Engaging policy audiences

Knowledge and Education in Cities: Preparing the next billion without leaving anyone behind

By 25/01/2018

2018 marks the first year that the Asia-Pacific region has more urban than rural residents. It’s a monumental turning point, and one that is rapidly overtaking planning efforts, in large part because of the lack of accurate and appropriate knowledge about the situation.

Education for Sustainable Development plays an important role in addressing socio-cultural, economic, and environmental challenges. Encouraging more and better research is crucial to promoting better awareness and fostering sustainable, inclusive, and prosperous cities.

Supporting local research, identifying and closing knowledge gaps, and educating and preparing the current and next generation to transform cities to be more sustainable and resilient is the way to enhance residents’ quality of life, leaving no one behind.

The urban challenge

Adapting to the terrible consequences of climate change should be a priority for all countries, especially for developing and least-developed countries that are particularly affected by climate change impacts.

According to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), since 1950 the number of people living in towns and cities has grown more than fivefold, and has overtaken rural residents. By 2050, two-thirds of people will live in urban areas. How can we plan for the development challenges that such a change poses if there is a lack of high-quality information or limited access to the knowledge we need? And how can policymakers take informed evidence-based decisions if their own local institutions and researchers don’t have the capacity or ability to obtain, interpret, and analyse data?

New ways to address these important challenges might come from the UNFCCC’s Nairobi Work Programme (NWP). Created in 2005 in Montreal at COP11 and named at COP12 in Nairobi in 2006, NWP aims to support all Parties ‘in improving the understanding and assessment of impacts, vulnerability and adaptation, and to make informed decisions on practical adaptation actions and measures to respond to climate change on a sound, scientific, technical and socio-economic basis, taking into account current and future climate change and variability’ (Decision 2/CP.11).

During COP23 in 2017 the NWP organised the 11th Focal Point Forum  to encourage the sharing of knowledge, information, views, and insights on the topic of human settlements and adaptation.  Johanna Nalau, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Griffith University and an expert invited to the meeting, recognised that ‘the impacts of climate change are complex and pose unique challenges, in particular to human settlements. We need [a] better understanding [of] how cities can include both slow-onset processes and extreme events in their adaptation planning, and what thresholds mean for each. It’s crucial to have such discussions now, and the Nairobi Work Programme can support forward-looking innovative thinking in this area’.  Four years ago UN-Habitat estimated that 25% of the world’s urban population live in informal settlements, and we lack high-quality information about the situation because of the reduced capacity to collect data, report, and share information.

The rapid urbanisation of Asian and African cities is challenging urban planners and decision-makers. At least 37% of all future urban growth is expected to take place in three countries: China, India, and Nigeria. In addition the explosion of informal urban settlements in the regions has been considerable; in African cities 62% of the urban population lives in slums (2013). In Asia-Pacific, reported Mr Shigeru Aoyagi, Director and UNESCO Representative to India, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka, ‘the UNESCAP report shows that there will be more people living in urban areas than rural areas in Asia-Pacific from 2018 for the first time in the history. The region is now home to 60% of the world’s urban population. At this historical moment, UNESCO, as the global leader for advancing Sustainable Development Goal 4  (SDG4) – Education 2030, is committed to working with education systems in the region and the world to generate and disseminate knowledge as well as to educate future generations to transform cities into more equitable, sustainable, and resilient places’.

A step forward

UNESCO organised a regional workshop for Asia-Pacific focusing on cities: key centres of thought and action when it comes to education and learning about sustainable development. The event in New Delhi, India (28-30 November, 2017) raised awareness on the role of education in achieving more sustainable and resilient cities.

Experts shed light on the complexity of the situation, and highlighted the need for high-quality data, local researchers, and institutions that can analyse this data and communicate it to decision-makers. The Global Development Network (GDN) participated in the meeting, shedding light on the importance of building the capacity of local researchers and research institutions in the South and aiming to achieve more educated, sustainable, and resilient cities. Local researchers already understand the political, cultural, and social context of a city (and a country), and can pose more relevant questions and more appropriate ways to collect quality data. Importantly, mobilising local researchers creates human resources that support local adaptation planning.

Education for sustainable development will prepare future generations to transform cities into more sustainable and resilient settlements. The challenge is to do it leaving no one behind – and that depends on building local research, analysis, and communication capacity.