Green Cities Fit for Life

Image by Jean-Dominique Billaud

ICLEI Take Stock of Environmental Progress

13th June 2012

Just ahead of the much anticipated Rio+20, ICLEI released their Local Sustainability 2012 study. The publication consists of two complementary reports: Taking Stock and Moving Forward, Global Review and Showcasing Progress, Case Studies. The reports reflect on the achievements that the global society has made so far and the factors and the players in that success.

The study presents the “story” of local sustainability, as told by people who were personally involved in implementing and supporting cities in their sustainability efforts throughout the last 20 years, and has been produced by ICLEI, in association with the Charles Leopold Mayer Foundation and UN-Habitat. Showcasing Progress lays out detailed case studies of success stories from across the world. The 14 case studies capture initiatives in Australia, Asia, Africa, Europe and America.

Currently, urban areas are inhabited by 50% of the world’s population and are responsible for 75% of carbon emissions. Continued effort in the area of sustainable cities is essential to adapt to this new global threat and to mitigate any further impacts. It is intended that this study will serve as a guide and inspiration to leaders at international, national and local level in the hope to create a strong and relevant policy framework.

According to the Global Review, the achievements in sustainability to date can be attributed to the five key drivers: local government; civil society e.g. community groups, religious organizations, science and research institutes; local government associations and volunteer groups; national governments; and international cooperation programmes. Through complementary works these bodies have created widespread acceptance and adoption of green processes. This work has been done through activities, education, campaigns, grants and innovations.

An interesting facet of the local sustainability process highlighted in the report is the use of social media. Never before has a global movement benefitted from people twitting, podcasting and blogging. Carrot mobs, crowd sourcing, crowd finding, participatory GIS, guerrilla gardening, pledges etc. have all been organised through online media. It allows citizens to be empowered to act rather than observe. Coupled with classical methods of policy development, these new forms of spontaneous and collective actions can crystallise sustainability as a way of life.

However for all the success that has been obtained, there are still significant barriers in the way. The study discusses how the effects of a deregulated globalised economy has forced competition between countries and has directly weakened environmental and social standards defined by national governments. This impact can clearly be seen in countries where products for more affluent societies are produced under degrading conditions, where citizens have no access to potable water, where deforestation and leeching are prevalent, where arable land is rendered unusable, where the price of fuel, electricity and even corn are out of reach for the majority.

National governments are called to acknowledge that sustainability should always mean a strong local economy; jobs; an attractive natural and built economy; access to healthy food, clean air and potable water; good quality housing; functioning social and political systems and public services; and independence from increasingly expensive fossil resources. An enforced international agreement on environmental and social standards could bridge the gap between global economy and local sustainability processes.

However the study is quick to acknowledge the positive effects the sustainability has had on the current economic crisis. The new ‘Green Economy’ has not only produced a wide range of new commodities from energy saving light bulbs to giant tidal turbines but also new business models, basic income models, common welfare work, crowd thinking have all been influenced. The Green Economy has the potential to be a true contribution to sustainable development.

In order to achieve local and indeed global sustainability a legal and fiscal framework should be enforced. International policies should support governments at all levels and strengthen their efforts. It is hoped that Rio+20 will conclude with positive, innovative methods of ensuring global environmental justice.

ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability is an association of over 1220 local government members who are committed to sustainable development. Like the European Green Capital Award it encourages ongoing sustainability goals at a local level as well as friendly competition between cities.

For more information on Local Sustainability 2012 and to download the study click here

For more information on what Vitoria-Gasteiz is doing click here

For more information about the European Green Capital Award click here

For more information on the International EWWR Conference and Awards Ceremony 2012 click here