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  1. SDGs
  2. SDG 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities
July 12, 2023updated 13 Jul 2023 11:58am

SDG11: What are ‘Sustainable Cities and Communities’?

SDG11 proposes to make urban areas inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. How are we getting on so far?

By Silvia Pellegrino

SDG11, sustainable cities and communities
Slum life. Lack of access to basic services prevents billions of people from thriving. (Photo by Tom Young Wildlife via Shutterstock)
  • More than 1bn people live in conditions considered as slums.
  • Norway, Sweden and Japan lead the way on developing sustainable city models…
  • … But most ETF investment into SDG11 comes from the US.

The environment would benefit greatly from cities being more sustainable and energy efficient. With almost 80% of the total energy consumption derived from urban settlements, this is why Sustainable Development Goal number 11 (SDG11), Sustainable Cities and Communities, is so important.

Only 3% of the Earth’s land is populated by cities but they, and other urban settlements, are behind 75% of total carbon emissions. With over half the world’s population living in urban areas, and all the supporting infrastructure and economic activities attached to them, they magnify the risk of climate change as well as being vulnerable to its effects. SDG11 aims to stabilise the situation by 2030 – but how, exactly?

What is SDG11?

“Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” is the motto of the United Nations’ 11th SDG. According to the World Bank, over 1bn people live in urban slums today and 1.5bn people live in countries affected by repeated cycles of environmental and social violence as well as inequality. In addition, natural disasters have affected more than 2bn individuals in the past ten years. 

These are challenges that need to be tackled in order to increase cities’ resilience and diminish the percentage of poverty, inequality, social exclusion, violence and disaster risks. The only way to do so is by building sustainable communities. 

The concept of ‘Sustainable Cities and Communities’, SDG11 is broken down into four main categories:

  • Make all sustainable communities environmentally conscious.
  • Build resilience to social, economic and natural disasters.
  • Inclusivity in all communities.
  • Economic activity and jobs generation motivated by the competitive nature of Sustainable Communities. 

Like the other SDGs, such as SDG14, SDG11 has different targets to keep in mind:

  • By 2030, everyone should be provided with safe and affordable housing and basic services.
  • Introduce sustainable and affordable transportation systems by expanding public transport by 2030.
  • By 2030, carry on with sustainable urbanisation and sustainable planning and management all around the globe.
  • Safeguard humanity’s culture and the world’s natural heritage.
  • Protect the poor and vulnerable during natural disasters by 2030, as well as reduce the frequency of extreme weather events.
  • Carry out initiatives like new waste management systems with the goal of reducing the environmental impact of cities per capita by 2030.
  • Build more inclusive green and public spaces.
  • Connect urban and rural areas via positive social and environmental links, alongside economic trades.
  • Create policies for disaster risk reduction and resource efficiency.
  • Augment the support for the least-developed countries with better sustainable building practices.

What makes a city sustainable?

There are a range of factors that make a city sustainable. A sustainable city is an urban centre with the objective to improve its environmental impact and lessen its climate change risks. Solar-powered buildings, a higher number of green spaces, rooftop gardens and more cycle lanes are some of the possibilities that will make the achievement of this goal easier.

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According to Digi, an IT infrastructure provider, there are six main features a city must have to be considered sustainable: 

  • It is easy to get around without a vehicle.
  • There are multiple EV charging stations.
  • There is a high number of green spaces with easy and inclusive access.
  • Water conservation and wastewater management have improved systems.
  • Urban farming is widespread and supported.
  • Green architecture is implemented.

As analysed by sister-title City Monitor, the 2022 Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index also oversees the characteristics a city must have in order to be considered sustainable. From quality education to financial wealth and community projects, a sustainable city must offer these opportunities alongside being environmentally conscious. 

Arcadis’s Index is based on three elements: Planet (environmental), People (social), and Profit (economic). But what are the top three sustainable cities when it comes to the Planet category?

Oslo, Norway

Showcasing a wide range of initiatives, Norway’s capital climbed the ranks from eighth position in 2018 to being first in 2022. This is partly due to the pandemic, which made the need for recreational outside spaces as high as ever. Today, Oslo sees more than 1,400km of forest roads and 2,100km of nature trails. 

