Dear Members of the SDSN,

Welcome to the third edition of the SDSN Members’ Bulletin, which includes a spotlight on urban sustainability.

  • SDSN Blog: Sustainable Cities Post-2015
  • This Month’s Spotlight: Urban Sustainability Recent SDSN Updates
    • The importance of urban development
    • The case for an urban SDG
    • What might indicators for an urban SDG look like?
  • News from SDSN Members
  • SDSN in the Media
  • Upcoming Events

We hope you will find this Bulletin of interest.

Please share with us any information you would like to see included in the next edition, which will focus on the SDSN’s education initiatives and the role of education in the post-2015 agenda.

With best wishes,

GST signature

Guido Schmidt-Traub

Executive Director


By Aromar Revi and Cynthia Rosenzweig

The SDSN has been a leading participant in the debate over how to include urban issues in the post-2015 development agenda. Although there is widespread agreement on the importance of urbanization and urban centers for sustainable development in rich and poor countries alike, there is less agreement on how they should be included in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Two options exist: (1) a dedicated urban SDG could be adopted with targets focused on social, economic, and environmental priorities; (2) urbanization could be “mainstreamed” into other goals, and data could be disaggregated by urban and rural populations.

In its June 2013 Action Agenda for Sustainable Development, SDSN proposed a stand-alone urban SDG. As explained in the SDSN Issue Brief Why the World Needs an Urban SDG, a stand-alone urban SDG is needed to: (1) educate the public and decision makers on urgent urban challenges and opportunities; (2) mobilize and empower local governments and other urban actors for the SDGs; (3) address the specific challenges of urban poverty and access to infrastructure; (4) promote integrated and innovative infrastructure design and service delivery; (5) promote land use planning and efficient spatial concentration; and (6) ensure resilience to climate change and disaster risk.

In September 2013, SDSN and partner organizations launched the Campaign for an Urban SDG, a global campaign in support of a dedicated, stand-alone urban SDG. With its own website ( and Twitter handle (#urbanSDG), the Campaign is gaining traction. It has now been endorsed by over 175 cities and municipalities as well as over 40 organizations, including UN Habitat, the World Urban Campaign, UCLG (United Cities and Local Governments), Cities Alliance, ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainable Development), Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI), Metropolis, Communitas Coalition, nrg4SD (Network of Regional Governments for Sustainable Development), and C40.

Further successes include the submission of a letter to the Co-Chairs of the Open Working Group from the new C40 Chair, Eduardo Paes, Mayor of Rio de Janeiro, as well as 41 other mayors, calling for an urban SDG. The appointment of Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York, as the UN Special Envoy on Cities and Climate Change will also help keep the world’s focus on the need to address urban challenges.

Participating organizations of the Campaign for an Urban SDG continue to provide numerous inputs into the post-2015 debate. For example, UN Habitat has provided the TST Issue Brief on Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements and the Compilation for Sustainable Cities in the Sustainable Development Goals. UCLG launched a UCLG campaign to enlist the support of its member cities and municipalities, and organized several meetings during the “Sustainable Cities Days” at the UN, in December 2013. ICLEI has partnered with UN Habitat, nrg4SD, Ford Foundation and the Tellus Institute to establish the Communitas Coalition for Sustainable Cities, which organized a workshop, producing six issues papers and draft urban targets. Meanwhile Cities Alliance has reached out to member states and cities throughout the world to deepen the discussion around an urban SDG.

On January 6 and 7, 2014, the SDSN Thematic Group on Sustainable Cities participated in the 7th Session of the Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals at the UN General Assembly, making a strong case for an urban SDG to the UN member states, UN agencies and urban partners present. Over 120 UN member states were present for the debate specifically on sustainable cities and many made statements regarding their positions.

