Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Dec 08, 2022
India now has the unique opportunity to outline and action specific U20 goals to link with the larger objectives of G20
India’s G20 Presidency and the future of cities Fifty percent of the world’s population currently lives in urban areas, which is projected to increase by 1.5 times to 6 billion. However, cities continue to face mounting challenges in accommodating the needs of this rapidly expanding population. Moreover, the Global South faces the twin challenges of managing the urban sprawl while delivering a good quality of life for its citizens. As a catalyst for global change, what promises can India’s presidency hold for half the world’s urban population? How can India set an example for city planners of the developing world to ensure the availability of and accessibility to basic amenities and infrastructure? How can India’s G20 presidency contribute to the pressing urban issues?

The G20 urban question

G20’s Sustainable Development agenda aligns itself with sustainable actions to meet the goals of the 2030 Agenda. Within the G20 ecosystem, a city diplomacy initiative called the “Urban 20” (U20) was launched in December 2017. As one of the formal Engagement Groups under G20, the U20 forum was meant to collectively raise critical urban issues of G20 cities during the G20 negotiations.

U20 specifically focuses on climate change, sustainable development, and socio-economic issues in connection with the Sustainable Development Goals.

U20’s City Sherpas emphasise on the increasing importance of cities (both G20 and non-G20) as a country’s engines of innovation, economic growth, and productivity. U20 specifically focuses on climate change, sustainable development, and socio-economic issues in connection with the Sustainable Development Goals. As an assemblage of C40 Cities (C40) and the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), U20 functions under the leadership of an annual chair city that is based in the G20 host country. U20’s last Summit, held in Jakarta in 2022, focused on post-COVID economic and social recovery. A total of 96 cities joined in person, while 31 city mayors attended the event virtually to sign the Communiqué. Despite U20’s concerted efforts to run parallel to G20, the absence of any written constitution, procedures, or formal agreement has made U20 unable to effectively address the aspirations and concerns of cities. U20 seems to have largely remained a platform for expression and making recommendations without being able to directly influence urban planning or implement policy initiatives. Within this framework, India now has the unique opportunity to outline and action specific U20 goals to link with the larger objectives of one of the most influential international forums. By exploring the interlinkages and shared issues related to urban planning, India can help pave the way to bring about a global consensus for renewed urban vigour.

India at U20 2023

India’s U20 prospect can work towards engaging in meaningful policymaking and investments towards fulfilling the global 2030 Agenda. By mindfully planning the allocation of urban resources and inspiring sustainable practices, India can set a new balanced template. While learning from the best practices of some of the soundest cities, India has the chance to initiate action towards contemporary and pressing urban issues globally.

India now has the unique opportunity to outline and action specific U20 goals to link with the larger objectives of one of the most influential international forums.

  • In a post-pandemic world, U20 2023 can prioritise the role of urban mental health to raise awareness of its bearing as a consequence of an overpowering built environment. A multi-sector approach can facilitate bringing together global experts from different fields to deliberate on the overlooked aspects of urban distresses. Urban amenities must account for the improvement of the overall quality of life and social-emotional well-being.
  • U20 2023 can create a primer for effective data collection, analysis, monitoring, and reporting for timely assessment or urban plans to align with G20 and national agendas. Going further, India must emphasise policies for efficient data use and supporting data governance.
  • A good beginning can also be to initiate a discussion for defining what constitutes the ‘urban’. For instance, as per the 2011 census, 42 percent of India’s financial capital, Mumbai, lives in slums. It may be time to extend the explanation of Smart Cities to include not only digitally advanced but also inclusive cities. Investing in participatory planning approaches can help evaluate the social impact of urbanisation on marginalised communities such as the Coastal 500 initiative. Social Impact Assessment can further bring back the trust in urban planning and implementation that are often seen as being tardy and lethargic.
  • Big Tech players such as Cisco, Google, and Microsoft have made urban e-governance speedy. However, it may be imperative to reassess its inclusivity and effectiveness. For example, MoHUA’s National Urban Digital Mission, in partnership with states and local bodies, aims at increasing the efficiency of the urban ecosystem while easing the lives of citizens through various technological innovations. However, digital literacy in urban India is only at 61 percent, suggesting a pervading low awareness of the government’s e-services. Moreover, gender biases in technology and digital skills lead to a greater gender digital divide suggesting a huge disparity in access to digital services. New regulatory frameworks are needed to encourage research and investment in bridging such gaps.
  • U20 2023 can call for global collaborations to develop equitable cities by engaging in dialogues around gender-inclusive planning. This is not only to benefit women and children but to include representation of diverse marginalised genders and LGBTQ+ persons in the urban planning process. Global cooperation from different actors and hybrid global and local alliances will include insights from government, civil society, academia, and industry to increase the accountability and effectiveness of the urban design.
  • It is also essential to highlight the importance of capacity building and training for planners and civic officials about the various sensitivities and impacts of urban development plans. For instance, urban policies must also take into account affordable housing beyond merely accommodating benefits for real estate developers. Likewise, India can bolster global joint discussions around increased investment in urban healthcare facilities.
  • While delivering on the Paris Agreement and the New Urban Agenda and 2030 Agenda, India can reinforce direct investment in areas such as sustainable energy and mobility transition. Initiatives such as these will help increase urban resilience through collective climate action and mitigation. For instance, managing the risks of urban flooding in a changing climate has become a global focus area for policymakers.
  • With cities bourgeoning, investing in quality education and skilling has become critical to better prepare for the future of work and jobs for all, including the most vulnerable—given the rapid and enormous transformations that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will catalyse. Policies, across sectors, must support better skilling and training for entrepreneurship. For example, while the PM Employment Generation Programme and other Credit Support Schemes support MSMEs for training the youth and generating employment, we are yet to see their effectiveness and outreach. On the other hand, the rising trend of the gig economy demands innovative policymaking to accommodate the aspirations of the urban youth.
  • Most importantly, U20 2023 can reinforce the importance of local-regional involvement for the integration of perspectives at the national and sub-national government bodies as the way forward. Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) can be strengthened further to facilitate basic infrastructure needs, inclusive economic growth and equitable development. Area-specific reforms and other local interventions can be insightful in planning effective public transport and urban mobility, urban safety, tourism, human-nature conflicts, stormwater drainage systems, efficient and equitable water supply networks, along with adequate provision and management of sanitation and urban solid waste. For instance, despite some of the global good practices in urban solid waste management, policies have rarely focused on understanding the local social impact of the process. Conversely, a method is needed to cascade and adapt successful local experiences to global situations. For example, the measures taken during the COVID-19 pandemic at Dharavi, Asia’s largest urban slum area, prevented the spread of the virus creating a successful model.
India’s theme of G20 2023 holds the promise of interconnectedness to bring in an attitudinal change through deliberation, partnerships, dialogues, cooperation and knowledge-sharing. India can lead the way for global response and action by setting the stage for newer partnerships and agreements to facilitate community empowerment and social justice at both the local and societal levels. By stressing on equity, inclusivity, sustainability and resilience, U20 2023 will be able to honour its commitment to establish better cities.
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Anusha Kesarkar Gavankar

Anusha Kesarkar Gavankar

Anusha is Senior Fellow at ORF’s Centre for Economy and Growth. Her research interests span areas of Urban Transformation, Spaces and Habitats. Her work is centred ...

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