Designing cities that work for women: What urban life says about gender inequality
“Designing Cities That Work For Women,” an upcoming study developed by Arup, UNDP and the University of Liverpool, looks at contemporary city life as it has rarely been seen before – from the perspective of women of different ages, ethnicities, sexual orientation and socio-economic backgrounds.

Designing cities that work for women

What urban life says about gender inequality

Published by UNDP on 3 October 2022

A woman on crutches in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The way that cities are designed, built, run, and maintained affect women's learning, work, leisure, political and cultural participation; they can foster community networks and shape how they feel in their daily lives. Photo by UNDP Bangladesh/Fahad Kaizer

In theory, cities offer egalitarian opportunities. They are open to anyone who wants to take their best shot at a fulfilling, diverse, economically rewarding, and cultural life.

In reality, most cities are built by men, for men, with little or no thought for women’s and girls’ needs, aspirations or safety.

The ‘penalties’ women pay for living in cities include violence, poverty, unequal amounts of unpaid care work, limited job opportunities, and lack of power in public and private decision making.

This disregard for 50 percent of the population has real consequences for hundreds of millions of people and, left unchecked, will continue do so at rising rates.

Today, just over half the world’s people live in cities. That number is predicted to rise to 68 percent by 2050. By 2030, the world is expected to have 43 megacities of more than 10 million people, most of them in the global South.

These cities will not function well if women don’t have an equal say in how they are planned and administered.

Gender equality is imbedded in each of the Sustainable Development Goals, yet women and girls face immense structural and social barriers to living lives that are just, inclusive and sustainable.

When women look at cities, what do they see?

Cities = danger

In developed and developing countries alike, women, girls and LGBTQIA+ citizens face danger when they go out.

In Ireland, 55 percent of women feel unsafe in public transport after dark. In the UK, 71 percent of women have experienced some form of public sexual harassment. Amongst women aged 18-24, that rises to 97 percent.

In Jordan, 47 percent of women surveyed had turned down a job opportunity because of the affordability and availability of public transport, and public sexual harassment. In New York City, women spend an average US$26 to $50 extra on transport per month for safety reasons.

Data from a survey in Hawassa, Ethiopia, shows that 50.8 percent of women and girls have experienced violence while using public transport.

Cities = an unfair environment

Women benefit less from city life than men.

Unless you have the privilege of living in a city such as Barcelona, with its women friendly ‘super blocks’ or Vienna, with its generous public seating and streets named after women leaders, gender bias is literally built into urban spaces.

The way cities are designed, built, run and maintained affect women’s learning, work, leisure, political and cultural participation; they can foster community networks and shape how safe they feel in their daily lives. Or not.

Can’t find a public toilet or a baby changing station or a place to breastfeed? Or a safe, accessible park to meet friends? Are the wide streets clogged with cars, while the footpaths are too narrow? Is bicycle infrastructure unsafe or non-existent? Then it’s likely women had no significant say in the way your city was built or is administered.

All over the world, one in three women do not have safe, inclusive toilets. A lack of safe public spaces and parks, coupled with unaffordable accommodation, promote gender-based violence and exclusion, especially for older and disabled women.

Whether it’s statues, monuments or street names, cities consistently reinforce the achievements of men, which is proven to reduce girls’ interest in politics, science, tech, engineering and mathematics. Constant visual validation of male leaders can generate a poor sense of belonging for women.

What needs to change?

Cities = a new way of living

Designing Cities That Work For Women,” an upcoming study developed by Arup, UNDP and the University of Liverpool, looks at contemporary city life as it has rarely been seen before – from the perspective of women of different ages, ethnicities, sexual orientation and socio-economic backgrounds.

It finds ways to make urban planning work for more than just men—by considering health and wellbeing, human potential, safety and equity.

It finds that women and girls need equitable resources and opportunities which can be crafted through gender-inclusive urban planning and socioeconomic policies.

Quality basic education is a must if women and girls are to benefit from the opportunities that cities provide and to support a sense of belonging and autonomy. Building infrastructure with women in mind has proven benefits for everybody. Whether it’s safe cycling routes or promoting gender inclusion in modern urban design, Athens, Bogota, Nairobi, Dakar and San Francisco have proven that cities that embrace female leadership see greater socioeconomic and sustainable development.

Policymakers must give women a say in city designs and urban planning. Women’s rights to property, denied in many countries, are fundamental to their futures and freedoms.

As of September 2022, only 30 women serve as Heads of State or government in 28 countries. At this rate, gender parity won’t be reached for another 130 years.

