UNEP recognizes the growing need to address global environmental concerns from an urban perspective and to integrate the urban dimension of global environmental issues. More specifically, UNEP aims to promote the link between international cooperation and local action.

In order to respond to the needs of an increasingly urbanizing world, UNEP supports cities in emphasizing interventions that have both local and global benefits. Areas of focus include, among others, buildings and infrastructure, transport, air pollution, waste and water management, biodiversity and ecosystems. In cooperation with partners, UNEP supports cities across the world in addressing environmental impacts and in integrating the environment into their long-term strategic planning. The emphasis of our activities is on supporting developing countries to develop and implement policies, through capacity building, technology and knowledge support. This includes policies supporting low-carbon, resource efficient and green growth as well as policies on mitigation and adaptation to a changing climate.

Within UNEP’s Programme of Work, activities related to sustainable buildings and cities constitute key components within the Resource Efficiency sub-programme and Climate Change sub-programme, which include among other the following:

  • UNEP supports cities in integrating the environment concerns into local policy such as city plans and the development of methodologies and standards to measure, verify and report city environmental data.
  • UNEP provides a hub for knowledge and innovation on cities and climate change. It leads the development and management of the Knowledge Centre on Cities and Climate Change, an online clearinghouse for research and case studies on the topic.
  • It is the focal point for key partnerships with UN-Habitat, Cities Alliance and the World Bank on climate change, resource efficiency and the green economy. 
  • UNEP provides a global platform for building sector stakeholders to discuss and develop the role of sustainable buildings in combating climate change, drawing on UNEP’s unique capacity to facilitate collective action. 
  • It is pioneering sustainable building solutions such as developing and testing a practical tool box for policy makers at city level to support sustainable building policies. It is also managing a project focusing on social housing that aims to develop and test models for integrating resource and energy efficient features, which would result in long-term savings for both building owners and tenants.
  • It supports cities in scaling up local efforts to global initiatives. Together with the city of Gwangju (South Korea) UNEP is supporting the development of a global framework to assess the environmental performance of cities and is exploring the feasibility of developing a methodology for a Clean Development Mechanism at city-wide level.
  • In the context of Rio+20, UNEP is promoting the set-up of a Global Initiative for Resource Efficient Cities with the aim of having a more coordinated approach to cities in close coordination with other UN agencies and in consultation with our major partners. The overall goal of this Initiative is to enhance the quality of life in urban areas, particularly in rapidly growing cities in developing countries, while minimizing resource extraction, energy consumption and waste generation and safeguarding ecosystem services.