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On October 14, 2014, the SDSN and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) organized an event entitled “Sustainable Cities: Investing in the Future” at the fourth biennial World Investment Forum in Geneva, Switzerland. This event sought to demonstrate how cities and urbanization fit into the broader, global discussion on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and to discuss strategies for how to foster urban transformation with a view to achieving sustainable development at the city level.

Jeffrey Sachs, Director of SDSN and the Earth Institute, moderated a panel of eight representatives from governments and corporations in cities across three continents (speaker list available here). The first part of the discussion focused on the challenges cities face in achieving sustainable development and the role of private investment in addressing these challenges. The second part of this session examined how cities can effectively attract foreign direct investment for sustainable development.

The debate underlined that fact that, to date, international investors have looked for sustainable projects such as wind energy production, green building development, transit lines, and smart growth real estate, but these are not necessarily linked to cities themselves. Private financing could fill the funding gap for many urban green infrastructure projects. At the same time, investors differ in their needs and capacity and vary between sectors, and so multiple forms of private capital will be necessary to support sustainable cities.