Statistics Explained

SDG 11 - Sustainable cities and communities

Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable


Data extracted in May 2021.

Planned article update: June 2022.

Highlights


EU trend of SDG 11 on sustainable cities and communities

This article provides an overview of statistical data on SDG 11 ‘Sustainable cities and communities’ in the European Union (EU). It is based on the set of EU SDG indicators for monitoring of progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in an EU context.

This article is a part of a set of statistical articles, which are based on the Eurostat publication ’Sustainable development in the European Union — Monitoring report on progress towards the SDGS in an EU context — 2021 edition’. This report is the fifth edition of Eurostat’s series of monitoring reports on sustainable development, which provide a quantitative assessment of progress of the EU towards the SDGs in an EU context.

SDG 11 aims to renew and plan cities and other human settlements in a way that offers opportunities for all, with access to basic services, energy, housing, transportation and green public spaces, while reducing resource use and environmental impact.

Full article

Sustainable cities and communities in the EU: overview and key trends

Monitoring SDG 11 in an EU context means looking at developments in the quality of life in cities and communities, sustainable mobility and adverse environmental impacts. As Table 1 shows, the EU has achieved significant progress in increasing the quality of life in cities and communities over the past few years, as well as in sustainably managing waste. However, negative trends can be observed in safe and sustainable transport systems, and urban land-take has increased.

Quality of life in cities and communities

While European cities and communities provide opportunities for employment, economic and cultural activity, many inhabitants still face considerable social challenges and inequalities. Problems affecting the quality of housing and the wider residential area, such as noise disturbance, crime and vandalism, are some of the most visible challenges that cities and communities can face and that impact a population’s quality of life.

Quality of housing in the EU has improved over the past eight years

Safe and adequate homes are a foundation for living an independent, healthy and fulfilling life. Poor housing conditions, on the other hand, are associated with lower life chances, health inequalities, increased risks of poverty and environmental hazards. In times of the COVID-19 pandemic, a lack of facilities and overcrowding are especially dangerous.

In 2019, 12.7 % of EU residents experienced at least one of the following basic deficits in their housing condition: leaking roof, damp walls, floors or foundation, or rot in window frames or floor. Since 2010, this share has fallen by 3.6 percentage points, which indicates an improvement in the perceived quality of the EU’s housing stock. The overcrowding rate has also fallen since 2010, by 2.0 percentage points. However, in 2019, 17.1 % of the EU population were still living in overcrowded homes.


Figure 1: Overcrowding rate, EU, 2010-2019 (% of population)
Source: Eurostat (sdg_11_10)


Europeans perceive their residential areas as quieter and safer

Noise disturbance can cause annoyance, stress, sleep deprivation, poor mental health and well-being as well as harm to the cardiovascular and metabolic system [1]. Likewise, crime and vandalism can also reduce quality of life and housing satisfaction in a residential area, leading to even more stress and anxiety. In 2019, 17.3 % of the EU population (about 77 million people) said their household suffered from noise disturbance, compared with 20.6 % in 2010 [2]. Crime, violence and vandalism were perceived in their area by 11.0 % of the EU population in 2019, compared with 13.1 % in 2010.

Despite improvements in perceived exposure to noise, 78.2 million people in EU urban areas were estimated to be exposed to road traffic noise at levels of 55 decibel (dB) or higher on an annual average for day, evening and night, based on modelling calculations from 2019. Another 10.3 million people were estimated to be subjected to excessive noise from railways, 3.0 million from airports and 0.8 million from industry [3]. 55 dB is the noise level where critical health effects may start arising, ranging from severe annoyance and sleep disturbance to hearing impairment [4]. The more recent WHO guidelines for Europe are even more stringent, recommending that the noise level from road traffic should be below 53 dB during the day and below 45 dB during the night [5].

Figure 2: Population living in households considering that they suffer from noise, EU, 2010-2019 (% of population)
Source: Eurostat (sdg_11_20)


Despite recent improvements, the urban population’s exposure to fine particular matter remains high

High concentrations of people and economic activities significantly increase exposure to air pollution, which represents a major environmental and health risk and influences the quality of life in cities. Pollutants such as fine particulate matter suspended in the air reduce people’s life expectancy and perception of well-being and can lead to or aggravate many chronic and acute respiratory and cardiovascular diseases [6]. In 2018, long-term exposure to particulate matter was responsible for 379 000 premature deaths in the EU, according to EEA estimates [7]

The population-weighted annual mean concentration of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in urban areas dropped from 15.7 μg/m3 in 2014 to 12.6 μg/m3 in 2019. Although 12.6 μg/m3 is well below the limit set by the EU from 2015 onward (25 μg/m3 annual mean) [8], substantial air-pollution hotspots remain. According to recent European Environment Agency (EEA) estimates, 4 % of the EU urban population [9] were exposed to levels above the EU PM2.5 limit value in 2018 [10]. If the more stringent WHO air-quality guideline is considered (10 μg/m3 annual mean), about 74 % of people living in EU cities were estimated to be exposed to PM2.5 concentration levels deemed harmful to human health [11].

