Nordic Sustainable Cities: a key to global urbanization challenges

Urbanization is one of the most prevalent global trends today. By 2050, 66 per cent of the world’s population is expected to live in urban areas. Meanwhile, in many parts of the world, populations continue their rapid growth. The scale of the trend is exemplified in the two most populous countries on the planet. By 2050, India is expected to add 404 million additional urban dwellers and China 292 million.

The challenges that come with rapid urbanization are immense. Housing, transport infrastructure, freshwater supply, waste management and energy are just some of the services that cities need to provide for their new inhabitants. In India alone, it is estimated that a whole Chicago worth of infrastructure and services must be built every year until 2050 if Indian cities are to successfully supply the basic needs of their citizens.
At their best, cities can be efficient machines that produce contented populations through economic growth and better jobs while remaining socially and environmentally sustainable. The high density of population in cities can bring efficiency gains and technological innovations while reducing per capita resource and energy consumption. Thus, the urbanization megatrend represents a clear opportunity to achieve sustainable long-term development. That is also why the significance of cities has been specifically identified in the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and a separate sustainable development goal has been set for achieving sustainable cities and communities.

In June 2017, the Nordic prime ministers launched a new initiative, called Nordic Solutions to Global Challenges, to help in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030. Nordic Sustainable Cities is one of six flagship projects under this initiative and focuses specifically on Sustainable Development Goal no. 11, the achievement of sustainable cities and communities.

The challenges that Nordic cities have faced, and are still facing, are not unique to the region, but are found all over the world. We have proposed solutions that could help others grasp the opportunity for sustainable development that comes with urbanization. The practices that Nordic cities are together using to pursue sustainable urban futures are workable, and Nordic cities, academic institutions and companies have the expertise that the world needs. That is why the Nordic Sustainable Cities project is focused on joint efforts to export the best Nordic solutions for sustainable cities that our region has to offer.

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The Nordic countries are already working hard to promote their respective solutions, Nordic Sustainable Cities will co-ordinate those activities and further promote our message through Nordic co-operation. This Nordic added value can be generated in three distinct ways. First, through branding. The Nordic countries, both individually and as a region, are regarded as having some of the most sustainable, smart and liveable cities in the world. By telling a common story, we can spread it further and reach the right people. Second, through economies of scale. By pooling resources, the Nordic countries are better positioned to promote Nordic solutions in far-flung regions of the world. We can do more, in more places, if we work together. Third, through economies of scope. Through Nordic co-operation, the Nordic countries are able to offer a much greater variety of knowledge, products and services, and thus become more attractive for potential partners abroad.

Over the next two years, Nordic Sustainable Cities will work hard to build a joint Nordic export platform that will enable both public and private stakeholders to team up with their Nordic colleagues. Teamwork is part of the common success story of our Nordic cities and is among the special values and tools that Nordic cities have used to overcome their own challenges. Nordregio has produced a thorough, research-based white paper on Nordic Sustainable Cities that can both inspire those abroad and unite forces within the Nordic region around a common purpose. Furthermore, the Nordic foreign services have jointly identified 15 cities (five in China, five in India, five in USA/Canada) where Nordic solutions could make a difference and where Nordic companies could play a crucial role. Over the next two years, new partnerships with the selected cities will be formed and through innovative processes, Nordic solutions can be adapted to help solve these cities’ most pressing challenges.

This article is part of Nordregio News #4. 2017, read the entire issue here.

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