June 18, 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 June 18, 2012 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.

Image of an urban world exhibited by UN Habitat during the 6th World Water Forum in Marseille France.

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 urbanization 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.

Mumbai, India. In a rapidly urbanizing world, cities are increasingly becoming the focus of international sustainability efforts

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, 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 also quickly come on board, including the City of Sao Paulo (TBC), Copenhagen (TBC), Malmo (TBC), Gwangju, with national interest having been expressed by Japan and the United States.

“The strong, early interest in this initiative is further evidence that cities, which generate 80 per cent 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.

More information on the Global Initiative for Resource-Efficient Cities is available at:http://www.unep.org/pdf/GI-REC_4pager.pdf

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