Despite a decline in road traffic during the COVID-19 pandemic, PM2.5 concentrations have not fallen consistently across all European cities. This is because the main sources of this pollutant, including the combustion of fuel for the heating of residential, commercial and institutional buildings and industrial activities, are varied [12]. Nevertheless, there is evidence that the lockdown measures introduced by European countries to fight the pandemic in 2020 led to reductions in emissions of air pollutants, resulting in better air quality [13]. This improvement, however, is likely to be temporary.

Figure 3: Exposure to air pollution by particulate matter, EU, 2000-2019 (µg/m³)
Source: EEA, Eurostat (sdg_11_50)


City dwellers face more overcrowding, noise pollution and crime

Statistics on the degree of urbanisation provide an analytical and descriptive lens through which to view urban and rural communities. Based on the share of the local population living in urban clusters and urban centres, Eurostat differentiates between three types of area: ‘cities’, ‘towns and suburbs’ and ‘rural areas’ [14]. Overcrowding in the EU was greater in cities (19.2 %) than in rural areas (16.3 %) in 2019 [15]. One possible explanation for this is that dwellings in rural areas and towns and suburbs tend to be larger [16]. The EU population living in towns and suburbs experienced the lowest overcrowding rate (15.5 %).

The perceived level of noise pollution also varies a lot depending on the degree of urbanisation. In 2019, people living in EU cities were more likely to report noise from neighbours or from the street (24.1 %) compared with those living in towns and suburbs (15.6 %) or in rural areas (10.4 %) [17]. Similarly, the perceived occurrence of crime and vandalism in cities (17.0 %) was three times higher than in rural areas (5.6 %) and above the level observed in towns and suburbs (9.1 %) [18].

Sustainable mobility

A functioning transport system is necessary for people to reach their places of work, education, services and social activities, all of which affect quality of life. In addition to availability, the type, quality and safety of transport systems are also crucial when designing sustainable and inclusive cities and communities.

Cars are the main means of transport in the EU

The EU aims to improve citizens’ quality of life and to strengthen the economy by promoting sustainable urban mobility and the increased use of clean and energy-efficient vehicles. Public transport networks help to relieve traffic jams, reduce harmful pollution and offer more affordable and sustainable ways to commute to work, access services and travel for leisure.

Since 2000, the share of buses and trains in total passenger transport has stagnated well below 20 %, accounting for only 17.1 % in 2018. Both long- and short-term trends show that these public transport modes are losing shares (– 0.1 percentage points since 2003 and – 1.0 percentage points since 2013) in favour of passenger cars. This means most passenger journeys in the EU are still undertaken by car.

While there are no data available on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on urban mobility, there is evidence that the lockdown measures have significantly influenced mobility of people and traffic volumes in general [19]. The number of rail passengers at least halved in most Member States in the second quarter of 2020 compared with the second quarter of 2019. The largest decrease was reported in Ireland, with the number of rail passengers falling by 90 % [20]. However, it remains to be seen in how far the pandemic influences the overall modal split of passenger transport, especially the use of private cars compared with public transport modes.

The reduction in road traffic deaths has slowed in recent years, pushing the EU off track to meeting its 2020 target

Road traffic injuries are a public health issue and have huge economic costs. Around 120 000 people are estimated to be seriously injured in road accidents in the EU each year [21]. In 2019, about 62 people lost their lives on EU roads every day. This corresponds to 22 757 people for the entire year — a loss equivalent to the size of a medium town. Nevertheless, the EU has made considerable progress in this respect, reducing road casualties by 48.8 % between 2004 and 2019. However, since 2013 the number of road fatalities has stagnated, meaning that by 2019 the indicator had only fallen by 23.1 % in relation to the target’s reference year (2010). The EU will therefore likely miss its 2020 target of halving the total death toll on EU roads compared with 2010.