This helped the city to achieve the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) target air pollution figures of 10–12 µg/m³ between 2019 and 2022. The popularity of renewable energy is noteworthy, since hydropower constitutes 60% of its total energy consumption. 

Stockholm, Sweden

Apart from the sustainability point of view, Stockholm is also one of the most socially aware cities in the world. It is the capital city of a country that leads the world in establishing work-life balance.

Only 1% of employees work very long hours in paid work, one of the lowest rates in the OECD, where the average is 10%. In addition, Sweden in general is in the top ten most equal OECD countries in terms of income and gender. 

Since 2017, all public transport in the city has been using 100% renewable resources too, adding the goal of having fossil-free maritime traffic by 2030. 

Tokyo, Japan

In 2021, The Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) shared Future Tokyo: Tokyo’s Long-Term Strategy to outline its projects in the sustainable transport field. 

Today, bicycles and other non-motorised vehicles make up most of the city’s transportation, with only 10% of it being motorised. This initiative is called micro-mobility, which is not only useful to reduce CO2 emissions but also to improve the citizens’ quality of life. 

Tokyo’s main objective is to reach net zero by 2050. Private capital is coming in support of this. Between 2016 and 2020, sustainability, green and social bonds to originate out of the city grew 47 times in sales. 

How much investment goes into SDG11?

The most recent general investment figures regarding SDG11 are from 2015, registering almost $150bn in overall funding. The three biggest official development assistance (ODA) investors to SDG-related activities were Japan, the US and the World Bank, and SDG11 was among the top five funded goals for all three investors. 

Today, there is a series of public Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs) that have dedicated substantial funds to the achievement of SDG11. As impact investing paves its way to become the norm, ESG initiatives become more popular. 

Trackinsight collated seven ETFs that focus on Sustainable Cities and Communities, totalling $663m in AuM. 

Geographically, 47% of the SDG11 investments come from the US, followed by Japan with 10%, Sweden with 6.27%, the UK with 6.18% and Canada with 5.62%. 

Are there any technological investment opportunities?

To advance towards a more sustainable future for cities and communities, renewable resources should be prioritised. To minimise waste and pollution, and to create healthy environments are vital steps for SDG11 to be achieved.

In all SDGs, technological opportunities play a necessary role. The technology encountered in smart cities, usually, focuses on established sustainable objectives. For instance, smart transportation systems and reduced carbon emissions, energy-efficient buildings and renewable energy sources, recycling technologies and water conservation are some of the elements a smart city should focus on. 

When it comes to energy-efficient buildings, an important investment may be in suitable insulation which can reduce the need for heaters or coolers during the hottest and coldest months, as well as efficient ventilation systems. All these buildings can be powered by renewable energy sources, such as solar panels and geothermal power.

One Click CLA in Helsinki and Betolar in Kannonkoski are two Finnish startups that aim to make construction smarter. The former offers automated software solutions for sustainable buildings, aiding in the renovation, construction and infrastructure of new and old structures; the latter, on the other hand, focuses on low-carbon, geopolymer-based construction materials. 

Recycling technologies are also making some huge steps by turning organic waste into compost or biogas which can then be used as a renewable energy source, or simply by slowly introducing the concept of circular economy, where waste is seen as a resource and is recycled whenever possible. 

Smart waste management technologies are a key factor in the collection and disposal of waste and most of them monitor virtually waste levels in bins and identify the most efficient collection routes, lessening the number of resources needed.

In Copenhagen, the company Nordsense strives to provide “greener, cleaner and smarter” waste collection methods with the objective of reducing emissions by at least 50%. Another company that focuses on smart disposal systems is Olleco, based in the UK, which converts all used oil and waste food into renewable energy and biofuels. 

These are just some of the numerous investment opportunities that regard SDG11 and, as we get closer to 2030, all these kinds of initiatives are useful players in contributing to the success of each goal. 

[Read more about SDG11 here]

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