The UN Global Compact Cities Program for Sustainable Cities

By Meghna Tare

Meghna is the Executive Director, Institute for Sustainability and Global Impact at the University of Texas at Arlington where she has initiated and spearheaded many successful cross functional sustainability projects related to policy implementation, buildings and development, green procurement, transportation, employee engagement, waste management, GRI reporting, and carbon management. She is a TEDx UTA speaker, was featured as Women in CSR by TriplePundit, has done various radio shows on sustainability, is an active blogger, and graduated with an MBA in Sustainable Management at the Presidio Graduate School. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter @meghnatare.

Jul 8, 2014 | Smart Cities | 0 comments


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The UN Global Compact is a strategic policy initiative for businesses that are committed to aligning their operations and strategies with ten universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labor, environment and anti-corruption. By doing so, business, as a primary driver of globalization, can help ensure that markets, commerce, technology and finance advance in ways that benefit economies and societies everywhere.  The Global Compact is a practical framework for the development, implementation, and disclosure of sustainability policies and practices, offering participants a wide spectrum of management tools and resources — all designed to help advance sustainable business models and markets.

The Global Compact Cities Programme  launched in 2003 is dedicated to the promotion and adoption of the Global Compact’s ten principles by cities, and provides a framework for translating the principles into day-to-day urban governance and management.

The Cities Programme offers cities the opportunity to practically implement the ten principles at a city-wide level, translating these values into concrete and positive outcomes for their communities. Whilst the Global Compact focusses on engaging the business sector, the Cities Programme recognizes that government and the civil sector are equally important and active stakeholders in achieving sustainable outcomes for society and the success of the two are interlinked.

Administered by an International Secretariat based at the Global Cities Institute at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, the Global Compact Cities Programme provides unique expertise and guidance to participating cities. The Cities Programme offers three levels of engagement: Signatory, Leading and Innovating. Each successive level involves a progression in terms of the commitment by the city council. A city may choose to join at any level.

Signatory City: In a letter to the UN Secretary-General from the highest-level city leader, a Signatory City commits to the ten principles of the UN Global Compact, endeavors to enact and promote those principles in city management, and encourages businesses in the city to join the UN Global Compact.

Leading City: Leading Cities generally have a dedicated city or regional sustainability plan with a holistic approach, are forward-looking in their activities and strategy. This designation is established by communicating a city’s interest directly with the Cities Programme Secretariat.

Innovating City: An Innovating City, beyond the commitments of Levels 1 and 2 above, undertakes a multi-year project to address a complex or seemingly intractable issue within the city linked to the ten principles. The development and management of the project is done using the Cities Programme methodology – which includes tools that facilitate collaborative partnerships and the establishment of rigorous monitoring and evaluation processes. Dedicated support is provided by the Cities Programme Secretariat. A fee is associated with this level of engagement which is invested into further development of research methodologies and related activities undertaken by the International Secretariat and made available to Innovating Cities.

US Cities participating in the Programme

Milwaukee and San Francisco are the only two North American cities in the UNGCCP- an elite list of only 13 cities worldwide gaining admission into the United Nations Global Compact Cities Programme (UNGCCP). The City of Milwaukee joined the program in 2009. Milwaukee’s proposal focused on managing limited fresh water resources through water technology and science, a plan that prioritizes, implements, and monitors the activities of a number of integrated sub-projects that make a difference in water quality for the Milwaukee and the surrounding region. Admission into the UNGCCP is the latest evidence of Milwaukee’s emergence as a global hub for fresh water technology expertise and industry.  In 2006, the City of San Francisco became the first U.S. city to join the UN Global Compact’s Cities Programme and proposed to create a UN Global Compact Center devoted to research and development related to climate change and sustainable and clean technologies.

How Can Cities Participate

Cities accepted into the program submit proposals to address complex challenges common to most urban areas. The City Council pledges to support the ten principles within their organization, and to report on engagement activities they undertake in support of the Global Compact. The following outlines eight ways in which cities can engage and participate:

  • Implement and promote the ten principles of the UN Global Compact in the management and administration of the city or region;
  • Support businesses and other stakeholders in establishing or implementing sustainability initiatives that are transparent and beneficial to the city, region and/or greater community;
  • Have a dedicated sustainability plan that incorporates that incorporates the three dimensions  (social, economic, and environmental) of sustainability;
  • Acknowledge participation in the Global Compact publically and promote the initiative and the ten principles;
  • Engage in Global Compact Local Network activities;
  • Utilize assessment tools and methodologies developed by the Global Compact Cities Programme, and share knowledge and innovations developed with the use of these tools. This can be done in the form of annual reporting or press releases.
  • Engage at the Leading level of the Global Compact Cities Programme; and/or
  • Engage at the Innovating level – undertaking a multi-year project to address a complex or seemingly intractable issue(s) within the city or region.

The Future of Cities

The Cities Programme focuses on collaboration between all levels of government, business and civil society in order to enhance sustainability, resilience, diversity and adaptation within cities and in the face of complex urban challenges. The Cities Programme in April 2014 in Medellín, Colombia hosted four sessions at the UN-Habitat’s World Urban Forum (WUF7): Urban Equity in Development – Cities for Life  which drew over 20,000 attendees from around the world, including Heads of State, governors, mayors, as well as representatives from business and civil society. WUF7 was a platform for discussions around the role of sustainable urbanization within the context of the Post-2015 Development Agenda.  On this occasion of WUF7, the Cities Programme announced a new partnership with the Pan American Federation of Architects (FPAA) – a non-profit organization which unites architectural organizations from all parts of North, South and Central America and the Caribbean – to help improve the quality of urban life and tackle complex challenges across economic, ecological, political and cultural spheres.

For cities tackling the challenges of sustainable development, being a signatory to this Programme will open up lines of communication and the exchange of best practices with other cities of the world. Sustainability is more about systems thinking- looking at the problem from all angles and perspective rather than from a single lens! It is understanding how to fit different parts of the puzzle to solve a problem- local or global!

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