Urban Future

Source: M. (Maroš) Sefčovič i, published on Friday, October 21 2016.

The world is changing fast; faster than ever before. This is not only about our use of innovative technologies, the 4th industrial revolution, or the Internet. It is also about the way, we humans, have been organising our communities.


It took over a million years (almost the entirety of human existence), for humans to abandon their nomadic tribes in favour of permanent settlements. For another 12,500 years, the vast majority of people resided in rural villages, living off agriculture. But then the rate of change became exponential: over as little as 200 years, we have seen hyper-urbanisation; cities which hosted a small fraction of the global population now host most of humanity - for the very first time!

From the time you started reading this article, the urban population grew by over 100 people.

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The pace of urbanisation will not slow down; we expect 2 out of 3 people to live in cities by 2030. In Europe that's already the case.

Ironically, cities are where most economic output is made (with 75% of the world's wealth) but they are also where most of poverty is found. Cities are where most of CO2 is emitted but they are also the first to suffer from the devastating effects of climate change.

Urbanisation is neither the problem nor the solution; it is the new normal, creating new challenges and opportunities.

What is certain is that cities have become the key players in ensuring our future is fair, sustainable, and simply liveable.

Cities 2.0

But the most urban generation is also the first digital one; and that's where the solution lies. The use of 'big data', of hyper and inter-connectivity or what we call the 'Internet of things' allows cities to smarten and inter-connect their services, to become more efficient, to ensure they provide residents with high quality of living, also in the years to come.

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The challenge is to bring the best practices, the latest knowledge, and the most relevant opportunities where they are needed.

Today's Resolution on a New Urban Agenda, adopted today at the U.N. Habitat III Conference in Quito, Ecuador, contains guidelines to make cities all over the world more inclusive, green, safe and prosperous.

They are therefore an important step in the global efforts for sustainable development.

To people living in London, Warsaw or Helsinki, it matters whether the urban authorities in Lagos, Kolkata or São Paulo can handle challenges quickly and solidly. In today's globalised world, humanity's problems are more interlinked than ever before.

Less than a year after the Paris Agreement was signed and shortly after its ratification, the international community has once again shown its ability to speak in one voice in tackling the most burning problems.

My colleague, Commissioner Corina Crețu, led the EU delegation to Quito and committed that the EU would join global efforts by implementing our own EU Urban Agenda, better connecting city networks, and contributing to international collection of reliable data which can contribute to better policies.


Indeed, in the past few months, we saw the EU advancing fast on all three fronts, mentioned by the Commissioner.

The commitment of the Dutch EU Presidency's to an urban agenda, (also known as the Pact of Amsterdam), opened a new page in the way the EU can assist its cities become more sustainable, transparent and inclusive. We focused on better regulation, better access to finance and a better knowledge base.


In fact, by now there are so many EU programmes, funds, and information for assisting cities, that it became necessary to aggregate and organise all the information in one place. The One Stop Shop for Cities does exactly that: it is a new digital tool for city officials, providing them with the right information at the right time, all in one place.


Going Glocal

We, in Europe, already have a network of cities which seek together smart technological solutions on climate and energy. We call them the Covenant of Mayors which brings together 6,600 cities and towns in 56 countries.

But if you've read this far, you'd agree that networking at a European level is simply not enough. We therefore expanded the scope by creating a Global Covenant of Mayors, now the largest global coalition of cities committed to climate leadership, bringing together more than 7,100 cities from 119 countries in six continents, representing more than 600 million inhabitants. This new global coalition can now aggregate data, share practices, and create spill-over effects from one corner of the planet to another.


Unsurprisingly, the newly-formed Global Covenant made a strong mark in Quito, ensuring the voice of smart cities is heard loud and clear.

We are more united than ever in ensuring that the most urban generation in human history creates a green future for its children, and a fair chance for all of them.