Habitat III Conference: Sustainable Urbanisation Agenda for the Next 20 Years

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How can we improve people’s lives in cities over the next 20 years – not only for the 4bn existing citizens but also for the 1.5bn expected new city arrivals? – The UN Habitat Conference in Quito aims to set the New Urban Agenda and real estate plays an important role in its implementation.

The Rural-to-Urban Population Shift Requires New Development Models

City living has become the predominant life style over the past decades as 2007 saw the urban population represent over 50% of total population, for the first time in human history. Hundreds of millions of people left their rural environments streaming into ever growing metropolises in search of a better life. In 1976, the United Nations convened the first global urbanisation summit in order to define development models for cities to help them cope with the scale and speed of urbanisation, above all in developing countries. At the time, just over one third of the world’s population lived in cities.

Embracing the Urbanisation Process to Improve People’s Lives

20 years later, at the second “city summit”, held in Istanbul, in 1996, the World realised that urbanisation has been progressing at a fast pace and that rural areas continued to lose its people with the share of urban populations increasing to 45%. With the insight that this rural-urban migration was unstoppable, the Habitat II conference defined an agenda to provide safer, healthier, more sustainable and productive cities over the coming two decades.

20 Years to Make Cities Fair, Prosperous and Resilient

The goal of the third Habitat conference, in Quito, Ecuador, in October 2016, is to agree the “New Urban Agenda”. Its aim is not only to reinvigorate the global commitment for sustainable urbanisation for the existing 4bn city dwellers but also to plan for the arrival of an additional 1.5bn people by 2036. The Habitat III agenda is based on three guiding principles: Urban equity and eradication of poverty, sustainable and inclusive urban prosperity and ecological and resilient cities. Introduced to the Habitat summit in 1996 as an additional stakeholder to realise the urbanisation goals, the private sector will be expected to play an even bigger role, this time around.

Real Estate: From Simple Shelter to Sustainable Development Vector

In past conferences, real estate was seen in a more limited role, to provide safe, clean and secure shelter for all. This time around, and in parallel with a vastly increased agenda – from 15 points in 1996 to 175 action points this time – real estate is becoming a vector for achieving a whole array of sustainable development objectives. Buildings and construction can provide reduced greenhouse gas emissions through energy efficient design, operations and life-cycle based carbon management. Renewable energy generation on building roof tops or district-wide combined heat and power facilities contribute to a resilient and low carbon energy infrastructure. Affordable housing development widens access to different income groups of society. Resilient buildings reduce risks for residents and improve business continuity during severe weather events. And the use of resource-efficient raw and construction materials contributes to a sustainable use of natural resources.

Transparency Plays a Crucial Role for Implementation

The definition of objectives needs to go hand in hand with their implementation where transparency and reporting play a crucial role. Transparency tools that enable real estate stakeholders to realise their sustainability goals are manifold: Building energy performance standards and codes provide good practice guidance for energy efficient design and construction. Energy efficiency labelling helps investors and occupiers identify buildings that contribute to low carbon imperatives and provide an indication of their operational cost efficiency. Green building standards and certifications guide developers and tenants in providing future-proof and healthy buildings to citizens and office employees. And carbon reporting frameworks keep investors and corporates ‘transparent’ on their sustainability journey.


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