Sustainable Development Goals

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development unanimously adopted by the UN’s 193 Member States at an historic summit in September 2015 at the United Nations, calls on countries to begin efforts to achieve 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) over the next 15 years. “The seventeen Sustainable Development Goals are our shared vision of humanity and a social contract between the world’s leaders and the people,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. They are a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity.

This universal agenda recognized the key role of cities and communities by including the SDG11 “Make Cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”. With over half of the world population living in cities, the process of urbanization is one of the most significant global trends of the twenty-first century. It has been recognized as a transformative force which, if effectively steered and deployed, can potentially create an enabling environment for the world to overcome some of the major global challenges at present, including climate change, extreme poverty and rising inequalities.

As highlighted in the Report of the Secretary-General, 2016: Today, more than half the world’s population lives in cities. By 2030, it is projected that 6 in 10 people will be urban dwellers. Despite numerous planning challenges, cities offer more efficient economies of scale on many levels, including the provision of goods, services and transportation. With sound, risk-informed planning and management, cities can become incubators for innovation and growth and drivers of sustainable development.

However, as more people migrate to cities in search of a better life and urban populations grow, housing issues intensify. Already in 2014, 30 per cent of the urban population lived in slum-like conditions; in sub-Saharan Africa, the proportion was 55 per cent, the highest of any region. Globally, more than 880 million people were living in slums in 2014. This estimate does not include people in inadequate or unaffordable housing (defined as costing more than 30 per cent of total monthly household income).

As population growth outpaces available land, cities expand far beyond their formal administrative boundaries. This urban sprawl can be seen in many cities around the world, and not only in developing regions. From 2000 to 2015, the ratio of the land consumption rate to the population growth rate in Eastern Asia and the Oceania was the highest in the world, with developed regions second. Other regions, such as South-Eastern Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean, showed a decrease in that indicator over the same time period. Unfortunately, a low value for this ratio is not necessarily an indication that urban dwellers are faring well, as this can indicate a prevalence of overcrowded slums. Unplanned urban sprawl undermines other determinants of sustainable development. For example, for every 10 per cent increase in sprawl, there is a 5.7 per cent increase in per capita carbon dioxide emissions and a 9.6 per cent increase in per capita hazardous pollution. This illustrates the important interlinkages across the goals and targets.

Likewise, managing solid waste is often problematic in densely populated areas. In fact, in many developing regions, less than half of solid waste is safely disposed of. As per capita waste generation continues to rise, the collection and safe disposal of solid waste will continue to require serious attention.

Urban air pollution also challenged cities around the world, causing illness and millions of premature deaths annually. In 2014, around half the global urban population was exposed to air pollution levels at least 2.5 times higher than maximum standards set by the World Health Organization.

The quest for sustainable and coordinated urban development starts with national policies and regional development plans. As of 2015, 142 countries had a national urban policy in place or under development. Those countries are home to 75 per cent of the world’s urban population.

CSU has been actively engaged in providing key recommendations and ideas to achieve SDG11. CSU co-organized high-level events feeding the intergovernmental process of the post-2015 development agenda between 2012-2015. These events brought experiences and solutions from national and local governments, designers and urban planners, UN representatives, the private sector, foundations, academia and civil society on how to deliver sustainable cities and communities.

CSU will continue to work closely with the UN and key partners in providing inputs to achieve SDG11.

You can find more information on the SDGs at:

Related CSU Events

“World Habitat Day 2013: Resilient Design for Sustainable Urbanization”, 4 October 2013, UN New York

“SMART CITIES, how to promote a sustainable urbanization”, in the margins of the 2014 ECOSOC Integration Segment on sustainable urbanization, 27 May 2014, Center for Architecture New York

“The Future of Cities: an Integrated Approach to Urban Challenges”, 10 February 2015, UN New York

“World Habitat Day 2015: Public Places for All”, 5 October 2015, UN New York