canada and around the world - succeed when working together, and that measuring this progress is absolutely critical. Lorne was a ‘details-guy’ who knew how the small brushstrokes blended together to paint a community, a country, and later in his life, he helped demonstrate how they could define urban life around the planet.
Lorne passed away last week, after a long battle with cancer. Lorne was in his role for almost 30 years (including Budget Director, North York, 1988-97).
Lorne’s passing is particularly poignant for city workers. Lorne was quiet and modest; he fit his professional accountant stereotype well. He was also highly effective. Last year, the global city indicator standard was published (ISO 37120). This standard is important for all cities and is anchored to Lorne’s perseverance, commitment and his ability to keep the City of Toronto actively engaged for the more than ten years it took to develop the idea. The idea and the standard owes much of its existence to Lorne.
Reducing risk is the only way for community joint-ventures to get serious with commercial banks. Without commercial finance, this niche tourism sector might never deliver on its potential. Photo: World Wildlife Fund
Over the last 20 years, joint-ventures between local communities and the private sector have grown up as a feature of the sustainable tourism development agenda. Typically, the community provides the land, the heritage or the wildlife asset base while the private sector brings the capital, management know-how and business networks. When they work well, these partnerships contribute substantially to local economic and social development, as well as providing professional, unique and authentic tourism experiences for visitors.
Lena Florry is an Area Manager for Wilderness Safaris, the private-sector partner in a community joint venture (CJV) lodge in Namibia. ”What we have here at Damaraland really changes our lives,” she says. “Previously, in our village, I was herding goats. Now we have good jobs and a much better life.” Crucially, Lena is also a member of the local community and takes personal pleasure in sharing the model’s success story with the camp’s US$500-a-night paying guests.
Typical benefits include income for communities through lease or contract agreements, employment and supply-chain opportunities, skills and knowledge transfer from the private sector, and usually a kind of joint “tourism asset protection” like wildlife preservation or heritage protection. In Namibia, for example, community conservation generated about US$7 million in returns for local communities in 2013, and the elephant population doubled in 20 years.
While much emphasis has been placed on the development impacts of this model, the actual health of the businesses has often been overlooked. As long as the ventures continue to deliver a development dividend – such as contributions to a community fund, or increased biodiversity – all is believed well. For the venture’s supporters, it may then come as a surprise when applications for commercial finance are rejected.
“We would like to finance the sector,” says Christo Viljoen at First National Bank (FNB) Namibia. “But our biggest challenge is to determine the financial viability of the community joint-ventures. We find the risks involved are not properly addressed in the business plans.”
Banks report that risks typically have to do with corporate governance, low-quality financial data, collateral, the level of experience of the sponsor, and a host of structural problems in the CJV business – not least, the balance between the development dividend versus the profitability of the business. All these factors help to undermine a firm’s viability. A business that cannot demonstrate financial viability – and, thus, show how it will pay back a loan – cannot be financed.
This presents a very real problem. Without the means to make necessary investments in the business (such as refurbishment or expansion), the quality of the tourism product deteriorates, occupancies and rates decline, and funds for the community and for wildlife protection drop.
In an effort to help the various stakeholders increase the financial viability of CJVs, reduce risk and increase loans, the World Bank Group and the World Wildlife Fund released “nine tips” at the recent tourism trade show ITB Berlin 2015. Dr. Hannah Messerli of the World Bank’s Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice said, “We believe that destinations that address these issues are more likely to provide comfort to the banks in lending.”
Blair Glencorse of the Accountability Lab discusses the importance of community-driven development and how filmmaking can engage people in accountability goals.Many organizations and development professionals have found that reaching initial benchmarks is sometimes easier than sustaining them. However, with clear goals, development progress can be sustained in the long-run.
According to Blair Glencorse of the Accountability Lab, setting goals that are context-specific is critical. The Accountability Lab, he says, meets “people where they are, not where we want them to be,” and takes into consideration the varying levels of literacy, numeracy, and other practical skills of their clients when designing a program.
At the same time, a program is only as strong as its supporters so encouraging community members to speak up is equally important.
Taking a holistic approach, the Accountability Lab works with young people in Liberia, training them to create documentaries on issues related to accountability. The up-and-coming filmmakers then present the documentaries to their communities at film festivals to spread awareness and get people involved in tackling the tough issues.
From a business perspective, local disputes can lead to more than US$20 million per week in losses for large-scale mines. To say nothing of the broader costs – in terms of lives lost and development stymied – when local discontent develops into violent conflict.
In response, a growing number of mining companies and governments have rolled out “Community Development Agreements” (CDAs), an umbrella term covering formal arrangements for local development between a company and designated communities. CDAs can run the gamut of the community-company relationship, including among other areas, socio-environmental impacts, benefit sharing, employment, monitoring and grievance redress.
CDAs have spread quickly in national law and policy. with nine countries currently in the process. The CDA model, it seems, is an emergent “best practice” and initiatives ranging from the Ruggie Principles to the International Council on Mining and Metals have reiterated their value.
