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Sustainable Urban Development

The UNECE region houses less than one fifth of the world’s population. The region, however, is characterised by high levels of urbanisation: more than 73 per cent of its population are urban residents – compared to 50 per cent on global average.

This makes cities and towns starting points for promoting sustainable human settlement development. Numerous initiatives have already been launched in urban settlements to raise public awareness of the environmental impact of individual consumption behaviour, to promote environmentally sound goods, services and sustainable use of energy, water, raw materials and land by individuals and communities. The Rio+20 UN Sustainable Development Conference outlined the importance of a “holistic approach to urban development and human settlements [and] an integrated approach to planning and building sustainable cities and urban settlements”.


 (click on a topic for more details)
Territorial planning

UNECE prepares studies to promote activities relevant to spatial planning which result in compact, efficient and inclusive cities and low-carbon and disaster resilient urban development. In 2008, UNECE published “Spatial Planning - Key Instrument for Development and Effective Governance with Special Reference to Countries in Transition” to identify the particular challenges vis-à-vis spatial planning that countries in transition face, and the distribution of roles and responsibilities in the main stages in the process of developing spatial plans.  

In 2012, UNECE published “Climate Neutral Cities: How to Make Cities Less Energy and Carbon Intensive and More Resilient to Climatic Challenges”. This publication examines techniques to reduce and prevent sprawl, while preserving and expanding green and open spaces, mitigating the urban heat island effect. Through land-use planning and sprawl control the aim is reducing average travel distances and promoting cleaner and more efficient technologies in transport.

The “International Urban and Territorial Planning Guidelines” by UN-Habitat provide national governments, local authorities, civil society organizations and planning professionals with a global reference framework that promotes more compact, socially inclusive, better integrated and connected cities and territories. UNECE is working in cooperation with UN-Habitat to regionalise the global Guidelines: therefore the workshop “Urban and Territorial Planning: Global Principles and Local Implications” was held in Minsk, Belarus in April 2016.

Informal settlements

Over the last 25 years, informal settlements have become an increasingly important and urgent matter in the region. At an international conference in 2007, it was estimated that more than 50 million people lived in informal settlements in 20 member States of the UNECE. In 2009, the Committee on Housing and Land Management published a first study on informal settlements: “Self-Made Cities: In Search of Sustainable Solutions for Informal Settlements”.

The publication “Formalizing the Informal: Challenges and Opportunities of Informal Settlements in South-East Europe” continues the discussion and examines the causes of informal housing development in five countries of South-Eastern Europe – Albania, the Republic of Cyprus, Greece, Montenegro and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and assesses the governments’ policies to address this challenge.

Climate Change

The UNECE Committee on Urban Development, Housing and Land Management helps countries to address the causes of climate change from housing and cities by promoting standards for energy-efficient housing and compact urban planning. UNECE standards also make cities more resilient to disasters that may arise from climate change.

The study “Climate Neutral Cities: How to Make Cities Less Energy and Carbon Intensive and More Resilient to Climatic Challenges” was published and presented for discussion at the Rio+20 Conference, in 2012. This study also served as the basis for exploring the role cities can play in sustainable development and the transition towards a green economy at many UNECE events during the year.

HABITAT III Regional report for the UNECE region

Regional reports to HABITAT III are being prepared by all five UN regional commissions under the supervision of the Habitat III Secretariat and there are also contributions from regional offices of UN-Habitat as well as other UN agencies, international organizations and experts. Coordination is provided by the UN regional commissions through regular teleconferences and joint events. These reports are based on the analysis of urban development and housing issues at national and regional level. The report of the UNECE region was submitted to the HABITAT III Secretariat as official input of the UNECE region to the New Urban Agenda, adopted by the HABITAT III Conference in October 2016.

Cooperation of the UN Regional Commissions towards HABITAT III

Link to the Regional Report can be found here.

Link to the Subregional report on the CIS countries can be found here.