Priority Areas of the 2023 U20

The effort of the sixth U20 is to move from intention to action and to draft a roadmap for global change that will be driven by cities by closing the gaps between policy and practice at all levels of governance. For this, cities have to be empowered to achieve the right balance between economic prosperity and environmental impact; increasing densities and sprawl; diversity and social cohesion; technological advancements and digital divide, and multiple other contradictions faced by urban areas. The UNSDG recognizes this decade as the ‘Decade for Action’ to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. This decade is also witness that global issues of economy, climate, human settlements, health and multiple other crises are also issues of urban areas. Given the contribution of cities to the productivity of nations and the world, it is crucial that they play a pivotal role in developing effective solutions to pressing and interlinked global issues.

Ahmedabad as the Chair city for the sixth U20, invokes the solidarity of cities with the objective to deepen their collaboration amongst to collectively find common solutions that are in sync with the overall objectives of the G20. U20 highlights six priority areas that are critical for inspiring city level actions to respond to global agendas. These can be further developed by collaborative deliberations among Sherpas and leaders of U20 cities to finalise the Communique.

Over the years a number of international treaties and protocols (COP, SDGs, etc.) have been signed, pledging global action for sustainable, equitable and resilient urban development. Achieving results on ground will require concerted action and behavioural change across the urban ecosystem i.e., in actions/policies of governments and in technological decisions made by industry. In fact, global sustainable development objectives can fully succeed only if they permeate the day-to-day lives of citizens and living sustainably is embedded into the ethos of urban living rather than handed down as a set of regulations. India’s Lifestyle for Environment (LiFE) Mission is a global call for a mass movement to nudge action from individuals, community, institutions, governments and non-state actors to protect and conserve the environment. It covers circular economy, low carbon mobility, water conservation, green energy, urban farming and other critical aspects. Additionally, ‘just transition’ has to be ensured as moving to low-carbon buildings, technologies, transportation, energy, and industrial production impacts traditional employment patterns. U20 deliberations can provide a framework for mobilising the urban stakeholder ecosystem to drive systemic change.

Expected outcomes and related actions:

  • Localising of global agendas - Recast existing legal, policy, financial and technological instruments
  • ‘Just transitions’ that leave no one behind – rethink policies, regulations and processes
  • Responsible individual behaviour– facilitate awareness, engagement and empowerment

Freshwater is a vital resource for human life, and its scarcity can limit the potential of development and result in severe health issues and social conflicts. Studies indicate that global urban population facing water scarcity is likely to increase from one-third to half of the population from 2016 to 2050. Rapid urbanisation and abuse of available water resources (overdrawing, pollution, encroachment, etc.) has increased the vulnerability of water ecosystems. Global warming is also radically reducing freshwater availability. Water crises have been consistently ranked in the top five global risks since 2012. Water resource management is a top priority to ensure water security for future generations. In recent years, India has taken comprehensive steps to address water issues through national missions and initiatives for river sensitive urban development. U20 can build upon experiences of cities across the world and design a road map to ensure long-term water security.

Expected outcomes and related actions:

  • Protected and revitalized water ecosystems – reform institutional and regulatory frameworks
  • Integrated and sustainable urban water management practices – mainstream
  • Equitable and safe access to water – ensure through accountable service delivery
  • Reduced impacts of water-related hazards like water logging, urban flooding and droughts

Cities are at the forefront of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing climate change risks. Climate finance is thus critical to support large-scale investments required to adopt measures to significantly reduce emissions and mitigate adverse effects of climate change. While multi-national development banks have oriented their technical support and loan portfolios towards climate financing and global funding facilities such as GEF, GCF, and AF have been set up, the climate finance flows by 2017/18 reached only about USD 384 billion annually; far short of the needs. It is estimated that sustainable investment opportunities in six urban sectors (waste, water, renewable energy, electric vehicles, public transport, green buildings) in emerging markets alone amount to USD 2.5 trillion annually up to 2030. Cities lack the capacities for accessing such financing instruments and for these instruments to be impactful, the readiness of cities for attracting climate financing has to be accelerated. COP 27 has further endorsed the idea of cities being the change-makers in this area. Deliberations at U20 can come up with concrete strategies for mainstreaming climate financing, particularly for cities in the developing world.

