Members of the United Nations have agreed to new guidelines to curb problems arising from rapid urban growth. The New Urban Agenda will help planners and leaders in making cities resilient.
Participants at the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development on Thursday agreed upon a 23-page document to secure goals for improving cities and making them more sustainable.
The summit, called Habitat III, took place in the Ecuadorian capital of Quito.
"Urbanization is happening at an unprecedented pace and scale and 3.7 billion people now live in cities. We think in the forthcoming years, by 2050, this will rise to 7 billion," Joan Clos, executive director of Habitat III told members.
"It is historic in the sense that never in human history have we seen such a transformation of human society," he added, emphasizing that the change represented a huge challenge to leaders.
The Habitat III agenda's provisions include cleaner cities, strengthening resilience and reducing carbon emissions, respecting the rights of migrants and refugees, improving connectivity and green initiatives, and promoting safe, accessible and green public spaces, the UN said in a press release.
Unlike the Paris 2015 climate deal, the NUA is not legally binding, which means planners can use its guidelines before implementing projects at the national level. The NUA's roadmap includes suggestions from the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), one of which involves making cities inclusive, safe and resilient.
"With the city development agenda, the international community is committing itself to the strengthening of cities," German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks said. Strong communities would help fight poverty and combat climate change, she added.
Experts criticize deal
However, several experts criticized the Quito guidelines for their lack of details. "Measurable goals as well as criteria, which could assess the agenda, are completely missing," Lisa Junghans of the NGO Germanwatch told reporters.
Experts also said the NUA failed to address the urgency of rapid urbanization. "The planet has already moved beyond critical planetary boundaries related to climate, biodiversity, land use and fertilizer use," Tim McPhearson, assistant professor of urban ecology at The New School in New York told journalists.
"Without a clear plan for implementation of the NUA and related SDGs, we will not make the needed progress for even the basic quality of life and livelihoods in informal and other urban settlements," he added.
Nearly 1 billion people live in urban slums in 100,000 cities in the world, often in precarious conditions. These people are in dire need of clean water, energy, food, sanitation and health care services, the UN says.