Thanks to all of these efforts support for an urban SDG is building steadily.  In January, the Campaign for an Urban SDG website received over 6,000 hits. In March, the City Builders Global Network organized a Twitter campaign to support an #urbanSDG during the 9th session of the OWG and started a petition on to provide individuals with a platform to support the urban SDG. Over 20 UN member states have so far expressed support for a dedicated urban SDG, 50 are neutral, and the rest have not taken a position. Germany recently came out officially in favor of an urban SDG, and other countries are expected to join the Group of Friends of Sustainable Cities co-chaired by Singapore and Sweden.

SDSN’s work on sustainable cities is part of a broader effort to propose a comprehensive framework of ten goals and 30 targets for the entire sustainable development agenda. Our systems-based approach to framing integrated goals that can mobilize key communities of actors has been widely praised. We are now preparing a report on Indicators for the SDGs and have just completed a 6-week public consultation during which time the report was downloaded more than 18,000 times. The report outlines how the complex SDG agenda could potentially be monitored using no more than 100 indicators. It is our hope that it will prove an important input into the “decision-making” phase of the OWG debate.

This “decision-making” phase is now in full swing. On February 21, 2014, the OWG co-chairs released a list of 19 “focus areas”. One focus area is sustainable cities and human settlements, with many others including topics that are vital to cities (e.g., infrastructure, water and sanitation, energy). The OWG is in the midst of a series of five “decision-making” meetings, which will culminate in a report to the General Assembly in September 2014. Their upcoming meeting will focus on clustering the 19 focus areas into a smaller number of SDGs.

With UN member states taking open positions on the framing of the SDGs, now is the time to mobilize our partners and mayors, to engage member states in their capitals as well at the United Nations in New York. We encourage all SDSN members to visit the campaign website, to tweet in support of an #urbanSDG and to sign the position as individuals. We are counting on your support!

Aromar Revi is Director of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS) and Cynthia Rosenzweig is Professor at Barnard College and Senior Research Scientist at Goddard Institute for Space Studies. They co-chair the SDSN Thematic Group on Sustainable Cities.

This Month’s Spotlight: Urban Sustainability

Each SDSN Members’ Bulletin will focus on a major element of the SDSN’s work. Today’s topic is urban sustainability.

The importance of urban development

Urbanization will be the defining trend in the coming decades, especially in East Asia, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where the bulk of extreme poverty is concentrated. Cities, in these and other regions, will play a central role in the ability of nations to achieve sustainable development. Today, half the world’s seven billion people live in cities. By 2030 there will be over one billion more urban residents and for the first time ever, in many parts of the world, the number of rural residents will start to shrink. Between 2010 and 2050, the urban population will grow significantly, by 2.5 to 3 billion people, increasing the urban share to two-thirds of the total world population.

Urbanization has the ability to transform the social and economic fabric of nations. Cities are responsible for the bulk of production and consumption worldwide and are the primary engines of economic growth and development. Roughly three-quarters of global economic activity is urban and as the urban population grows, so will the urban share of global GDP and investments. The right to development for low-income and middle-income countries can only be realized through sustainable urbanization that addresses the needs of both rural and urban areas.

It must also be recognized that cities are home to extreme deprivation and environmental degradation, with one billion people living in slums. In many countries the number of slum dwellers has increased significantly in recent years and urban inequality is deepening.

The dynamism of cities represents a major sustainable development opportunity. By getting urban development right, cities can create jobs and offer better livelihoods; increase economic growth; improve social inclusion; promote the decoupling of living standards and economic growth from environmental resource use; protect local and regional ecosystems; reduce both urban and rural poverty; and drastically reduce pollution. Sound urban development will accelerate progress towards achieving SDGs, including the end of extreme poverty.

On the other hand, mistakes made in managing urban growth are very hard to undo. Infrastructure investments, urban land-use systems, and layouts are literally cast in stone – with impacts that may be difficult to alter for many decades. Without adequate management and investments, slums may expand, and cities may fail to generate the jobs necessary to improve livelihoods. As a result, inequalities, exclusion, and violence may increase. Countries may fail to decouple economic development from resource use, and cities may fail to provide economic opportunities to surrounding rural areas and become vulnerable to climate and other environmental changes.

