UNEP Launches Global Initiative for Resource Efficient Cities
Rio de Janeiro, 18 June 2012 - The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and partners have unveiled a new initiative that aims to reduce pollution levels, improve resource efficiency and reduce infrastructure costs in cities across the world.
Launched today at the Rio+20 summit in Brazil, the Global Initiative for Resource-Efficient Cities will work with local and national governments, the private sector and civil society groups to promote energy efficient buildings, efficient water use, sustainable waste management and other activities.
Cities with populations of 500,000 or more are invited to join the initiative, which aims to attract 200 members by 2015.
In a rapidly urbanizing world, cities are increasingly becoming the focus of international sustainability efforts.
Up to 80 percent of the world population is expected to reside in cities by 2050. Indeed, this 'second wave' of urbanisation is projected to see over 3 billion additional people living in cities in a time-span of just 80 years, primarily in Africa and Asia.
Today, urban areas account for 50 percent of all waste, generate 60-80 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions and consume 75 percent of natural resources, yet occupy only 3 percent of the Earth's surface.
Yet water savings of 30 percent, and energy saving of up to 50 percent can be achieved in cities with limited investment and encouraging behavioral change, according to UNEP.
Moreover, the economic opportunities associated with making cities more sustainable are numerous. As centres of technology, cities can spearhead the creation of green jobs in sectors such as renewable energy. Projections show that some 20 million people could be employed in the wind, solar and biofuel industries by 2030, for example.
The Global Initiative for Resource-Efficient Cities will support sustainability efforts in cities with the following core activities:
- Promoting research on resource efficiency and sustainable consumption and production
- Providing access and advice for city decision-makers on technical expertise, capacity building and funding opportunities for improving resource efficiency
- Creating a network for cities and organizations to exchange experiences and peer-review projects for mutual benefit
"Decoupling economic growth from unsustainable resource use and environmental impacts-especially in urban areas - underpins the transition to a low-carbon, resource efficient green economy", said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director.
"The new Global Initiative for Resource Efficiency Cities aims to provide cities with a common framework for assessing environmental performance and encouraging innovative sustainability measures. In the context of rapid urbanization and growing pressures on natural resources, there is an urgent need for co-ordinated action on urban sustainability. This is essential both for preventing irreversible degradation of resources and ecosystems, and for realizing the multiple benefits of greener cities, from savings through energy-efficient buildings, or the health and climate benefits of cleaner fuels and vehicles."
The initiative has already been backed by a broad range of international institutions, such as UN-Habitat, the World Bank, United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI), Cities Alliance, International Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC), Veolia Environment Institute, Bioregional, Urban Environmental Accords Members Alliance and International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).
Several cities have already come on board, including the City of Sao Paulo, Malmo, Heidelberg, Quezon City, Gwangju, with national interest having been expressed by Japan, Brazil, France and the United States.
"The strong, early interest in this initiative is further evidence that cities, which generate 80 percent of global GDP, understand they are the key decision-makers and implementers of the necessary steps required to move our societies towards a more sustainable pattern of consumption and production," said David Miller, former mayor of Toronto and past chair of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group.
Sustainable Cities: Making it Happen
The practical steps that cities can take towards resource efficiency are the focus of a new UNEP report, also launched today at Rio+20.
Using case studies from China, Brazil, Germany and a host of other countries, Sustainable, Resource Efficient Cities in the 21st Century: Making it Happen, highlights opportunities for city leaders to improve waste and water management, energy efficiency, urban transportation, and other key sectors.
Among the projects highlighted in the report is the Masdar City development in the United Arab Emirates, which is acting as a test-bed for the development of the skills, innovation and markets required for realizing the eco-city concept at a large scale.
The report also examines several initiatives that aim to meet the rising energy demands of urban centres, in a sustainable way.
Renewable energy feed-in tariff strategies in Germany, for example, have allowed the city of Freiburg to invest in photovoltaic, wind and other renewable energy systems, which now supply over 8 percent of the city's total energy demand. Household energy consumption has been decreased by up to 80 percent due to Freiburg's energy-efficient housing standards.
Overall, the UNEP report outlines several success factors for transitioning to sustainable, resource efficient cities:
- Integration: Cities need to move beyond merely conducting environmental impact assessments before implementing new developments. In addition to a conservation approach towards greening, the livability of cities and social equality measures should be taken into account.