Adolescent girls read a book during a break from a session on sexual and reproductive health in Cunene, Angola. Quality basic education is a must if women and girls are to benefit from the opportunities that cities provide and to support a sense of belonging and autonomy. Photo by UNDP Angola/Cynthia R Matonhodze

Cities = cradles of female opportunity

A high-level event on October 3, 2022, for World Habitat Day – “Mind the Gap. Leave No One and No Place Behind” – will flip the way we have been conditioned to think about cities. Through the report, it will showcase women and girl-led models of planning which will transform cities. And it will emphasize that female leadership is crucial to this transformation.

The recommendations include appointing a ‘Designing for Women and Girls Ambassador’ and creating a ‘Designing Action Plan’, setting out how the needs and challenges faced by women and girls can be addressed.

Cities can consider a ‘Gender Equality in the Built Environment Task Force’, which would guide local authorities, community groups and the police.

A ‘Designing for Women and Girls’ charter could display cities’ political will to improve their environments. Raising awareness of gender-based issues could persuade politicians that voters want women and girls to be included, not ignored.

And both private and public sector design projects should recruit, retain and promote women from diverse backgrounds.

Malak Safa, a youth leader from Lebanon, attends a forum in New York. A high level event at this year's World Habitat Day - "Mind the Gap: Leave No One and No Place Behind" - will flip the way we have been conditioned to think about cities. Female leadership is crucial to this transformation. Photo by UNDP/Freya Morales

Cities = the past and the future

Whether Varanasi in India, or Babylon in Mesopotamia, since humans first invented cities, they have been crucibles of social, scientific, educational, and cultural excellence. Again and again, they have shown us the best of what we are capable of. Their influences echo down the centuries and shape our identities and ideas to this day.

In the 21st century, and in addition to their traditional roles, cities must also tackle the world’s biggest challenges of climate change, rising poverty and inequality. This World Habitat Day, let’s recognize that gender equality is a sure step to provable economic, environmental, political and social benefits that bring us closer to the Sustainable Development Goals.

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Ghana tackles urban waste management (UNDP Urban October Blog Series)

Ghana tackles urban waste management

Published by UNDP on 11 October 2022


There is an opportunity in every bad situation. We are seeing plastic as a problem, but we can turn this into a good resource to solve other problems.”

Nelson Boateng is a Ghanaian computer engineer and entrepreneur who is dedicating his life to solving one of his country’s biggest challenges, plastic pollution, by building houses of plastic waste. 

Like most countries, Ghana recycles only a tiny percentage of its single use plastics. Ghanaians at all levels of society are working on ways to turn this situation around.

The country’s experience with solving the challenge of waste management and rapid urban growth can provide key lessons for developing countries. Many are confronted with unsustainable waste generation and urban population growth which stretches the capacity of cities to provide quality services to all their inhabitants.

Plastics recycling UNDP Ghana

Entrepreneur Nelson Boateng, founder of Nelplast Ghana, inspecting the plastic pellets that will be transformed into bricks and pavement blocks and used as buidling materials. Photo by Praise Nutakor/UNDP Ghana

More than half of the world’s people, about 4.4 billion, live in cities and towns. This number is expected to increase significantly to about 6 billion by 2045. By 2050, it is expected that nearly 7 of 10 people in the world will live in cities. In Ghana, the urban population has grown from 50.9 percent in 2010 to 56.7 percent in 2021. This will continue to rise as rural dwellers continue to move in search of jobs and livelihoods often exacerbated by climate and environmental pressures.

The scale and speed of urbanization is challenging the capability of local authorities to create a well-planned environment and related waste management. With rapid global population growth and urbanization, annual waste generation is expected to increase by 73 percent from 2020 levels to 3.88 billion tonnes in 2050. In Ghana, about 12,710 tonnes of solid waste is generated every day, with only 10 percent collected and disposed of properly. Plastic waste constitutes a large proportion of urban waste.

In order to address the health and environmental effects in Ghana, and across Africa, there is a need for effective and integrated solid waste management systems that respond to the complex demands of cities.  

Ghana plastics recycling

Nelplast Ghana works with waste pickers who collect about 20,000 tonnes of plastic every day, and which is turned into bricks and paving material. Photo by Praise Nutakor/UNDP Ghana

Responsive policy and regulatory infrastructure

Ghana has begun policy, institutional and regulatory frameworks for sound management of solid waste. It has developed a solid waste management strategy with the an aim of setting the country “on a path towards progressive, high-quality, cost-effective and sustainable waste management services which deliver environmental, public health, and economic benefits to all”. This is a step in the right direction.


Institutional governance mechanisms support collaboration to address waste management challenges. At the national level the Ghana National Plastics Action Partnership has developed the National Action Roadmap to provide guidance on ways to manage plastics across the product lifecycle. UNDP, together with those in the waste management value chain, established the Waste Recovery Platform to promote waste recovery in a larger circular economy. In the spirit of leaving no one behind, the platform convenes and integrates the interventions of the government, private sector, and waste entrepreneurs as well as waste pickers, the majority of whom are women and young people. The platform is working together with partners to unblock challenges in the sector by supporting innovation and entrepreneurship.

