Global Mayors Start Acting Upon UN’s Sustainable City Manual


After providing the curriculum for training urban leaders from 12 Southeast and
Central Asian nations a few weeks ago (Manila, Philippines is pictured above), the United Nations is now globally launching the full content of the Shanghai Manual:A Guide for Sustainable Urban Development in the 21st Century.

The free publication features 47 global urban sustainability case studies and dozens of timely policy recommendations, especially when one considers the lack of global climate treaties due to tactics of “delaying nations” at the Durban climate talks, including the US. Instead, the Shanghai Manual is a practical tool intended to help the world’s major and medium-sized cities in developing nationsfurther advance their local green economies. The “green economy” is also the key theme of the 2012 United Nations Conference on
Sustainable Development, known as Rio+20.


Using integrated sustainability planning (across management, financing and technology), one of the main functions of the manual will be to provide a basis for capacity building through the UN’s Center for Regional Development, with support from UN agencies or departments including UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, UN Habitat and UN Conference on Trade and Development Office and global consultancies.

As co-author of the Shanghai Manual, I engaged in thematic sessions withthe 12 Asian nation mayors and city leaders at the United Nations Center for Regional Development (UNCRD) in Nagoya, Japan. What became clear during sessions–which were based off the ten chaptersin the Shanghai Manual–was the urgent need to cover a gamut of sustainability issues confronting Asia’s local leaders.

Participants at the UNCRD capacity building included James Chan Khay Syn, the charismaticmayor of Kuching, Malaysia (population 2.5 million),  the youthful Mayor Jejomar Erwin S. Binay Jr., representing Makati, Manila’s downtown district, and the urbane Executive District Officer, Muhammad Maswood Alam, who administers to Karachi’s 17 million citizens. Meanwhile, China will be using the Shanghai Manual as a compendium sponsored by the national government to train its city leadership at the China Executive Leadership Academy in Shanghai.

While something like the lack of green ordinances may, at this point in time, appear egregious to those in the United States or Europe, developing nations face a range of problems that render basic governance and provision of services much more challenging. For instance, in addition to pressing social-economic challenges, participants at the UN’s Japan training centercited warfare, security and sensitive political issues as impediments in addressing sustainability. 

After an opening session by UN Habitat on strategies for working with “informal”
communities (more than half of land in Asian cities has title in dispute or is
unregistered), participants offered ideas for helping their own city’s slum
dwellers, who may number in the thousands or hundreds of thousands. One
approach suggested by the participating mayors was to perceive slums not as
informal but as “aspirational” communities. Such a consideration requires
enabling a differing range of educational and social services, options by which
the more ambitious could integrate into formal society. To better provide the
most targeted city services, data gathering from slum dwellers–peoples’ sex,
age and special needs–was offered as an important first step for cities so
they could plan essential services and outreach tactics based on surveys. City
visits to community gatherings (i.e., clubs, mosques, temples, churches) was
suggested by one city official as a key method for communicating sustainability

The training offered some surprises. During the Q & A following a presentation on green
building principles and case studies, participants related that none of their
cities had implemented large-scale green building measures, as these programs
were thought to be too costly. At the end of the week’s training, however, mindsets apparently shifted. A third of city participants said that they
would soon start green municipal building ordinances and projects, as clear
economic and operational benefits should result from combining energy
efficiency audits and modeling better behavior (turning off unused lights and
air conditioning in government offices). From such practical beginnings, green
building ordinances and green building codes could provide an economic impetus.
One mayor remarked how a municipal green building program seemed like a good
way to help jumpstart the nascent Southeast Asian commercial green products and
services market. 


Participants–both the cities and the officials running sessions–left with some answers but more importantly they gained new networks and strategic insights that they can share
with their colleagues back home and around the world.

Global urban capacity building based off the Shanghai Manual, called a “living document” by the UN, is expected to continue. UN sustainable city sessions in other continents are in the planning stages.The ultimate goal?Addressing the evolving global landscape for
financing, implementing and managing cities in rapidly developing nations to
help mitigate and adapt to climate change and peaking resources.

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current. He is a fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute, author of How Green is Your City? and co-author of the United Nations Shanghai Manual on global sustainable city planning and management.