- Governance: Tackling climate change and advancing urban sustainability requires an integrated, consultative approach involving local communities and civil society groups, as well traditional decision-makers.
- Smart Urban Design: Supporting low-footprint design that targets public transport, pedestrian zones and cycle lanes and promote compact, multi-use urban development
- Finance: Tax incentives and subsidies can be used to stimulate the up-take of green technologies.
- Technology Transfer: Transfer of technology and skills to developing countries should be adapted to suit local context, not simply 'off-the-shelf' solutions from the developed world. Capacity building on management and maintenance is an important part of technology and skills transfer.
- Innovation: Supporting and/or establishing educational and research bodies that can support the development of skills, capabilities and networks on urban sustainability
A second UNEP report, also launched today, examineshow cities can better access climate finance through the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). The Feasibility Study on the Development of an Urban CDM, recommends reforming the existing CDM to allow for methodologies geared towards cities. It also recommends the development of a CDM programme of activities for pilot cities that would inform the future development of Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions and assist in the transition to a green economy.
Notes to Editors
More information on the Global Initiative for Resource-Efficient Cities is available at:
Full copies of the UNEP reports Sustainable, Resource Efficient Cities in the 21st Century: Making it Happen, and A Feasibility Study on the Development of an Urban CDM are available at:
Fédération Internationale des Ingénieurs-Conseils (FIDIC), [as] the global representative of the consulting engineering industry supports the GI-REC and will, with the involvement of all partners, contribute to the development of methods and processes, creating synergies between urban planning and infrastructure supply systems. FIDIC believes that a paradigm shift in the decision-making of all partners - public and private stakeholders and related people involved, at any level - is necessary for the success of the GI-REC. The consulting engineering industry will contribute to using the products of the GI-REC in a holistic manner, through integrated collaboration of our industry with decision makers who are involved in developing suitable policies and investment strategies.
- Francois Baillon, FIDIC Representative
The Gwangju Metropolitan City and the Urban Environmental Accords Members Alliance (UEAMA) congratulate the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on the launch of the Global Initiative for Resource Efficient Cities (GI-REC) at Rio+20. Gwangju and UEAMA agree entirely with and support the principles of resource efficiency and are confident that the Initiative will play a crucial role in the field. Gwangju and UEAMA also believe that the GI-REC can become an avenue to showcase and implement tools that were co-developed by UNEP and UEAMA such as the urban Environment Evaluation Index and the Urban Clean Development Mechanism.
- Kim Kwi-gon PhD, Secretary General of the UEA Members Alliance
BioRegional fully supports the goals of GI-REC. Evidence from projects and initiatives around the world, including those of BioRegional and our partners, are demonstrating that cities can support a higher quality way of life at the same time as reducing burdens on the planet's finite resources. We now need to scale these strategies and technologies and deploy them systematically and comprehensively. Initiatives such as GI-REC can be instrumental in this process.
- Pooran Desai, Co-founder BioRegional and International Director, One Planet Communities
The French Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy supports the Global Initiative for Resource Efficient Cities launched by UNEP. Decoupling economic growth from resource use is a key issue. Cities have an important role to play to improve resource efficiency, reduce carbon emission and pollution, enhance ecosystems and minimize environmental risks. Disseminating knowledge, exchanging experience, sharing best practices will help them to reach these goals and we agree to facilitate access to French expertise, to provide access to information available on various fields related to resource efficiency and to participate in a network platform
-Nicole Bricq, Ministre de l'Environnement
ICLEI fully supports the important Global Initiative for Resource Efficient Cities (GI-REC) of our longstanding partner, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The initiative seizes the momentum of Rio+20 and the widespread recognition of the importance of sustainable cities and will help to turn political momentum into action on the ground. ICLEI, with its 1200 members, is committed to working towards resource efficient cities, as evidenced by resource efficiency being one of ICLEI's 8 agendas for sustainable cities. Resource efficient cities can be a crucial element to achieving greater sustainability globally. ICLEI and UNEP will continue working together to achieve its shared goal of greater global sustainability. -Susanne Salz, Head of the Secretary General's Office, ICLEI
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