On May, 14,  2014, the SDSN in partnership with Columbia Global Centres East Asia, UN Habitat and United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) hosted a plenary event and then an expert roundtable, entitled “Learning Lessons From Sustainable Urbanization in China and Encouraging Progress through Sustainable Development Goals.”

Speakers included Dr. Aijun Qiu (Deputy Director General of China Center for Urban Development at China’s National Development and Reform Commission), Ms. Yan Peng (Regional Director for East Asia, C40 Cities), Mr. Aromar Revi (co-chair of the SDSN thematic group on sustainable cities and Director of IIHS) and Professor Jeffrey Sachs (Director of the SDSN).

Speakers highlighted China’s centrality in the global urbanization process. The country currently has more than 100 urban agglomerations that exceed one million in population and this is likely to increase to 140 urban centres by the year 2025. Professor Sachs emphasized the importance of urbanization for China’s growth process, but also that with this success have come huge and unacceptable environmental costs. It is vital that we look to new, sustainable urban planning and development models.

Dr. Qiu highlighted findings from small cities in Western China, where NDRC are pursuing a “comprehensive reform trial” for a more integrated approach to urban development. Dr. Qiu described the thread of integrated urban development as sitting with central ministries, whilst the needle is in the hands of local government. Ms. Peng outlined C40’s unique peer learning platform, which is enabling the Planning Commissioner of Beijing, for example, to exchange directly with his equivalent in London or New York. Mr. Aromar Revi discussed the opportunity afforded by the global SDG process, through which we can galvanize action on sustainable urban development on a global scale. At present we use 19th century ideas and institutional frames for 21st century problems. The SDGs present an opportunity for a radical overhaul of the global governance architecture, in support of sustainable development, particularly within cities.

During the ensuing discussion the importance of attracting ‘green’ finance was raised. Participants discussed the potential offered by pension and insurance funds, the catalytic role that multilateral development banks can play, twinned investment and innovative local government mechanisms.

The SDSN has committed to continue this discussion, by launching a report in the autumn of 2014 on green investment in cities. This will feed into an event being organized by the SDSN and UNCTAD at the World Investment Forum in 2014. More information is available here.

Following the break, an expert roundtable considered how we measure sustainable development in cities. Amongst others, brief presentations were given by Mr. Peter Head (SDSN Thematic Group member) and Mr. Shanfeng Dong (TEST) on the alignment of SDG indicators and China’s National Eco City Indicators, using an example from Tianjin. Ms. Lillian Li (Urban China Initiative) presented a new China Urban Sustainability Index and by Dr. Jingjing Qian (Natural Resources Defense Council) discussed a Chinese City Walkability Index.

SDSN is in the process of piloting city-level indicators in support of the Sustainable Development Goals. Research is being carried out in Bangalore, New York, Rio de Janiero and Durban, amongst other cities. Evidence from China will be used to compliment this work and to feed in to ongoing high-level dialogues on how we adapt the SDGs for sub-national monitoring and implementation.

For more information contact Jessica Espey.


Advancing Sustainable Urbanisation via the SDGs – Aromar Revi and Cynthia Rosenzweig, Co-Chairs of Thematic Group 9 on Sustainable Cities: Inclusive, Resilient, and Connected