Expected outcomes and related actions:

  • Global, national and sub-national instruments for improving the flow of climate financing to cities
  • ‘City readiness’ for attracting and accessing climate finance – replicable and scalable models
  • Climate financing facilitated - standardisation of processes; rating systems; removal of barriers

In an ever globalising world, strengthening local identities, practices and economies can provide substantial benefits for long term economic resilience (particularly in times of global downturns and pandemic events). Thinking locally also helps leverage traditional place-specific knowledge about sustainable building design, resource conservation practices, approaches to disaster management and other challenges. The push for local will have to be made on several fronts such as reinforcing the ‘sense of place’, local economic development, boosting cultural and creative economies, protection of historic city fabrics and socio-economic networks, etc. In fact, locally developed frugal innovations can potentially provide cost-efficient solutions to many urban needs. Governments, industry and non-profit sectors have to create conducive policy environment for encouraging local practices and managing cultural assets. India’s Prime Minister made the clarion call to be ‘Vocal for Local’. U20 can recommend a robust framework for re-positioning the ‘local’ within urban development.

Expected outcomes and related actions:

  • Economic and socio-cultural value of unique local identities, heritage and culture enhanced - place- specific approaches to urban development.
  • Adapting local solutions and frugal innovations at scale to address emerging urban challenges.
  • Government strategies to promote local economic development.

Spatial patterns such as mega city-regions, peri-urban growth, conurbations, etc., have come up as a result of rapid urbanisation, giving rise to questions such as what is the appropriate scale for planning or how to manage coordination among multiple spatial/ political jurisdictions for efficient metropolitan/ regional governance. A majority of the global urban population is affected by this given that cities in developing countries will witness the most unprecedented urbanisation in the coming decades. It is critical to explore innovative frameworks for planning and hybrid governance to develop shared infrastructures (airports, landfills, water supply, regional transit, etc.) and facilitate regional economic clusters. Alongside the issue of urban expansions, liveability within cities is also threatened by multiple issues including degraded built environments, disaster risks and lack of proper housing and services. These have to be tackled by developing feasible models for implementing and financing renewal of different areas in the city, creating opportunities of plugging in principles of placemaking, sustainable mobility, circular economy, green buildings, disaster preparedness etc. U20 is the best platform for collaborative transboundary learning on different approaches to adapt governance and planning frameworks to emerging challenges.

Expected outcomes and related actions:

  • Hybrid planning and governance models to address emerging spatial patterns of urban growth.
  • Shift from a ‘regulatory’ to a ‘strategic’ planning framework.
  • Urban Regeneration’ employed as the key strategy for renewing and redesigning built environments.

Digitalisation is providing the impetus to bring about transformational changes in governance, service provision and almost all aspects of urban living. Given that we are living in the urban century as well as the digital age, digital applications and technologies have permeated the daily lives of urban dwellers and the COVID-19 crisis intensified this dependence. Digitalisation has immense benefits and can enable informed governance and decision making. However, issues of unequal access to technology, barriers to data sharing and lack of opportunities to encourage digital innovations have to be addressed. As countries adopt instruments like large scale digital payment systems Direct Benefit Transfers, social inclusion should be ensured especially for informal sector businesses. Digital platforms can connect citizens directly to governments thereby 5 enhancing transparency and accountability and enabling evidence-based policies, programs, and projects. India has made giant leaps in digitalization and digital innovations through various initiatives. U20 is the best platform to discuss how data and technology can be best utilised for making city management more effective.

Expected outcomes and related actions:

  • The right incubation environment for spurring and maturing digital innovations in service delivery
  • Transfer of technology and sharing of smart solutions among cities
  • Data sharing protocols to ensure data-driven decision-making and encourage further research