The highest share of road-traffic fatalities was recorded on non-motorway roads outside urban areas (53 %), followed by roads inside urban areas (38 %) in 2018 [22]. While the overall number of fatalities fell by 21 % between 2010 and 2018, the number of cyclists killed in urban areas actually increased by 1 %. Indeed, EU-wide, around 70 % of fatalities in urban areas involve vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, motorcyclist and cyclists. This is therefore a key area when it comes to introducing new policy measures to tackle road safety.

Lower traffic volumes, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, had a clear impact on the number of road fatalities. Preliminary data indicate that in 2020 the number of road deaths in the EU fell by 17 % compared with 2019 and by an estimated 36 % compared with 2010 [23].

Figure 4: Road traffic deaths, EU, 2000-2019 (number of killed people)
Source: European Commission services, DG Mobility and Transport, Eurostat (sdg_11_40)


Environmental impacts

While cities, towns and suburbs are a focal point for social and economic activity, if not managed sustainably, they risk causing considerable environmental damage. At the same time, large and densely populated cities provide opportunities for effective environmental action, indicating that urbanisation is not necessarily a threat but can act as a transformative force for more sustainable societies [24]. EU progress in reducing the environmental impacts of cities and communities is monitored by three indicators looking into the management of municipal waste, waste water treatment and artificial land cover.

Despite of continuous improvements in the recycling of municipal waste, the EU might miss its targets

The ‘waste hierarchy’ is the overarching logic that guides EU waste policy. It prioritises waste prevention, followed by re-use, recycling, other recovery and finally disposal, including landfilling, as the last resort. Waste management activities promote recycling, which reduces the amount of waste going to landfills and leads to higher resource efficiency. Although municipal waste accounts for less than 10 % of the weight of total waste generated in the EU [25], it is highly visible and closely linked to consumption patterns. Sustainable management of this waste stream reduces the adverse environmental impact of cities and communities, which is why the EU has set a target to recycle at least 60 % of its municipal waste by 2030 [26].

In 2019, each EU inhabitant generated on average 1.38 kilograms of municipal waste per day, which was just 0.03 kg below the 2000 figure [27]. Although the EU has not substantially reduced its municipal waste generation, it has clearly shifted to more recycling. Since 2000, the recycling rate of municipal waste has increased continuously from 27.3 % to 47.7 % in 2019. However, the trend has slowed since 2016, with the share of recycled municipal waste increasing by only 1.2 percentage points between 2016 and 2019. Further efforts are therefore needed to put the EU back on track towards meeting its recycling targets.

Figure 5: Recycling rate of municipal waste, EU, 2000-2019 (% of total municipal waste generated)
Source: Eurostat (sdg_11_60)

Connection rates to waste water treatment are increasing

Urban areas also place significant pressure on the water environment through waste water from households and industry that contains organic matter, nutrients and hazardous substances. Between 2016 and 2018, 15 Member States reported that 80 % or more of their population were connected to at least secondary waste water treatment plants, which use aerobic or anaerobic micro-organisms to decompose most of the organic material and retain some of the nutrients. In eight Member States, more than 90 % of the population were connected to such services. The shares increased in most Member States between 2003 and 2018. However, it may not be suitable to connect 100 % of the population to a sewerage collection system, either because it would produce no environmental benefit or would be too costly.

Settlement area per capita has increased

Offering numerous cultural, educational and job opportunities, an urban lifestyle is increasingly attractive to Europeans, leading to a growing urban population. However, certain demographic and lifestyle trends hinder the efficient use of land in urban areas [28], leading to settlement areas expanding more quickly than populations have grown. Since the mid-1950s, the total surface area of EU cities has increased by 78 % compared with a 33 % growth in the size of the population. The loss of land and ecosystem services that this land could otherwise offer remains one of the major environmental challenges Europe is facing [29].

Settlement area per capita has increased over the past few years. In 2018, for each EU inhabitant, 703.4 m² of land were covered by settlement area (comprising both sealed and non-sealed surfaces — for example, buildings, industrial and commercial area, infrastructure but also parks and sportsgrounds), which is 3.3 % more than in 2015.

Figure 6: Settlement area per capita, EU, 2009-2018 (m²)
Source: Eurostat (sdg_11_31)

Context

Around 320 million people or almost three-quarters of the EU population, live in urban areas — cities, towns and suburbs — with almost 40 % residing in cities alone [30]. With the share of Europe’s urban population projected to rise to just over 80 % by 2050 [31], sustainable cities, towns and suburbs are therefore essential for citizens’ well-being and quality of life. Urban areas also serve as hubs for economic and social development and innovation and attract many people thanks to the wide range of opportunities for education, employment, entertainment and culture on offer. This large concentration of people and wealth, however, often comes with a range of complex challenges such as ensuring sustainable mobility and affordable housing and decent housing conditions. Another is reducing cities’ negative environmental impacts, such as poor air quality, noise, the spread of the settlement areas and the large amounts of waste generated in urban areas. Cities are consequently not just a source of economic, environmental and social challenges but also a potential solution to these issues. As such, they can be considered a key driver for achieving a sustainable future.

