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Playing the Long Game: Urban Green Growth, Spatial Planning and Land Use

5 September 2016
by Guest author

GGSD 2016 Save the Date A4_Darker-150x213Ryan Parmentier, OECD Environment Directorate

Imagine you have an important decision to make. Do you carefully consider the long-term implications of each possible option or do you act impulsively? Would you approach the decision-making process differently if the consequences stretched out to 30 or even 50 years?

Urban, spatial and land use planning professionals repeatedly find themselves in this predicament. There are significant and long-lasting economic as well as environmental impacts of the decisions that are made with respect to transportation, energy, waste, water, buildings and infrastructure. Yet, many land-use interventions do not properly account for environmental consequences. The decisions made regarding where and when roads are built, and the density, type and location of buildings all have long-term impacts on air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity and water use. Even seemingly indirect or unrelated decisions on the taxation of property can have a significant impact on environmental outcomes. As a result, the innumerable decisions related to land use – both big and small – need to be made so that growth is green.

This is an easy thing to say, but an increasingly challenging thing to do in a world that is changing incredibly fast. As a recent article on urban planning in the Economist pointed out, the city of London took 2000 years to grow from 30,000 to almost 10 million people. Cities in China are achieving the same growth rate in just 30 years! The pressures to deliver the services required by an expanding global population are challenging and the long-term environmental consequences are becoming impossible to ignore.

The 2016 OECD Green Growth and Sustainable Development Forum will tackle these very issues under the theme of “Urban green growth, spatial planning and land use”. An engaging agenda is being developed that will explore, through examples, whether existing land-use policies support green growth. The Forum will discuss the challenge of urban sprawl and the associated social and environmental consequences. It will examine the green growth challenges at the city level, giving consideration to innovative approaches and best practices. Issues related to resilient infrastructure, tracking and measuring progress on green growth as well as the role that finance and tax policies can have on land use outcomes will also be discussed. One session will focus on the OECD’s Inclusive Growth in Cities Campaign and discuss how to build cities that are both inclusive and environmentally sustainable.

The Forum will consider green growth at all relevant levels, i.e. from both the national and sub-national perspectives and part of the broader international agenda. The latter includes the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement on climate change, Habitat III (the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development – Quito, Ecuador 17-20 October, 2016) and the 2017 Annual Green Growth Knowledge Platform Conference on resilient infrastructure that will be hosted by the World Bank.

The wide-ranging issues related to land use and the broader international agenda clearly demonstrate that to be successful, co-operation is crucial. This includes co-operation across local, regional and national levels to effectively green urban and spatial planning as well as land-use policies and decisions. Enhanced international co-operation is becoming urgent. This is particularly relevant in a world that is facing increasing uncertainty. There will be growing pressure and a natural instinct to continue to make decisions that benefit the short term when the future is uncertain. But now more than ever, we need to work together to make sure that does not happen.

Useful links

The 2016 OECD Green Growth and Sustainable Development (GGSD) Forum: Urban Green Growth, Spatial Planning and Land Use Paris, 9-10 November

Cities and Green Growth: A Conceptual Framework”, OECD Regional Development Working Papers 2011/08

2 Responses
  1. September 5, 2016

    I think a forum is what the UK has been crying out for, for many years.
    Most of these decisions are carried out both by Government and local Councils, in secret. The use of land, its regulations and how decisions are made should be a process that is clear and open to all.
    Similarly. When government negotiates trade deals, their details should be open to all. Likewise all decision makers connections with any party to negotiations should be published.

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