What Is the Role of Cities in Sustainable Development?by Jonathan Coulis
Reposted from the ICLEI World Congress Blog:
The opening ceremony of the ICLEI World Congress swept across many of the core issues facing “development” and our global community today. In a broad sense, the global community has arrived at a crucial juncture. Recent events in the world have reshaped the context and conversation about sustainable development just as Rio+20 is scheduled to occur.
The global community is experiencing a series of far reaching and seemingly repetitious crisis, from extreme weather, rapid ecological degradation, long sustained international conflict, extensive relocation of populations, economic stagnation or recession, revival of civil society activity throughout the world and a growing popular perspective that the current direction cannot continue and our society must change.
The opening ceremony highlighted a number of important themes that will be revisited in the next few days. Principal among these is the focus on sustainable development in the local, city based context. In a broad manner the speakers identified troubling differences between local sustainability and global sustainability.
It is important to recognize that ICLEI has been able to link a vast number of cities, and push through a consistent perspective that focuses on realistic goals contributing sustainable development. The most striking aspect of the opening ceremony was the scope of the international network among cities, stressing that despite the often recognized challenges at the national level the cities can respond and facilitate much needed change through often diverse and innovative approaches.
When considering this web of local actors this approach is refreshingly practical. Any discussion of environment and sustainable development must take place in a local context, and it must engage local actors/communities to be implemented. A focus on the local allows for a specific response that to each context, and one that can address the diverse needs of a city or region, build partnerships in the area and ensure ownership over the results, regardless of the result.
I do not intend to restate the messages of the speakers but it is essential to expand on a theme that was forcefully articulated by keynote speaker Martin Lees. Deservedly, this conference seems to highlight the examples of successful local sustainability, but Lees tempered this perspective by stressing the dangers that the world faces, and the gross failures of most nations to reach modest goals in transforming their economy, consumption, or perspectives, despite his candid call for “deeper considerations.”
When faced with the facts regarding climate change, pollution, environmental degradation and the immense scale of the challenge, it becomes abundantly clear that society and cities in particular must drastically commit to reforming toward a sustainable model of existence. I think initiatives at the city level are an affective inroad to alter the landscape, I only hope that the ambitions from the conference can be supported with a new willingness, through all levels of governance, to face the problems with a sincere effort rather than a lip-service and green wash.
Report by Jonathan Coulis. Jonathan is PhD candidate researching commodity production and consumption relationships in an international development context. In addition, my work focuses on the rise of Brazilian commodity power and South-South Cooperation programs.