UN’s New Sustainable City Effort Starts With Asia


2010 Shanghai Expo Closing Summit

We all need to reinvent urban planning for the 21st

Never has the need been greater for integration across urban management,
systems, experts, policies and technologies.The world is rapidly becoming more urban,
especially in Asia, where hundreds of millions have begun moving to cities.This massive migration, largest
in human history, will produce colossal impacts–including innovation–in energy use, transportation,
housing, water and resource use. Economies will be impacted at every scale, especially beyond burgeoning metro areas in national and global markets.

Add climate change and adaptation issues to the development
of Asian cities, where more than 50 percent of global greenhouse gas emission
increases are expected to occur over the next 15 years,
and we are faced with the urgency–and opportunity–to reinvent urban planning. Planning for the
future of cities needs to now embody a process combining sustainability
strategies with information and communications technologies (ICT), supported by the
sciences (natural + social) in concert with engaged participation: from the
slum to the boardroom to the ivory tower.

Considering such needs, the United Nations is announcing
capacity building for sustainable urbanization
, with an initial focus on Asia. On Nov. 7, the UN will release its “Shanghai Manual for Sustainable
Urbanization” (where else but in China’s largest city, Shanghai?). The Shanghai
Manual, developed in conjunction with the Shanghai Expo 2010 (photo above), represents not
only the knowledge legacy of dozens of symposia held throughout the Expo, but
also new research, case studies and policy recommendations targeted for mayors
and other urban executive leaders.

The Shanghai Manual and its subsequent planned UN sustainability
capacity building for mayors represents a thematic lead-in to the Rio+20
Conference on Sustainable Development, which will be held June 2012 in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Rio+20 marks the anniversary of the historic 1992 United
Nations Conference on Environment and Development
(“The Earth Summit”)
and will draw upon the broad themes of The Green Economy and Sustainable
Development. In Rio, the UN 193 Member States, along with groups such as business and NGO representatives, will evaluate
global progress made and setbacks encountered in achieving sustainable
development, and will try to define ways to create a more sustainable future for all.

My contributions as co-author of the Shanghai Manual
include chapters on “Delivering Effective Urban Management”, “Economic
Transformation”, and “ICT for Smart Cities”. Other chapters are devoted to:

  • Towards a Harmonious City
  • Transport
  • Waste Management
  • Green Buildings
  • Science & Technology
  • Culture and Sustainable Cities
  • Mega Events

Release of
the Shanghai Manual will be rapidly followed by training for mayors of 20
cities from 15 Asian nations. Invited to this training are Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Fiji, India,
Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka,
Thailand, and Viet Nam: they will meet at the UN Centre For Regional Development in Nagoya, Japan,
where I, along with other experts from the UN, will lead instructional sessions in
November. The United Nations expects the training in Nagoya will influence:

  • “Enhanced awareness of participants about
    feasible and attractive policy options for a green economy for rapidly growing
    cities of Asia

  • Increased exchanges between local and national
    levels of government in the participating countries, thus contributing
    favorably to the preparation for the (Rio+20) Conference by Member States themselves
  • Enhanced national capacity to identify common
    challenges and opportunities associated with a green economy and sustainable
    urban development” (photo by Warren Karlenzig)

Karlenzig is president of
Common Current.
He is a fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute, and co-author of
forthcoming United Nations Shanghai Manual on global sustainable city planning and