Cities around the world are struggling to accommodate their rising populations and address the multi-dimensional challenges of urban development. If current trends continue, few countries stand to reap the benefits of sustainable urban development. The stakes are high. How the SDGs address the urban challenge and how cities promote a shift away from “business as usual” is of paramount importance to the post-2015 development agenda.

The case for an urban SDG

There are six main reasons for an urban SDG, which has the potential to:

  1. Educate and focus attention on urgent urban challenges and future opportunities,
  2. Mobilize and empower all urban actors around practical problem solving,
  3. Address the specific challenges of urban poverty and access to infrastructure,
  4. Promote integrated and innovative infrastructure design and service delivery,
  5. Promote land use planning and efficient spatial concentration,
  6. Ensure resilience to climate change and disaster risk reduction.An urban SDG will mobilize cities and promote the integration of the economic, social, environmental, and governance dimensions of sustainable development. Such a systems approach to urban development offers the best chance for seizing the opportunities presented by rapid urbanization and avoiding its potential pitfalls. A coordinated effort via an urban SDG could transform the lives of vast numbers of urban dwellers, across a wide range of countries with very different income levels.

An urban goal and its targets must be carefully framed to address key issues. It must be universally applicable, incorporating a set of indicators that can be adapted to accommodate differing development stages (e.g. rapidly growing small cities and more stable, or shrinking, large cities) in all parts of the world. The urban goal must be limited in scope, so it is manageable and possible to implement by 2030, and must be mirrored by coordinated regional interventions to address the specific challenges of rural development. The SDGs proposed by the SDSN have been designed to respond to these needs.

What might indicators for an urban SDG look like?

In its draft report Indicators for the SDGs, the SDSN has suggested an integrated set of 100 core indicators for the SDGs plus several dozen Tier 2 indicators that countries may track in addition to core indicators. Some of the core indicators that are particularly relevant for cities include:


Percentage of urban population with incomes below national extreme poverty line (adapted MDG Indicator)


[Indicator on the deployment of a sustainable development strategy for each urban agglomeration above [250,000] to be developed]


Proportion of urban population living in slums or informal settlements (MDG Indicator)


Percentage of urban population using basic drinking water (modified MDG Indicator)


Percentage of urban population using basic sanitation (modified MDG Indicator)


Proportion of urban households with weekly solid waste collection


Proportion of urban households with access to reliable public transportation


Mobile broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants in urban areas


Mean urban air pollution of particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5)


Percentage of wastewater flows treated to national standards, by domestic and industrial sources


Urban green space per capita


Economic losses from disasters in urban areas, by climatic and non-climatic events (in US$) [Indicator to be specified]


Share of the population with access to modern cooking solutions (%)


Share of the population with access to reliable electricity (%)

A revised version of the report and indicator set will be published in the second half of April.

Recent SDSN Updates

Public consultation on draft SDSN Indicator Report

SDSN recently concluded its public consultation on the draft report Indicators for Sustainable Development Goals. The report has been downloaded 18,000 times, and we have received close to 3,000 individual comments from over 250 submissions. We will issue a revised working version of the report in April.

Other new publications from the SDSN

News from Regional and National SDSNs

The number of Regional and National SDSNs is expanding rapidly. An interactive map is available here. For news updates from our Regional and National SDSNs, including several recent launch events, please click here. Membership in the Sustainable Development Solutions Network is free and open to universities, research institutions, foundations, civil society, and other organizations working towards practical solutions for sustainable development. Click here to learn more about the application process and benefits of membership.

Caribbean SDSN: Launch Event & Call for Proposals until April 7

Call for Proposals for Solution Initiatives in the Caribbean has been launched by the host of the Caribbean SDSN, the University of the West Indies. On May 7-8, 2014, this Regional SDSN will be launched at the UWI Mona Campus in Kingston, Jamaica. The event will feature a keynote address by Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller and will present candidates for Solution Initiatives. For more information, please write to us.

