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FEATURE: Quito’s chance for leadership on urban sustainability – as Habitat III host

Quito, Ecuador has been announced as the host city for the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development in October 2016 (Habitat III). Does Quito have the potential to show leadership? Miren Gutierrez of CDKN reports.

In Quito, ‘over 670,000 people live in these high-risk areas, and overall, 43.5% of its inhabitants live below the national poverty line’, says a report published by ELLA –a knowledge sharing and learning platform on selected economic, environmental and governance issues.

On top of this, climate change has increased temperatures in the Ecuadorian capital between 1.2°C and 1.4°C over the last 100 years, and the future seems bleak: more intense rainfall and flooding are expected.

Climate impacts are likely to exacerbate landslides and mudslides, stress the existing transportation infrastructure, affect food production, and endanger indigenous and migrant populations living on the city’s hillsides and slopes, says the ELLA report.

Facing these and other challenges, Quito has made great efforts in adaptation and risk management. These efforts have been rewarded with the inclusion of the Ecuadorian capital in a 100 resilient cities list published by the Rockefeller Foundation, whose website says: “Quito’s resilience has been tested many times…The metropolitan district faces risk on a daily basis due to massive seismic movements, floods, and forest fires. The poor are most at risk in the event of a high-magnitude earthquake, which would devastate the city’s irregular, unplanned settlements in steep-slope areas.”

Another initiative has been the City Footprints project, which focuses on assessing the carbon and water footprints of the municipal government’s own operations together with the larger metropolitan area of Quito: promoting actions to reduce the footprints, and creating the conditions for implementing mitigation and adaptation measures.  This project – which runs concurrently in La Paz, Bolivia and Lima, Peru – has been co-financed by CDKN.

It is clear that Quito faces great adaptation challenges; and the city’s capacity for adaptation will be examined and showcased in 2016, during the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development: Habitat III, which takes place in Quito itself. Here,  the New Urban Agenda will be decided. This has put Ecuador’s capital at the centre of one of the most important discussions for the future of development.

Quito will have to embrace “institutional strengthening to improve intervention capacity on the ground with tools that generate data, information and knowledge, and incorporate planning, territorial and management indicators,’ according to Nixon Narvaez, from Quito’s Secretariat of Environment.  “We need to consolidate programmes and generate local project packages, linked to local participatory processes, which can be monitored and evaluated, and scaled up.”

Habitat II was held in Istanbul, Turkey, in 1996. Two decades later, cities face a critical moment in history to reflect on what has been done a face the future. On the positive side: 80% of the global GDP is generated in urban centres, according to the World Bank. Our cities are generators of productivity, innovation, communication and, in many ways, have become laboratories of sustainability.

But for many people, cities have become too a focus of exclusion, overcrowding, pollution and poverty. According to the UN, about 863 million people live in slums in the world. Cities also represent a clear sustainability challenge: they consume two thirds of the energy and generate about 70% of the total GHG emissions, says UN Habitat.

Habitat III represents an opportunity to address these and other challenges, rethinking how cities are planned and managed. City officials and development workers and planners in the city of Quito know that none of these challenges are easily addressed; but they are in a perfect position to share their experiences of adapting to climate change as part of this crucial Summit.


Image: Quito,


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