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Economy, ecology, technology – city priorities by the UN & WEF

Karolina Eklöw Mon, 12 September 2022

The world is buckling up to meet again in the fall and winter of 2022/2023. New ideas will gain political momentum. City policies are no exception. What may be the top ideas this year? Recent report releases by urban experts can give a clue. 

  • For City Climate Strategists, there are a number of global agenda-setting conferences on the radar. 
  • The United Nations and the World Economic Forum have released their flagship city reports. 
  • Financing, climate change and technology surface as top priorities in 2022.

Five city reports from the WEF & the UN in 2022
This fall, the opening of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly is followed by Egypt's hosting COP27 and later the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting 2023 held in Davos again. New ideas will surface as top agenda items globally. For City Climate Strategists, conferences may include the New York Climate Week, the Smart City Expo in Barcelona, or the C40 Mayors' Summit in Buenos Aires. There's a lot to keep an eye on. 

Only in the past few weeks, a bundle of flagship reports have been released by leading city experts. The UN-Habitat published the World Cities Report 2022 and the WEF’s Global Future Council on Cities of Tomorrow published a package of not only one – but four new reports. All of them depart from pandemic recovery. However, in their policy advice, three priorities surface: climate, finance and digital.

Diversified sources for resilience and revenue
WEF dedicated an entire report to the issue of city financing, together with PwC: Rethinking city revenue & finance. Their conclusion is that a future-oriented approach needs blended & diversified sources of funding to meet the future infrastructure demands of cities.

UN-Habitat has the same message. In order to build resilience, financing instruments beyond the traditional fiscal tools at the disposal of cities and national governments are needed. In order to scale up the action, there are a number of options to consider, such as looking into new investment approaches, national and municipal debts, tax systems and reviewing fiscal policies. 


Ecosystems for nature and stakeholders

By now, the climate angle is not a fringe perspective anymore. It is at the heart of these five reports. To stay below 1.5 degrees in cities, the UN has a full chapter of green urban ideas. However, the chapter dedicated to planning deserves praise too. It is particularly useful from a climate perspective, championing the "15 minute city" of walkable green city neighbourhoods. 

For WEF, the bundle of four reports all have climate, net zero, sustainability as aims. In particular, the report Delivering Climate - Resilient Cities Using a Systems Approach is a deep dive on data-driven ways to redesign cities to achieve zero carbon by 2050. To do so, cities can involve stakeholders in the urban value chain, through the creation of working groups for a green recovery or by declaring a climate emergency.

Innovation in planning and governance
For the UN, digitalization and technology get their own chapter in the report. The recommendation is to integrate digital technologies and strategies that will ensure data-driven decision-making in the city in general, but for financing in particular.

WEF's third report Using digital technology for a green and just recovery lists 10 initiatives to deliver more efficient, inclusive & sustainable cities. This report has an approach that is not  asking: 'What can we do with tech?' but instead suggesting: 'what can tech do for us?' 

And it turns out, tech can do a lot for cities. Such as actively managing change, deploying agile processes and designing for privacy, security and equity.


The cherry on top? Integration
A number of case studies throughout these five reports are showcasing examples of data-driven and participatory planning that has both climate-related and financial benefits. The upcoming Smart Cities World's City Climate Action Report may pave the way

The conclusion for the urban experts within the United Nations and the World Economic Forum, is that sustainable city planning must be facilitated by systems where finance, climate and technology are – in one way or another – integrated.