New public consultation until April 14 on draft report “Forests, Oceans, Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services”

On March 14, 2014 the SDSN Thematic Group on Forests, Oceans, Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services launched a public consultation of the draft report Forests, Oceans, Biodiversity, and Ecosystem Services. The consultation will end on April 14.

SDSN Online Education: MOOC on Climate Negotiations and many others

In fall 2014 the SDSN will launch a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on the global climate negotiations. In the run-up to the 2015 climate conference (COP-21) in Paris, the course will familiarize students with the climate negotiations and allow them to participate in an online simulation of the negotiations. The SDSN is preparing other MOOCs on sustainable development and will offer Jeffrey Sachs’ The Age of Sustainable Development again in the fall of 2014. Universities that are interested in offering the course as part of their curricula should write to us.

SDSN Deep Decarbonization Pathway Project

On January 6-10, 2014, the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project (DDPP) held its third in-person meeting in Paris, hosted by the International Energy Agency (IEA). Over 120 participants from academia, policy research institutes and think tanks, the private sector and business organizations, governments, and international organizations, attended the meeting. The technology roundtables, organized in association with the WBCSD and the IEA, gathered leading experts on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), nuclear power, solar energy, wind energy, transportation, and energy storage. The DDPP will present draft national pathways for deep decarbonization in a report to the UN Secretary General, which will be published in July 2014, in preparation for the September 23 World Leaders Climate Summit. Revised pathways will be published ahead of the COP21 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to support a positive outcome of the international climate negotiations by December 2015.

The Role of Science & Technology in Sustainable Development

On December 16th, 2013, UN DESA and the SDSN convened a meeting on the role of science and technology in sustainable development for the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals. Speakers included Ambassador Csaba Kőrösi of Hungary, Ambassador Macharia Kamau of Kenya; Jeffrey Sachs, and Guido Schmidt-Traub on behalf of the SDSN; and several members of the Leadership Council including Achim Dobermann, James Hansen, Rebecca Nelson, Aromar Revi, and Cynthia Rosenzweig. Presentations are available online.

SDSN in the Media 

David Satterthwaite in SciDev – Health in urban slums depends on better local data – March 17, 2014

Benita Diop in The Guardian – Seven women to watch in global politics – March 7, 2014

Rajendra Pachauri in The Guardian – Floods and gales are taste of things to come, says UN climate science chief – March 7, 2014

Christiana Figueres in CNN – Why women are the secret weapon to tackling climate change – March 6, 2014

Christiana Figueres in The Guardian – UN climate chief: extreme weather reminds us we must act on climate change – March 5, 2014

Magdalena Sepulveda Carmona in Thomson Reuters Foundation – IWD 2014: Women pay high price for unpaid care work (co-author) – March 4, 2014

Christiana Figueres in The Guardian – World Wildlife day should remind us we need a climate deal in Paris (co-author) – March 3, 2014

Antonio Pedro in All Africa – Africa’s Transformation Agenda Needs to Be Led By Africans – February 28, 2014

Jeffrey Sachs in Huffington Post – Global Cooperation in the Age of Sustainable Development (co-author) – March 7, 2014

Young Soo-Gil in The Korea Times – ‘Higher electricity rate needed for reduction of carbon dioxide’ – February 26, 2014

SDSN in The New Times – Rwandan varsities challenged to promote home based solutions – February 25, 2014

Jonathan Rose in State of the Planet blog – Riding the Sustainability Wave – February 18, 2014

Andrew Steer in PBS NewsHour (video) – Can the U.S. compel global collaboration on climate change? -February 17, 2014

Paul Polman in Scientific American – Stopping Deforestation Makes Business Sense – February 12, 2014

Paul Polman in The Telegraph – ‘Responsible business can solve the world’s challenges’ – February 9, 2014

