From Rio to Johannesburg: Urban Governance - Thinking Globally, Acting Locally

World Summit Policy Brief #11


From Rio to Johannesburg:
Urban Governance - Thinking Globally, Acting Locally
by Molly O'Meara Sheehan

WASHINGTON, DC August 29, 2002 - The goal of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) is to strike a balance between human needs and planetary well-being. Diplomats in Johannesburg will argue over the language in key documents, as they bring different perspectives to bear on the challenge of improving the welfare of billions of people without destroying the Earth's support systems. But the ultimate battle will be played out in the world's cities, if only because that's where most people live and where most resource use will occur in the coming decades.

Cities are already demonstrating that they can be dynamic incubators for new approaches that benefit people without destroying the planet. But national authorities are often an obstacle to such initiatives. From the perspective of local officials and organized citizens, their experience prior to the WSSD was similar to the reception they received at the Rio Earth Summit 10 years earlier. The fact that local authorities, community groups, and NGOs were engaged at all in the Rio talks was a big step in itself. But advocates of good urban governance faced an uphill battle in trying to focus national leaders on the importance of their cities to the future of sustainable development. They had to fight for words in documents that acknowledged the central role cities could, should, and must play in charting a course for development that takes into account the needs of the poorest as well as the finite capacity of the planet.

CITIES: WHERE PEOPLE AND PLANETARY RESOURCES MEET

People: Urban areas house nearly half of humanity — and counting. The surging urban population of the developing world is the most dramatic demographic trend of our time.

Demographers expect nearly 2 billion people to be added to world population between 2000 and 2030, almost all of them in cities in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

The cities of the "industrial" North were center stage for just a brief movement in history, claiming all slots in the top 10 largest cities in 1900 (see Table). By 2000, however, only Tokyo, New York, and Los Angeles made the list, and demographers expect that by 2015, Los Angeles will be bumped as cities like Lagos, Dhaka, Karachi, and Jakarta grow rapidly.

World's 10 Largest Metropolitan Areas, 1000, 1800, 1900, and 2000 (in millions)

1000

1800

1900

2000

Blank Space

Cordova

0.45

 

Peking

1.10

 

London

6.5

 

Tokyo

26.4

Kaifeng

0.40

 

London

0.86

 

New York

4.2

 

Mexico City

18.1

Constantinople

0.30

 

Canton

0.80

 

Paris

3.3

 

Bombay

18.1

Angkor

0.20

 

Edo (Tokyo)

0.69

 

Berlin

2.7

 

São Paulo

17.8

Kyoto

0.18

 

Constantinople

0.57

 

Chicago

1.7

 

New York

16.6

Cairo

0.14

 

Paris

0.55

 

Vienna

1.7

 

Lagos

13.4

Baghdad

0.13

 

Naples

0.43

 

Tokyo

1.5

 

Los Angeles

13.1

Nishapur

0.13

 

Hangchow

0.39

 

St. Petersburg

1.4

 

Calcutta

12.9

Hasa

0.11

 

Osaka

0.38

 

Manchester

1.4

 

Shanghai

12.9

Anhilvada

0.10

 

Kyoto

0.38

 

Philadelphia

1.4

 

BuenosAires

12.6

Blank Space

Source: 1000—1900 from Tertius Chandler, Four Thousand Years of Urban Growth: An Historical Census (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1987); 2000 from United Nations, World Urbanization Prospects: 1999 Revision (New York: 2001).


Resources: From the vehicle exhaust that warms the atmosphere, to the urban demand for timber that denudes forests and threatens biodiversity, to the municipal thirst that heightens tensions over water, key global environmental problems have their roots in cities. Cities are where the bulk of the world's resources are ultimately used. Roughly 78 percent of carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning and cement manufacturing, and 76 percent of industrial wood use worldwide occur in urban areas. Some 60 percent of the planet's water that is tapped for human use goes to cities in one form or another. (About half of this water irrigates food crops for urban residents, roughly a third is used by city industry, and the remainder is for drinking and sanitation.)

CITIES: HUGE POTENTIAL FOR SOCIAL & ENVIRONMENTAL PROGRESS

The sheer size and reach of urban areas means that they will profoundly influence humanity and the global environment -- for better or worse. They have the potential to be much, much better. Cities can be tremendously efficient in ways that hold promise for both social and environmental improvement:

On the social side, when people are concentrated in one place, it's theoretically easier to link them to schools, health care, and other key services. Throughout history, higher levels of health and education have come after periods of urbanization. Compared to higher forms of government, local government is smaller and closer to the people, so organized citizens have a better chance of changing the status quo.

