5 Ways to Build a Sustainable City

Cities are hubs of innovation and creativity. How can we make them better?

The Battle for Sustainability will be Won or Lost in Cities

Cities are vibrant, thriving hubs of ideas and innovation, invention and collaboration. More than half the world’s people live in cities, and by 2030, this share will swell to 60 percent. Most of this urban expansion will take place in the developing world, in countries like India. Cities can be a plus for the environment. People who live in dense cities with safe and efficient public transit systems drive less; their living spaces can use less energy; and they require fewer resources.
But cities also account for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions. The average city person uses up a lot more energy that the average villager. Disasters are especially punishing to cities. It is crucial, therefore, to pay attention to how we build cities, if we want them to make the planet a better place.

1.Mobilizing Sustainable Transport

Transport drives development — and sustainable transport drives sustainable development. ‘Business as usual’ imposes staggering costs on society, the environment and even the economy. Millions of people die in road accidents every year. 3.5 million people die prematurely due to outdoor pollution. Almost a quarter of energy-related carbon emissions come from transport. Traffic congestion during peak hours in four major Indian cities - Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Kolkata — costs the economy over US $22 billion each year.

Sustainable Transport is also an Opportunity

With well-planned public transport systems, we could save thousands of lives each year through improved road safety. We could reduce carbon emissions and reduce air pollution. So, how do we make transport planning, policy and investment decisions more sustainable? UNDP India has worked to strengthen the government’s capacity to plan, implement, operate and manage climate-friendly and urban transport interventions at state and city levels, including in five cities (Indore, Mysore, Naya Raipur, Pimpri Chinchwad, Hubli Dharwad).

Transport for a livable city

Transport for a livable city

2.Getting Rid of Our Trash

An unpleasant byproduct of urban living is the volumes of solid waste we generate. The amount of garbage cities create is growing even faster than their populations. Indian cities produce 1,00,000 metric tonnes of waste every single day.

This poses a significant environmental and economic challenge. Who collects our waste? Where does it go? Do we dump it all in landfills? How do we deal with plastic waste, which takes forever to degrade, clogs our drains and gets into our food?

What a Waste

Municipal solid waste management is one of the most important services a city provides. Every day, single-use plastics like bottles, bags, packaging and straws are thrown away in huge quantities after just one use. But they last virtually forever - from 20 years for the ubiquitous shopping bag to 450 years for a plastic bottle. They are the largest component of landfills — and soon, they will outnumber marine life in oceans. By reducing, recycling and redesigning plastic waste, we can minimize the amount of waste that is sent to landfills, protect dwindling resources, and reduce emissions, pollution and contamination.

The world’s biggest beverages company has just joined the fight, with UNDP as a partner. Find out how we’re supporting sustainable plastic waste management practices.

3. Greening Our Homes and

Green buildings bring multiple benefits - environmental, economic and social. More efficient houses and commercial spaces have the potential to make energy savings of 50 percent of more by 2050.

In India, the building industry – commercial and residential - accounts for almost 34 percent of the country’s total energy consumption, making it one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases. Certified green buildings in India already make energy savings of 15-20 percent compared to conventional buildings.

Building a More Efficient Future

Find out how the Bureau of Energy Efficiency and UNDP India are partnering to promote the Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC) and embracing energy efficient technologies — such as in the brick industry — making buildings more economical in the long run through cost savings on utilities.

4. Powering Through with

If we are to keep the promise of the Paris Agreement and limit the rise of global temperatures to 1.5 degree Celsius from pre-industrial levels, cities will have to increasingly move to renewable energy sources.

That means moving from fossil fuels to renewables like wind and solar to power our homes and offices, our factories and trains, and even our cars. India has committed to adding 100 gigawatt of solar and 60 GW of wind capacity by 2022 — an ambitious yet necessary goal.

Rising Sun

Indian cities can play a key role in the clean energy revolution. With millions of rooftops suitable for solar panels, and a climate that is conducive to solar energy, they have the potential to reap tremendous benefits from solar energy.

Solar power can allow cities to curb emissions that contribute to global warming, become more resilient to severe weather, help residents stabilize their energy bills, and improve public health through reduced air pollution.
Watch how
Jharkhand and Manipur, two states in the eastern part of India, are increasing their solar footprints with UNDP.

5. Building Resilient Cities

Resilience is more than just a buzzword; it reflects a city’s ability to persevere in the face of hardship and emergency, to continue its core activities despite daunting challenges.

But resilience is not just about bouncing back from the shocks — earthquakes, fires, floods —but planning for the everyday stresses, like high unemployment, an inefficient public transport system, or an unresponsive local government.

By using a resilience lens, a city is better able to deliver basic services to all, in good times and bad.

Getting Back Up

Leadership at the local level is important to drive a culture of resilience from the top down. Resilient cities must have a municipal government that recognizes basic rights and welcomes citizen engagement. Participatory budgeting, monitoring, and planning are all good ways for citizens to connect with government and start to be heard.

That’s why UNDP has partnered with the cities of Navi Mumbai, Shimla, Shillong, Cuttack, Vijayawada and Visakhapatnam to enable better disaster risk management.

Sustainable Cities aren’t just Green

They can accommodate a growing demand for jobs; guarantee social inclusion; provide accessible infrastructure; create systems to level the playing field by ensuring protection and effective and equitable service delivery mechanisms for women, migrants, people with disabilities, and other vulnerable population groups. To learn more about sustainable cities and some of the exciting work underway to build green urban futures, visit www.in.undp.org