Sustainable financing                            

To address the impact of waste management on cities and urban planning there is the need to provide sustainable financing mechanisms for waste management. The government is working to create an Extended Producer Responsibility framework where importers and local manufacturers share the management and cost burden for end-of-life products. In this way funds will be generated to effectively manage waste in the cities. Through public-private partnerships, innovators in the sector are already being supported through grants and loans to develop home-grown solutions to efficiently manage waste.

Data and technology

Access to information, data, technology, and innovations is crucial for efficient waste management. Technology can be transferred through collaborative partnership arrangements, whilst data and information can be shared using  multistakeholder platforms like the UNDP Waste Recovery Platform and the Ghana National Plastic Action Partnership. The Innovation Centre for circular economy that the government seeks to establish under the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology, and Innovation to harness and promote innovation in circular economy, will also facilitate the process.  


Ghanaians like Nelson, who began working at a recycling shop at 13 to help support his family, and who now works with waste pickers who collect about 20,000 tonnes of plastic every day, are showing us the way.

He is part of larger ongoing efforts to introduce mass community awareness-raising and information campaigns to address negative community attitudes towards waste management. This is expected to address shift in attitudinal change, as well as encourage financing.

It is important to employ technology and innovation, together with strong and coherent institutional coordination, to adequately provide for the multidimensional and multilevel interventions to address the menace of waste management in urban planning and development and to unlock the potential for jobs for people and protection of the planet.

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UNDP Gender Equality Strategy 2022-2025

UNDP’s Gender Equality Strategy 2022-2025, aligned with its Strategic Plan, guides UNDP in its efforts to assist countries in accelerating progress on gender equality and the empowerment of women over the next four years. It aims to move beyond piecemeal efforts and to instead help countries to shift power structures and the economic, social, and political systems that perpetuate discrimination.

Gender Equality Strategy 2022-2025

Published by UNDP on 13 September 2022

The Gender Equality Strategy 2022-2025 has been written in unprecedented times. The COVID-19 pandemic has imperilled every dimension of our wellbeing and amplified a sense of fear across the globe, and there is an alarming escalation in armed violence. This strategy responds to reflections around two key concerns. First, why has progress towards gender equality been so slow and scattered, and even reversed? Second, what can UNDP best do in response?

In the next four years, UNDP will accelerate and scale up results, working with countries and partners to contribute to gender equality, including by:

  • Assisting 80 countries to expand care services and redistribute care work.
  • Supporting 250 million women to gain access to productive uses of clean energy.
  • Helping 1 million more women to access and control digital assets.
  • Mobilizing over US$100 billion to contribute to gender equality through taxation systems, public spending, debt instruments and private capital investments.
  • Certifying 500 public institutions and private companies with the Gender Equality Seal.

Access the full report and the summary version (in English and French) here:

Daring Cities 2022: Global Virtual Forum for Urban Leaders Taking on the Climate Emergency

Daring Cities 2022: Global Virtual Forum for Urban Leaders Taking on the Climate Emergency 

When: October 3-7, 2022 

Timezone: GMT+2

Location: Bonn, Germany and Virtual Attendance

ICLEI and the Federal City of Bonn welcome you to Daring Cities, a virtual, global forum on climate change for urban leaders taking on the climate emergency. Daring Cities is designed to empower urban decision-makers – such as mayors, city councilors, administrators, and urban thought leaders, as well as national government representatives, researchers, technical staff, business leaders, civil society decision-makers and community organizers – to lead in the climate emergency.

The current challenge: Taking on the climate emergency

With the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, every sector of society across every corner of the globe has been turned upside down, and the work to address climate change is being reprioritized, interrupted or delayed. Local and regional governments have had to redeploy sustainability resources to ensure immediate safeguarding of their residents and employees.

On the international level, we are experiencing major disruptions of the global climate process.

But climate science hasn’t changed. The climate emergency is still happening right now, in our cities, towns and regions around the world. 

Our global leaders are struggling to address this urgent crisis. But the daring actions of local leaders are spreading around the globe.

Created by ICLEI and the Federal City of Bonn, Daring Cities is a virtual, action-oriented forum to recognize and empower courageous urban leaders – including mayors and other decision-makers, technical staff, researchers, private sector representatives, and community organizers – to disrupt business-as-usual and shift towards business-as-possible. Daring Cities showcases and catalyzes exemplary local climate action to tackle the climate emergency, including ambitious resilience-building and climate mitigation efforts.

Learn more about the program and register here:

Human Development Report 2021/22 - Animated Explainer
Learn about the key findings from the new Human Development Report 2021/22 "Uncertain Times, Unsettled Lives: Shaping our Future in a Transforming World" through this short animated explainer video.

