Sustainable Development in City and Country

More than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas, trending upward. In Germany, too, many cities are growing. Climate protection, a liveable environment and adequate housing, incorporating environmental protection – all these are decisive factors for cities and rural areas alike. The German Sustainable Development Strategy calls for urban development that promotes “cross-cutting thinking”. The Council for Sustainable Development (RNE) contributes to this goal through its “Sustainable City” dialogue with city mayors and its 30-hectare land use goal.

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How sustainability is realised in cities and regions

Global problems and local solutions

Local solutions alone will not be enough to solve the global challenges we face. Rather, all levels of policymaking and societal stakeholders must join forces.

Just how complex the challenges are is illustrated by the building sector: though our buildings are consuming less and less energy, at the same time apartments are growing larger, increasing the overall area to be heated. The population is not growing substantially, but yet hundreds of thousands of new apartments are built annually, in most cases consuming considerable volumes of mineral resources in the process. While affordable housing is scarce in growing cities, shrinking rural communities are struggling to maintain their infrastructure.

Too often, new roads and estates are created on greenfield natural areas, even in areas where cities and villages are wasting away. In doing so, ecologically valuable and agriculturally productive land areas are lost, infrastructure becomes more expensive and the distances in between longer. Be it for work, shopping or holiday, despite the availability of numerous alternatives, cars continue to play a key role in society’s mobility. Isolated solutions, however, are not sufficient for achieving real progress. Solutions are already being developed at a local level through new partnerships and across areas of responsibility, as envisioned by the 2030 Agenda.

Cities and rural communities leading the way

Whether it is climate protection, participation, zero-emission mobility, equal opportunities or an environmentally friendly energy supply, numerous communities have set themselves own goals and launched projects that will move them toward sustainable development. Cities like Ludwigsburg and Freiburg have set up special councils and an own sustainability management structure for this purpose.

The “learning city” of Gelsenkirchen, which has been recognised by UNESCO four times for its efforts, promotes Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) as the key to fighting poverty and ensuring equal opportunities for all. The city of Bottrop created the “Bottrop Lab” (Labor Bottrop) to allow its citizens, municipal authorities, the business sector and the scientific community to work jointly on equipping their city for the challenges it faces with respect to climate change and structural change. The city of Delitzsch in Saxony has focused on renewable energy and is today already mathematically energetically self-sufficient.

Municipal authorities are also taking on their global responsibility through development partnerships with other cities or via sustainable public procurement policies, such as in the city of Dortmund. Smaller communities, too, are setting key impulses toward climate neutrality and sustainable land management through their strategies and projects, such as the North Sea island of Juist or the joint community of Barnstorf.

What the Council does: provide impulses for sustainable municipal development

Via its projects and recommendations, the Council for Sustainable Development reinforces the role of cities and rural areas in implementing the German and global Sustainable Development Goals.

The mayors of 30 German cities are participating in the “Sustainable City” dialogue. At the invitation of the Council, these administrative heads discuss with one another, exchange information and give sustainable development policy greater visibility and influence. Through joint publications and policy papers, the mayors underline their responsibility for and their role in municipal implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Since 2001, the Council has been pursuing the goal of preventing excessive greenfield development.

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