Christiana Figueres in The Huffington Post – Why Davos Has Left Me With the Feeling That 2014 Is the Year the World Can and Must Rise to the Climate Challenge – January 28, 2014

Jeffrey Sachs in Project Syndicate – Deep Decarbonization – 27 January, 2014

Christiana Figueres in The Huffington Post – Inaction on Climate Change – 23 January, 2014

Jeffrey Sachs in Gulf News – The challenge of deep decarbonisation – 22 January, 2014

Peter Bakker in The Huffington Post – Businesses Can’t Afford to Ignore Climate Change Any Longer – 21 January, 2014

Aromar Revi & David Satterthwaite in Thomas Reuters Foundation – City dwellers seek to transform debate on urban poverty – 13 December, 2013

News from SDSN Members 

  • Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV) is spearheading the Green Policy Index (GPI) in partnership with the European Commission. They are currently offering a survey to citizens of countries bordering the Atlantic-basin, to study perception of key environmental figures and potential policies in the field of sustainable development. Click here for more information or to take the survey.
  • United Nations University (UNU) and the World Health Organization (WHO) partnered to create the first ever global survey examining the impacts of e-waste recycling on child health. Read more about the project here.
  • The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) launches the first ever cloud based, open-source Web-GIS Tool for estimating rooftop solar power potential for Indian cities. Read more about the project here.
  • On March 4, the German Development Institute organized an afternoon event on the German energy transition (“Energiewende”) in the global context: Lessons and pitfalls for low-carbon transformations.
  • The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) has just released a policy brief Climate Proofing Indian Cities: A Policy Perspective outlining emerging opportunities and recommendations for Indian cities in fostering climate resilient development.
  • On February 4, Bineta Diop, Founder and President of Femmes Africa Solidarité (FAS), was appointed as Special Envoy for Women, Peace and Security by the Chairperson of the African Union Commission at the 22nd African Union Assembly in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
  • On February 1, Prince Albert II of Monaco was named the global winner of the prestigious Zayed International Prize for the Environment Award for the work of his Prince Albert II Foundation, which has supported a wide range of sustainable causes all over the world.
  • Researchers from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Philippines, and the University of California, Berkeley, US, have tested their flood-tolerant hybrid rice in India. The randomized field trails have shown to improve crop yields by almost half. Click here to read more.
  • On January 8, 2014, Andrew Steer, President and CEO of the World Resource Institute, shared his perspectives on anticipated major global developments in economics, business, natural resources and sustainability in the coming year. Click here to watch the presentation. Slides of the presentation are available here.
  • Five members of the Leadership Council have been named among the “Sixteen global sustainability leaders seeking transformational change” by Guardian Sustainable Business. The Leadership Council members listed are: Christiana Figueres (Executive Secretary of UNFCCC), Andrew Steer (President and CEO of WRI), Paul Polman (CEO of Unilever), Peter Bakker (President of WBCSD), and Feike Sijbesma (CEO of DSM). Click here to read more.

Upcoming Events

  • April 4 – Side-Event at the UN on the draft report Indicators for Sustainable Development Goals – LAST CHANCE for inputs! | New York, USA
  • April 29-May 1 – Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project (DDPP) Meeting | Paris, France
  • May 7-8 – Caribbean SDSN Launch Event | Kingston, Jamaica | Click to view the Call for Proposals
  • May 15-16 – Leadership Council meeting | Beijing, China
  • May 19-20 – Workshop on Sustainable Development Goals | Melbourne, Australia
  • June 27 – Turkish SDSN Launch Event | Istanbul, Turkey
  • July 7 – South Asia SDSN Launch Event | New Delhi, India
  • August 25-30 – 5th Annual Ibadan Sustainable Development Summit (ISDS) | Ibadan, Nigeria | Click to view the announcement letter
  • September 17-18 – Sustainable Development Solutions Conference organized with MDP Consortium | New York, USA
  • September 19-20 – Leadership Council meeting | New York, USA