Cities and Urbanization

How and why the G7 is looking to build sustainable and resilient cities 

An aerial view of London, highlighting how the G7 is focusing on developing sustainable cities

The G7 is focusing on developing sustainable cities. Image: Photo by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash

Lauren Sorkin-Yeo
Executive Director, Resilient Cities Network (RCN)
Corey Glickman
Global Head, Sustainability and Design Consulting Services, Infosys
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Cities and Urbanization

This article is part of: Centre for Urban Transformation

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  • The G7’s largest cities are the primary drivers of each country’s GDP, but growth has slowed in 2023.
  • Recognizing the need for more sustainable and resilient growth in cities, urban development ministers from the G7 are meeting in Japan in July to focus on cities and urbanization.
  • Ahead of this, industry leaders came together with senior officials to forge a pathway for more sustainable, inclusive and digitalized cities across the G7 and beyond and to create a call-to-action for the global community.

The G7 – an informal bloc of industrialized democracies, including the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the UK — has been meeting annually since 1975 to discuss issues such as global economic governance, international security and energy policy.

But more recently, cities and urbanization have risen to the top of the agenda. Last year, Germany sent a clear signal to the global community by convening urban development ministers for the first time.

Cities are the place where “ideas, concepts and solutions” are made, said Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz, emphasizing the critical role of cities when it comes to tackling humanity’s greatest challenges and advancing a more equitable world.

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How is the World Economic Forum supporting the development of cities and communities globally?

The opportunity ahead

The ministers will meet in Kagawa-Takamatsu, Japan, in July this year to identify opportunities for increased global alignment. In preparation for this, the World Economic Forum and the Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) bought together senior officials from industry, academia and G7 governments in a series of high-level roundtables to help outline what these areas of opportunity are.

At the event, Yasushi Furukawa, Japanese Parliamentary Vice-Minister for MLIT, emphasized the importance of global multistakeholder dialogue on issues of urban development and how the roundtables would feed into discussions at the ministerial meeting in July.

The group agreed to an official list of shared goals, including advancing nature-based solutions, reducing social inequalities and accelerating the role of data in urban transformation. These goals mark a step forward in public-private collaboration across the G7 on urban issues and ministers will build on these when they meet in July.

Here we set out 6 calls-to-action identified through the roundtable discussions that will support ministers, industry players and international institutions to drive further progress on the shared goals and accelerate sustainable urban development across the G7 and globally. These six action points fall into three categories: sustainable cities, inclusive cities and the digitalization of cities.

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Sustainable cities

For cities to withstand growing shocks and stresses, nature’s value must be taken into account and enhanced. There are clear opportunities for the G7 to harness the power of nature and leverage cutting-edge technology and collaborative governance to prevent urban sprawl, incorporate green building principles and promote biodiversity and green corridors in cities. More coordinated policies and practices between national, subnational and non-state actors are needed to decarbonize urban development, regenerate nature and increase resiliency.

1: Increase spending on urban green infrastructure

G7 Governments, cities, industry and international institutions should work together to significantly increase the budget spent on urban green infrastructure. This should take into account its role in carbon neutrality, biodiversity conservation and people's well-being.

2: Look for nature-based infrastructure solutions

G7 Governments, cities, industry and international institutions should work together to enhance and enable low-carbon building design and nature-based solutions for infrastructure. In particular, this should look at shaping and disseminating global policy best practices in reducing embodied carbon and enhancing net-zero, nature-positive buildings. Governments and industry are invited to adopt the BiodiverCities by 2030 Principles and the Green Building Principles to encourage nature-positive cities and net zero carbon real estate.

Inclusive cities

Cities are growing at an accelerated pace. Many countries across the G7 are also experiencing ageing populations. Both these factors exacerbate challenges around equality and accessibility to basic public services and infrastructure. Developing social infrastructure, and affordable housing and promoting inclusive urban planning will be critical in managing these sociodemographic changes that will transform the makeup of our cities.

3: Make cities accessible and affordable for all

G7 governments, cities, industry and international institutions should work together to develop a sustainable urban environment and infrastructure that is accessible and affordable to a broader range of individuals, while promoting access to quality for all.

4: Foster social value and well-being for all

G7 governments, cities, industry and international institutions should work together to encourage long-term investments that foster social value and prioritize the well-being of diverse communities, especially in the field of attainable housing, infrastructure, inclusive energy and food security.

Digitalization in cities

Digitalization brings significant opportunities to cities, including increased efficiency, better mobility and improved public services. There is increasing global consensus that city digitization strategies must be people-centred – putting the well-being, health and happiness of citizens first.

The use of city data will be a critical aspect of people-centred smart cities. Artificial intelligence will continue to transform the way that cities analyse and use data, opening up more possibilities for critical ambitions, such as meeting net-zero commitments or revolutionising urban mobility. To fully embrace these opportunities, technology and data governance must continue to evolve and more international collaboration is needed to develop and adopt global best practice models on the municipal use, management and sharing of data for urban transformation goals.

5: Create international guidelines on people-centred smart cities

G7 governments should support the development of international guidelines on people-centred smart cities. Governments and industry are invited to support the recently-approved resolution by UN Habitat Member States to develop guidelines on smart city strategies that are consistent with the UN Charter, human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals.

6: Use data to meet critical urban goals

G7 governments, industry and international institutions should work together to support cities in accelerating their use of data to meet critical urban goals, such as decarbonization and energy transition, helping municipalities to develop and adopt global best practices in city data use and management.

To move these actions forward, we invite G7 Sustainable Urban Development Ministers, industry, academia and the wider global community to join and collaborate with existing global initiatives, including the Global Commission on Nature-Positive Cities for developing nature-based solutions and financing models, the G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance for accelerating the responsible use of technologies and the Davos Baukultur Alliance for building more liveable and vibrant communities.

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Cities and UrbanizationGlobal Cooperation
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