This article is part of the series — Colaba Edit.
Across the world, urbanisation is on the march. “Every region is expected to become more urbanised in the next 10 years, although highly urbanised areas
are expected to slow their rate of urban growth.” The global urban population is estimated to grow
by 65 million annually. Cities already house more than half of the world’s people and will be home to two-thirds of the global population by 2050.
However, the demographic shift into cities has been uneven. A large percentage of urban dwellers are concentrated in metropolitan and megacities. The top 600 cities hold a fifth of the world’s population
. It is only natural that along with this demographic shift, cities, especially the larger ones, will acquire primacy in the affairs of their country as they begin to power the national economies. The largest cities have a preponderant economic role as they generate an extremely high percentage of their country’s wealth. While a little over half the global population living in cities generate more than
80 percent of the global GDP, the top 600 urban centres have a fifth of the world’s population and generate 60 percent of the global GDP.
It is only natural that along with this demographic shift, cities, especially the larger ones, will acquire primacy in the affairs of their country as they begin to power the national economies.
It is, however, not merely economies that mark out cities. Scientific research, technological advancement and the emergence of innovations, and the growth of art, architecture, culture and tourism have all gravitated towards cities. Therefore, in several ways, what happens in cities
and to cities
have become major concerns for national governments. The global economy and international cooperation and competition will also increasingly be driven by cities.
Cities are also central to the issues of pandemics, climate change, air and water pollution, crime, poverty and quality of life, sharing a similar set of challenges that threaten sustainable urbanisation. The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated that cities provide pandemics with a wholesome breeding ground
. Currently, cities produce about 70 percent of greenhouse gases and consume 75 percent of the world’s energy and resources. Threats from cities to the global environment have been on the rise. As the UN-Habitat’s World Cities Report
highlights, “The unbridled expansion of urban areas has profound implications for energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, climate change and environmental degradation.” Cities have also become home to organised crime and, in general, appear to show a greater propensity to crime
. Cities also promote a fast-paced life, daily travel over long distances and irregular work hours, resulting in a stressful environment and unhealthy food habits. Lifestyle diseases
such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension, and psychological disorders find a ready home in cities. Inequity is a further cause of worry. The larger cities have massive housing shortages and shelter the poor in rundown housing (slums).
The global economy and international cooperation and competition will increasingly be driven by cities.
In terms of issues of global progress, cities have great commonality. All countries have signed up on behalf of their cities to implement the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Hundreds of cities worldwide are tied in sister-city relationships, are part of regional and sector-based partnerships and periodically get together to discuss mutually relevant issues. City platforms such as United Cities and Local Governments, Commonwealth Local Government Forum, Local Governments for Sustainability, National League of Cities and several other multi-city organisations are functional.
Furthermore, cities across the world perform similar municipal functions. While some may handle more jobs and others fewer, all cities’ core responsibilities remain the same. Things that enable daily life come under the charter of their duties — waste management, water and sewerage, roads, streetlights, housing, open spaces, economic and commercial spaces, education, health and transport are all municipal functions.
In countries that have undergone substantial decentralisation, cities have strong local authorities and function with high degrees of independence and autonomy.
Indeed, fundamental differences exist in the areas of governance. In countries that have undergone substantial decentralisation (mostly in the West), cities have strong local authorities and function with high degrees of independence and autonomy. Such cities generally have empowered and directly elected mayors as the chief executive, with enormous decision-making powers. In other parts of the world, cities operate under systems where appointed commissioners are at the helm of municipal affairs and municipal bodies are tightly controlled by higher governments. Here, the mayors play a ceremonial and peripheral role. There are also differences in the way cities approach urban planning and the degree to which city governments engage with their citizens in their operation and planning processes. There are also differences in the manner and extent cities are financed — some countries share their central taxes with their cities while others do not and allow only a constricted number of taxes to be collected locally.
However, these differences are resoundingly trumped by their similarities of function, their growing centrality in human affairs and their set of challenges. Thus, it makes eminent sense that there should be a global platform where cities learn from each other, share their best practices, discuss their challenges, and seek solutions together. There will be opportunities to share their successes and innovations on such a forum and inform each other why certain initiatives succeeded and others failed. Above all, if two-thirds of the global population will live in cities, 80 percent of the global economy will be generated there and if major challenges in global sustainability will emanate from cities, surely international commitments, such as those by the Group of Twenty (G20), will not fructify without cities being major stakeholders in that effort.
The G20 leaders adopted the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The latter includes making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable (SDG 11).
The G20 was conceived to discuss international and economic stability. Over the years, it has evolved into a major forum to discuss a wide array of pressing global issues, such as sustainable development, climate change, global health, disaster management, energy, tourism, terrorism, corruption and money laundering. Each of these issues is city-centric and will achieve resolution primarily through action taken in cities.
The G20 leaders adopted the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The latter includes making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable (SDG 11). Unfortunately, cities, especially in the developing world, do not have the money, institutional capacity and the platform that will enable them to join the effort towards a global solution to common challenges. The need, therefore, is to empower the cities. This should be possible if a ‘Cities 20’ group is created under the umbrella of the G20, where cities can discuss actions at the local level to further the goals set by the G20, thereby becoming partners in global change. This group could function alongside existing G20 engagement groups
. Local authorities will be recognised as agents for global change in a bottom-up approach by acknowledging cities as legitimate actors
for implementing G20’s action plan on the 2030 Agenda.
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