On the environmental side, water, materials, food, and fuels currently course through cities and end up as wastes -- as garbage in dumps or pollutants in the soil, air, or water. But these one-way flows could be redirected in circular pathways. Although it is usually not the case today, people clustered together could use fewer materials, and recycle them with greater ease, than widely dispersed populations. Compact urban areas reduce the energy needed for transportation and the materials needed for various types of infrastructure.

The following changes in urban planning and service provision could enhance both people's quality of life and planetary well-being:

  • Close the water and waste loops. With incentives for water conservation, composting, recycling, and waste-based industries, cities can become important sources of raw materials.

  • Boost self-reliance in food and energy. Organic urban agriculture and clean, locally produced energy can not only green a city, but also increase income and security for its inhabitants.

  • Link transportation and land use. Cities can put the brakes on sprawl and maximize space for people and nature by steering new development to locations easily reached by a variety of transport means.


CITIES: LEADING THE WAY TOWARDS SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

Cities are dynamic, so even in industrial countries like the United States, where some 77 percent of people already live in metropolitan areas, changes can be introduced incrementally. Below is a sample of some of the ways cities are already leading the way towards sustainable development:

  • Local Agenda 21. One of the products of the 1992 Earth Summit was a document called Agenda 21, which laid out a detailed blueprint for environment and development policies. By 2001, more than 4,000 cities in 63 countries had introduced local versions of Agenda 21.

  • Turning Waste into Resource in Jinja, Uganda. Jinja is Uganda's second largest urban center after the capital, Kampala. Some 60 percent of the city's waste lies in heaps on the street, attracting disease-carrying rats and fleas. Since 1995, the city has worked with citizens on a "Local Agenda 21" plan to, among other things, turn this waste into a resource. In one community, the city installed a biogas digester that would be fed with sewage from a heavily used block of pit latrines. The methane from the sewage is burned for lighting and cooking in nearby homes. After the "digestion," the odor-free sewage is collected, dried, and used as compost.

  • Making Transportation Benefit People and the Planet in Bogotá, Colombia. Starting in 1998, Mayor Enrique Peñalosa started transforming Bogotá's transport system, building nearly 200 km of bicycle paths and launching a dedicated bus way system. Previously, thousands of bus owners plied the streets with old, polluting buses, competing for space with private cars. The city of Bogotá commissioned a fleet of cleaner, more efficient buses, invited bus operators to bid on them, and gave the buses their own lanes to circumvent traffic. The city manages the system, while the owners of the buses make a profit on their investment.

  • Bringing Democracy Closer to the People. The poorest residents of cities typically have little political power, despite the relevance of their needs to city-wide health, environment, and safety. But in the 1990s, the urban poor began to flex their political muscles, reaching out to each other to press for changes at the local, national, and global levels. Heads of state at the UN's Millennium Summit in 2000 pledged to improve the lives of 100 million slum dwellers by 2020 with better access to sanitation and security of tenure. Porto Alegre and other cities in Brazil have pioneered the use of "participatory budgeting," a process that requires elected officials to engage citizens in setting public priorities and to show the public clearly how funds will be allocated.

  • Greening the Economy in Cotacachi, Ecuador. Cotacachi County lies between the western slope of the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean in Ecuador's largely rural northern province of Imabura. Between 1997 and 2000, citizens and local authorities hammered out a new ecological ordinance which clearly states things that are not to be done: no mining, no logging near water sources, no farming of genetically modified crops. But it also provides measures for positive change, like requiring garbage to be separated and recycled, financial incentives to owners of native forests for sustainable management, and promotion of organic farming. To pursue less damaging forms of industry, the county is studying the flower industry, researching cleaner technologies for the leather industry, and seeking markets for "green products" such as shade grown, organic coffee.

  • Reducing carbon emissions in hundreds of cities. A network of local authorities, the International Council for Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) has helped city governments worldwide to reduce greenhouse emissions. As of October 2001, some 500 cities, responsible for an estimated 8 percent of global carbon emissions, had signed up. Some cities are even planning to cut deeper than their national governments.