Days before the global COP26 climate talks began in Glasgow, HRH The Prince of Wales met with key Commonwealth partners, including the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) Secretary General Dr Joanna Newman, for a high-level discussion at Clarence House, to call attention to the crucial importance of sustainable urbanisation in tackling climate change.
During the event, which was convened by The Prince’s Foundation and Commonwealth partners, HRH discussed the ‘triple threat’ of rapid urbanisation, natural resource depletion and climate change, and the need for collaboration if the targets are to be met within the limited time now available.
HRH commented: ‘Sustainable development is clearly critical to responding to the climate emergency... If COVID has taught us anything, then surely it has been to demonstrate what can be achieved through collective action. Leadership is key, but so is effective collaboration.’
Cities already consume more than two thirds of the world’s energy and account for more than 70% of all carbon emissions. From 2015 to 2050, the world’s urban population is expected to almost double, and based on current trends of urban sprawl and unplanned settlements, could mean a tripling of the urban landmass, crushing often fragile eco-systems in the process.
Almost 50% of that global urban growth is projected to be in the Commonwealth – well over 1bn more people living in Commonwealth cities. A staggering 95% of that growth is expected to be in Asia and Africa, two continents which are particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts and currently with limited capacity to respond to these intense challenges.
The critical role of universities
Prof Eris Schoburgh, Professor of Public Policy and Management at ACU member the University of the West Indies, joined the event remotely to discuss the crucial role of universities, commenting: ‘They have an obligatory role in shaping policy strategies in urban infrastructural development’.
Commenting on the event, Dr Joanna Newman MBE FRSA, ACU Secretary General, added: ‘The Association of Commonwealth Universities is a global network of 500 member universities in 50 countries, dedicated to building a better world through higher education.
‘Universities are helping to tackle the issues of rapid urbanisation and climate change highlighted by the Call to Action through research, education and policy engagement. They are also central to the need for interdisciplinary action – by working together with communities, governments and the built environment professions, universities are able to drive evidence-based policymaking into practice, creating a more sustainable future for us all.’
The Commonwealth Secretary-General, The Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC said the Commonwealth has a unique opportunity to lead on collaborative sustainable urbanisation: ‘Tackling climate change is the defining global challenge of our times and if we can solve the challenges of urbanisation, we have a realistic chance of tackling climate change and providing a hope and a future for our world.
‘The Commonwealth is showing leadership and taking action on creating more sustainable urban environments with collaborations at a local, national and global level from academia to business to civil society.’
Call to action
The discussion was convened to highlight the Call to Action on Sustainable Urbanisation across the Commonwealth, a joint initiative of the Association of Commonwealth Universities, the Commonwealth Local Government Forum, the Commonwealth Association of Architects and the Commonwealth Association of Planners, that calls for climate-conscious urban planning and management in the face of the global climate crisis.
The Call to Action was shared with Commonwealth Heads of Government in February 2021, with sustainable urbanisation set to be a key topic at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kigali in 2022, alongside the imminent outcomes of COP26.
Among other dignitaries, the Executive Director of UN-Habitat Maimunah Sharif, Dr Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya the Rwandan Environment Minister and HE Saida Muna Tasneem the Bangladeshi High Commissioner, joined the discussion at Clarence House, which was moderated by Bristol City Mayor Marvin Rees.Watch the recording
- Watch the ACU’s high-level side event live at COP26
- The ACU at COP26: Discover how the ACU and our members are supporting local, national and international climate action
- #UnisForOurPlanet: Join our campaign to show how universities – and the people within them – are spearheading critical solutions and efforts to tackle climate change