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By Arab Hoballah
Chief, Sustainable Lifestyles, Cities and Industry, UNEP

The global community has increasingly realized the importance of and necessity for changing our unsustainable consumption and production patterns if to eradicate poverty and deliver sustainable development. This has resulted in the adoption at Rio+20 of the 10 Year Framework of Programmes for Sustainable Consumption and Production/SCP, and the inclusion in the set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals/SDGs of a standalone goal on SCP together with related targets in most of the other goals, showing the cross-cutting nature of SCP in support of the sustainable development.

Cities are where most of the consumption and production happen today; with growing urbanization, the importance of city-level actions will be reinforced, making cities primary players to deliver sustainable solutions in the production of goods and enable responsible consumer choices. Delivering SCP through city-level action starts with buildings, the low hanging fruit for energy efficiency and reduction of CO2 emissions.

And it is in this same spirit that the COP21 Paris Agreement has highlighted that sustainable lifestyles and sustainable patterns of consumption and production, with developed countries taking the lead, play an important role in addressing climate change. And this has been reinforced by the organization of a special Buildings Day, to be replicated in subsequent Climate COPs., and the establishment of the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction which seeks to enhance communication and collaboration among various initiatives active in the sector, to provide synergy and joint actions.

In applying Sustainable Consumption and Production, cities can be catalysts of sustainable development. The New Urban Agenda, prepared through the ongoing Habitat III process, should provide an opportunity to focus on vertical and horizontal integration and the implementation of the SDGs at the city level. Promoting resource efficiency at city level will increase their economic resilience, contribute to climate mitigation, reduce waste and associated costs, while also improving quality of life;

Together with transport, the building and construction sector lead efficiency and climate mitigation at city and national levels, and it is precisely with this objective that UNEP has decided to focus on this sector, not only through needed policy frameworks, but also and mainly through a multistakeholders approach bringing together private sector companies, NGOs, government agencies and associations. Initially focused on performance, assessment of policy instruments, baselines and tools, the attention has been progressively expanded to material and water consumption and waste generation, in addition to energy and carbon emissions. This was then expanded to sustainable public procurement, sustainable tourism and food systems, with a focus on food wastes, notably through the global “Think, Eat and Save” campaign.

With a global programme of work structured around an integrated approach of resource efficiency, climate change and ecosystems management, among other priorities, UNEP is keen in actively advocating for and promoting environmental sustainability and contributing to delivering sustainable development through low-carbon, inclusive, green and resilient economies and societies.

To that end, it is essential that all countries, starting with leading economies such as those under G20, get engaged more pro-actively in an objective and responsible low carbon agenda, bringing government, central and local, together with business in a long term strategic alliance with the aim at delivering the badly needed transformative change in policy frameworks and actions, in market evolution and lifestyles, towards responsible and sustainable consumption and production patterns for delivering sustainability.

Many of the problems that are attributed to cities are consequences of economic growth and consumer behaviour. In this context, it is particularly important to take into consideration the growing global middle class who are not only expected to live longer due to improvements in health care but are also characterized by their increased purchasing capacity. With the expected additional middle class of about 3 billion in some 30 years, the cities can be characterized as the “industries of the three-quarters” in the sense that, as an order of magnitude, cities will host about three quarters, between 70 and 90% depending on sector and region, of the population, the GDP, resources use, waste production and CO2 emissions. This is to say that there could be no sustainability if not at city level and with resource efficient cities with the aim to deliver sustainable consumption and production.

However this requires knowledge about and understanding of resource flows to and within cities. Considering the huge pressures cities will be facing from a resource supply and demand perspective, there is a need to support cities and their networks in better identifying and realising the economic, social and environmental benefits of resource efficiency and sustainable consumption and production. And this will result in improved resilience of cities and thereon of countries from resulting climate mitigation actions.

Ultimately, resource efficient cities combine greater productivity and innovation with lower costs and reduced environmental impacts, making them the engines to sustainability.

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