In their article “Aid for Peace,” Berman, Felter and Shapiro question some of the basic assumptions underpinning delivery of humanitarian development aid in zones of conflict and argue persuasively that small, targeted programs designed based on a deep contextual understanding of the drivers of a conflict produce better outcomes than programs aimed at spreading around as much cash as possible. As a development practitioner with experience in conflict-affected parts of Afghanistan, the Philippines, and Aceh, Indonesia, I ultimately agree with this conclusion and commend the authors’ innovative work through Empirical Studies of Conflict Project (ESOC). However, I would strongly caution against generalizing too broadly from the Philippines’ experience as to what constitutes “smart aid” in other conflict zones. It’s worth noting in particular that studies of community-driven development and conditional cash transfer programs implemented in other countries affect conflict outcomes in ways that are entirely at odds with the Philippines’ experience.
As the world’s policymakers and business leaders converge in Davos, Switzerland for tomorrow’s opening of the World Economic Forum, there’s certainly no shortage of global threats for them to worry about during the WEF’s annual marathon of policy seminars and economic debates. A world of anxiety enshrouds this week’s conference theme of the “New Global Context,” judging by the WEF’s latest Global Risks Report: Its analysis of 28 urgent threats and 13 ominous long-term trends offers a comprehensive catalogue of extreme dangers to social stability and even human survival.
As if the Davos data isn’t worrisome enough, several just-issued scientific studies – which document worsening trends in climate change, humanity’s imminent collision with the limits of the planet’s resilience and the intensifying damage being wrought by voracious consumption-driven growth – trace a relentlessly gloomy trajectory.
Relieving some of the substantive tension, there’s also often a puckish undercurrent within each year’s Davos news coverage. Poking holes in the self-importance of Davos’ CEOs and celebrities – with varying degrees of lighthearted humor or reproachful reproof – has become a cottage industry, springing up every January to chide the mountaintop follies of “the great and the good.” Skeptics often scoff that the lofty pronouncements of Davos Deepthink have become almost a caricature of elite self-importance, and there’ll surely be plenty of the customary sniping at the insularity of Davos Man and at the insouciance of the globalized jet set as its over-refined One Percent folkways become ever more detached from the struggles of the stagnating middle class and desperate working poor.
Despite such Davos-season misgivings, it’s worth recalling the value of such frequent, fact-based knowledge-exchange events and inclusive dialogues among business leaders and thought leaders. Some of the Davos Set may revel in after-hours excess – its Lucullan cocktail-party scene is legendary – yet the substantive centerpiece of such meetings remains a valuable venue for expert-level policy debates, allowing scholars to inject their ideas straight into the bloodstream of corporate strategy-setting. The global policy debate arguably needs more, not fewer, thought-provoking symposia where decision-makers can be swayed by the latest thinking of the world’s academic and social-sector experts. Judging by the fragmented response to the chronic economic downturn by the global policymaking class, every multilateral institution ought to host continuing consultations to help shape a coherent policy agenda.
Focusing on just one area where in-depth know-how can serve the needs of decision-makers: The World Bank Group has long been tailoring world-class knowledge to deliver local solutions to client countries about one of the trends singled out in this year's WEF list of long-term concerns – the worldwide shift from “predominantly rural to urban living.” The biggest mass migration in human history has now concentrated more than 50 percent of the world’s population in cities, leading this year’s Global Risks Report to assert that the risk of failed urban planning is among the top global concerns.
“Without doubt, urbanization has increased social well-being,” commented one WEF trend-watcher. “But when cities develop too rapidly, their vulnerability increases: pandemics; breakdowns of or attacks on power, water or transport systems; and the effects of climate change are all major threats.”
Yet consider, also, the potential opportunities within the process of managing that trend toward ever-more-intense urban concentration. What if the prospect of chaotic urbanization were able to inspire greater city-management creativity – so that urban ingenuity makes successful urbanization a means to surmount other looming dangers?
For an example of the can-do determination and trademark optimism of the development community – with the world’s urbanization trend as its focus – consider the upbeat tone that pervaded a conference last week at the World Bank’s Preston Auditorium, analyzing “Smart Cities for Shared Prosperity.” With more than 850 participants in-person, and with viewers in 92 countries watching via livestream, the conference – co-sponsored by the World Resources Institute (WRI), Embarq, and the Transport and Information & Communications Technology (TICT) Global Practice of the World Bank Group – energized the world’s leading practitioners and scholars across the wide range of transportation-related, urban-focused, environment-conscious priorities.
(Thinking of the Preston gathering’s Davos-season timing and full-spectrum scope: It sometimes strikes me that – given the continuous procession of presidents, professors, poets and pundits at the Preston podium – there could be a tagline beneath Preston's entryway, suggesting that the Bank Group swirl of ideas feels like “Davos Every Day.”)
Amid its focus on building “smart cities” and strengthening urban sustainability, the annual Transforming Transportation conference took the “smart cities” concept beyond its customary focus on analyzing Big Data and deploying the latest technology-enabled metrics. By investing in “smart” urban design – and, above all, by putting people rather than automobiles at the center of city life – the scholars insisted that society can reclaim its urban destiny from the car-centric, carbon-intensive pattern that now chokes the livability of all too many cities.
The fast-forward series of “smart cities” speeches and seminars reinforced the agenda summarized by TICT Senior Director Pierre Guislain and WRI official Ani Dasgupta – formerly of the Bank Group and now the global director of WRI’s Ross Center on Sustainable Cities – in an Op-Ed commentary for Thomson Reuters: “We can either continue to build car-oriented cities that lock in unsustainable patterns, or we can scale up existing models for creating more inclusive, accessible and connected cities. Pursuing smarter urban mobility options can help growing cities leapfrog car-centric development and adopt strategies that boost inclusive economic growth and improve [the] quality of life.”
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