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UN calls for global action to turn cities into engines of sustainable development

The Korali informal settlement in Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka.
© UN-Habitat/Kirsten Milhahn
The Korali informal settlement in Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka.

UN calls for global action to turn cities into engines of sustainable development


Marking World Cities Day on Tuesday, the UN Secretary-General emphasised the vital role cities play in sustainable development as catalysts for economic growth and innovation.

"World Cities Day is a time to consider the pivotal role cities play in sustainable development," said António Guterres, setting the stage for a global call to action.

Cities, he noted, are not only engines of economic growth but are also at the forefront of the world's most pressing challenges. From the climate crisis to widening social inequalities and political polarization, cities find themselves grappling with a multitude of complex issues.

1.1 billion in slums

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Cities, towns and their surrounding areas act as powerful magnets for innovation, culture and opportunities, alluring both talent and investment.

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Today, urban living has already been embraced by more than half of the world's population, and UN Habitat projections indicate that nearly 70 per cent of people will live in cities by 2050.

While cities generate more than 80 percent of the global GDP, create powerful networks of entrepreneurship and business growth and give ample opportunities for talents development, they can turn into an inequality trap, with overcrowding, pollution, poor infrastructure and social injustice. 

Approximately 1.1 billion people live in slums and informal settlements in urban areas, which entrenches poverty and limits opportunities. 

More support to local authorities

The Secretary-General expressed his concerns about the challenges faced by local authorities. "Local authorities are struggling with limited support and resources," he stated. "The demand for critical infrastructure, affordable housing, efficient transport, and essential social services continues to grow exponentially."

This year's theme for World Cities Day, "Financing Sustainable Urban Development," serves as a clarion call for collective action. It urges governments, international organizations, the private sector, and civil society to collaborate and mobilize financial resources to build resilient, sustainable cities.

"I am a strong advocate for equitable financing solutions at the global level," the UN chief emphasized. Such solutions, together with innovative and diverse funding sources, are essential to strengthen local financing strategies that are climate-friendly, inclusive, and equitable, he added.

To enhance coordination and amplify the voices of cities and regions, the Secretary-General has recently established of the Advisory Group on Local and Regional Governments. This group will focus on implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and ensuring that urban areas are heard as the world prepares for the Summit of the Future next year.

Sustainable urban future for all

The Municipality of Üsküdar in Istanbul, Türkiye, hosted today World Cities Day 2023 under the theme “Financing sustainable urban future for all”. 

Over 1,000 participants representing 221 countries had registered for the event in-person and online, according to the UN Human Settlements Progaramme (UN-Habitat).

In her remarks on the Day, UN-Habitat Executive Director Maimunah Mohd Sharif said that progress towards achieving sustainable and just development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) had stalled.

“Half of the world is now urban. There is no stopping this mega-trend. By adapting our cities and finding in them the resources and talent we need, we can upscale the solutions we need to ensure no one, and no place is left behind,” she said.