Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

The number of people living in cities is growing by two per cent a year globally, and urban areas are having a hard time keeping up in terms of infrastructure, amenities and participatory governance Cities can be a powerful force for sustainable progress, benefiting from economies of scale and planning. But many cities are growing too fast to be officially planned, and migrants are doing their own planning, with limited means, moving into cramped and flimsy housing in slums and shanty-towns. These offer neither secure legal tenure nor safe access to water and sanitation. More than half of sub-Saharan Africa’s urban dwellers live in slums, and in some countries that percentage is increasing. City governments must work with the dwellers of such neighbourhoods to make the best of self-organised development and to rapidly improve the worst. They will need to manage the air pollution and waste that make many rapidly growing cities unhealthy and life-threatening. Another urgent task is to agree on what constitutes a city. Different countries and organisations have different numerical limits, so there is no agreed international definition as to what urban means.

Goal 1

Globally, more than 700 million people – the equivalent of the population of Europe – live in extreme poverty If you want to get an idea of what extreme poverty is like, get rid of the toilet, the boiler, the water pipes and the lights from your house. Pull out half your teeth. You can’t afford a doctor if you get sick, or contraceptives, or schooling for your children. Cancel all time off, forever – because you and your kids will work all day, every day. Poverty is disastrous for people and for the planet. Aside from inflicting severe hardship on individuals, poverty prevents people from taking part in solutions – including meeting the Sustainable Development Goals. Even in wealthier nations there are pockets of degrading poverty, especially where the gap between rich and poor is growing. Governments cannot “solve” poverty, but they can set up conditions that allow people to pull themselves out of penury. They can give access to credit and education for all, for example, and enforce fair laws justly. They can streamline bureaucracy and create effective safety nets for the poorest. Richer countries can enable poorer ones in this effort by keeping their promises to establish a global regime that helps countries trade out of poverty; to increase aid; and to help them adapt to climate change. The planet is too small and interconnected for the rich to be comfortable and secure, while billions suffer poverty.

Bribery and corruption are everywhere, but they are a lot more common in poor countries Goal 16 is about combating bribery, minimising violent deaths, effectively budgeting for development and bringing people into legal governance systems. In many African nations, less than 10 per cent of rural births are registered, a lapse which makes gathering other accurate statistics impossible. Realities are global, but political systems for managing them are national. National governments are ineffective at connecting with their poorer citizens, who tend to be the real sustainable development decision-makers, weighing up whether to cut down that tree, whether to pay that bribe. Can voters be educated to care about sustainability issues, so they can encourage their governments to care? Some of the most original thinking about humanity’s future comes from the philosophers. They point out that any action on, say, climate change must be rooted not in science, economics or politics, but in ethics. The generation running governments and companies today would not benefit from a switch to sustainability. They would pay, and future generations would benefit. Are human beings an advanced enough species to create Goal 16’s “peace, justice and strong institutions” that sustainable development requires, even though it is a multi-generational task?