Cities and urban areas have been at the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic which has drastically impacted all aspects of urban life, including public services, employment and use of the infrastructure, affecting all, but foremost the most vulnerable groups and spatially disadvantaged areas in cities.
Urbanization and sustainable development are inextricably linked. The benefits of urbanization include economic growth due to economies of scale due to greater densities, the fostering of innovation, and higher wages and dividends. However, unplanned and unmanaged growth of cities increases congestion, urban decay, pollution, environmental degradation, and inequalities and places a burden on limited city infrastructure and resources. Unplanned urban expansions have resulted in sprawl, environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity, generation of large volumes of solid waste and increases in urban air pollution. The Asia-Pacific region is already experiencing unprecedented urban challenges that compromised the urban health, sustainability, and resilience of cities. Many local governments struggle to meet existing infrastructure, housing and services backlogs with limited resources and capacity. Affordability issues and limited supply cause a significant proportion of the urban population to reside in settlements that are under-serviced, making them more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, natural disasters, and public health emergencies. The increased demand for energy and water resources will continue to put pressure on the environment and challenge the capacities of cities to provide adequate urban services and countries to meet climate and SDG targets, especially SDG 11.
According to the UN Secretary General’s Policy Brief, COVID-19 in an Urban World, an estimated 90 per cent of all reported COVID-19 cases globally were in urban areas given their higher population levels, densities, and greater levels of local and global connectivity. COVID-19 presented a dual health and economic crisis that has significantly impacted both the survival of urban households and the sustainability and resilience of cities. In addition to the loss of life and the pressure placed on the health systems and essential workers, many cities were brought to a standstill during the COVID-19 pandemic due to lockdown measures, which had severe social and economic implications. The centrality of adequate housing, greater social protection measures for the most vulnerable, more effective urban services and infrastructure including water, transport, energy along with the effective use of technology and digital solutions, and the need to revisit urban planning and sustainable mobility to create greener and liveable cities has been brought to the forefront during the pandemic. Post pandemic, the repercussion of COVID-19 continues with many cities and countries in Asia-Pacific struggling to recover economically, with increasing food, energy and economic insecurities.
The Expert Group Meeting (EGM) will focus on the experience of cities in developing Voluntary Local Review (VLR) reports during the global pandemic as part of the ESCAP and Penang Platform for Sustainable Urbanisation (PPSU) supported Asia-Pacific Regional Guidelines on Voluntary Local Reviews, as one key instrument in localisation and acceleration of SDGs in the region’s diverse municipalities. The EGM will further identify how VLRs, as well as other instruments for progress, can be leveraged within a post-pandemic era.
The side event will focus on achieving SDG 11 - Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable, including its targets:
- By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated, and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries
- By 2030, support positive economic, social and environmental links between urban, peri-urban and rural areas by strengthening national and regional development planning
The side event will also address the interlinkages between SDG11 with the localisation of all SDGs and other global agreements, such as the New Urban Agenda and the Paris Agreement.
The EGM will focus on the ways, means and key recommendations for cities in Asia-Pacific to deliver sustainable urban progress in meeting the SDGs and other key global agreements in the context of interlinked crisis, heightened risk, uncertainty and instability in the post pandemic era.