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More detailed information on EU SDG indicators for monitoring of progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as indicator relevance, definitions, methodological notes, background and potential linkages, can be found in the introduction of the publication ’Sustainable development in the European Union — Monitoring report on progress towards the SDGS in an EU context — 2021 edition’.

Notes

  1. European Environment Agency (2019), Population exposure to environmental noise.
  2. Source: Eurostat (online data code: (sdg_11_20) and (demo_gind).
  3. European Environment Agency (2019), Population exposure to environmental noise. Data refer to EU-28.
  4. Berglund, B., Lindvall, T., Schwela, D.H. (1999), Guidelines for Community Noise, World Health Organization (WHO), Geneva.
  5. WHO Regional Office for Europe (2018), Environmental Noise Guidelines for the European Region.
  6. World Health Organization (2016), World Health Statistics 2016: Monitoring Health for the SDGs, p. 37.
  7. European Environment Agency (2020), Air Quality in Europe 2020 Report, EEA Report No 9/2020, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, p. 7. The EEA estimates reported here refer to the EU-28.
  8. For PM2.5, the Ambient Air Quality Directive 2008/50/EC introduced a target value to be attained by 2010, which became a limit value starting in 2015. For more information on EU air quality standards see: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/air/quality/standards.htm.
  9. The EEA estimates reported here refer to the EU-28.
  10. European Environment Agency (2020), Air Quality in Europe 2020 Report, EEA Report No 9/2020, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, p. 8.
  11. Ibid.
  12. European Environment Agency (2020), Air quality and COVID-19.
  13. European Environment Agency (2020), Air Quality in Europe 2020 Report, EEA Report No 9/2020, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, p. 6.
  14. Degree of urbanisation classifies local administrative units as ‘cities’, ‘towns and suburbs’ or ‘rural areas’. In ‘cities’ at least 50 % of the population lives in an urban centre. If less than 50 % lives in an urban centre but more than 50 % of the population lives in an urban cluster it is classified as ‘towns and suburbs’, and if more than 50 % of the population lives outside an urban cluster it is classified as a ‘rural area’. An urban centre is a cluster of contiguous grid cells of 1 km2 with a density of at least 1 500 inhabitants per km2 and a minimum population of 50 000 people. An urban cluster is a cluster of contiguous grid cells of 1 km2 with a density of at least 300 inhabitants per km2 and a minimum population of 5 000 people.
  15. Source: Eurostat (online data code: (tessi174)).
  16. See: Average size of dwelling by household type and degree of urbanisation. Source: Eurostat (online data code: (ilc_hcmh02)).
  17. Source: Eurostat (online data code: (ilc_mddw04)).
  18. Source: Eurostat (online data code: (ilc_mddw06)).
  19. Google (2020), Google COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports.
  20. Eurostat (2020), Impact of COVID-19 on rail passenger transport in Q2 2020.
  21. European Commission (2020), Road safety: Europe’s roads are getting safer but progress remains too slow.
  22. European Commission (2020), 2019 road safety statistics: what is behind the figures?
  23. European Commission (2021), Road safety: 4 000 fewer people lost their lives on EU roads in 2020 as death rate falls to all time low.
  24. UN-Habitat (2016), Urbanization and Development: Emerging Futures, World Cities report 2016, pp. 85–100.
  25. Eurostat (2021), Statistics explained: Municipal waste statistics.
  26. European Commission (2018), Directive (EU) 2018/851 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 May 2018 amending Directive 2008/98/EC on waste (Text with EEA relevance).
  27. Source: Eurostat (online data code: (env_wasmun))
  28. Examples of such trends are lower household occupancy and preference for detached houses. See also European Environment Agency (2016), Urban sprawl in Europe — joint EEA-FOEN report, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.
  29. European Commission (2016), Science for Environment Policy. Future Brief: No net land take by 2050? p. 4.
  30. 2019 data. Source: Eurostat (online data codes: (ilc_lvho01) and (demo_gind)).
  31. Eurostat (2016), Urban Europe: Statistics on cities, towns and suburbs, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, p. 9.