Human Development Report 2021/22 - Animated Explainer

Posted by UNDP on 8 September 2022

We live in a world of worry. The ongoing Covid-19 pan­demic, having driven reversals in human development in almost every country, continues to spin off variants unpre­dictably. War in Ukraine and elsewhere has created more human suffering. Record-breaking temperatures, fires, storms and floods sound the alarm of planetary systems increasingly out of whack. Together, they are fuelling a cost-of-living crisis felt around the world, painting a pic­ture of uncertain times and unsettled lives.

Uncertainty is not new, but its dimensions are taking om­inous new forms today. A new “uncertainty complex” is emerging, never before seen in human history. Constitut­ing it are three volatile and interacting strands: the desta­bilizing planetary pressures and inequalities of the Anthro­pocene, the pursuit of sweeping societal transformations to ease those pressures and the widespread and intensi­fying polarization.

This new uncertainty complex and each new crisis it spawns are impeding human development and unsettling lives the world over. In the wake of the pandemic, and for the first time ever, the global Human Development Index (HDI) value declined—for two years straight. Many coun­tries experienced ongoing declines on the HDI in 2021. Even before the pandemic, feelings of insecurity were on the rise nearly everywhere. Many people feel alienated from their political systems, and in another reversal, dem­ocratic backsliding has worsened.

There is peril in new uncertainties, in the insecurity, polar­ization and demagoguery that grip many countries. But there is promise, too—an opportunity to reimagine our futures, to renew and adapt our institutions and to craft new stories about who we are and what we value. This is the hopeful path forward, the path to follow if we wish to thrive in a world in flux.

Read the full report and more: 

Multiple crises halt progress as 9 out of 10 countries fall backwards in human development, UNDP report warns

For the first time in the 32 years that UNDP have been calculating it, the Human Development Index, which measures a nation’s health, education, and standard of living, has declined globally for two years in a row. Human development has fallen back to its 2016 levels, reversing much of the progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

Multiple crises halt progress as 9 out of 10 countries fall backwards in human development, UNDP report warns

The world must jolt itself out of its global paralysis to secure the future of people and planet by re-booting its development trajectory

Published on 8 September 2022 by UNDP

For the first time in the 32 years that UNDP have been calculating it, the Human Development Index, which measures a nation’s health, education, and standard of living, has declined globally for two years in a row. Human development has fallen back to its 2016 levels, reversing much of the progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. Photo by UNDP Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People (PAPP)

New York - The world is lurching from crisis to crisis, trapped in a cycle of firefighting and unable to tackle the roots of the troubles that confront us. Without a sharp change of course, we may be heading towards even more deprivations and injustices, warns the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The latest Human Development Report, “Uncertain Times, Unsettled Lives: Shaping our Future in a Transforming World”, launched today by UNDP, argues that layers of uncertainty are stacking up and interacting to unsettle life in unprecedented ways. The last two years have had a devastating impact for billions of people around the world, when crises like COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine hit back-to-back, and interacted with sweeping social and economic shifts, dangerous planetary changes, and massive increases in polarization.

The reversal is nearly universal as over 90 percent of countries registered a decline in their HDI score in either 2020 or 2021 and more than 40 percent declined in both years, signaling that the crisis is still deepening for many.

While some countries are beginning to get back on their feet, recovery is uneven and partial, further widening inequalities in human development. Latin America, the Caribbean, Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia have been hit particularly hard.

“The world is scrambling to respond to back-to-back crises. We have seen with the cost of living and energy crises that, while it is tempting to focus on quick fixes like subsidizing fossil fuels, immediate relief tactics are delaying the long-term systemic changes we must make,” says Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator. “We are collectively paralyzed in making these changes. In a world defined by uncertainty, we need a renewed sense of global solidarity to tackle our interconnected, common challenges.”

The report explores why the change needed isn’t happening and suggests there are many reasons, including how insecurity and polarization are feeding off each other today to prevent the solidarity and collective action we need to tackle crises at all levels. New calculations show, for instance, that those feeling most insecure are also more likely to hold extreme political views.

“Even before COVID-19 hit, we were seeing the twin paradoxes of progress with insecurity and polarisation. Today, with one-third of people worldwide feeling stressed and fewer than a third of people worldwide trusting others, we face major roadblocks to adopting policies that work for people and planet,” says Achim Steiner. “This thought-provoking new analysis aims to help us break this impasse and chart a new course out of our current global uncertainty. We have a narrow window to re-boot our systems and secure a future built on decisive climate action and new opportunities for all.”

To chart a new course, the report recommends implementing policies that focus on investment — from renewable energy to preparedness for pandemics, and insurance—including social protection— to prepare our societies for the ups and downs of an uncertain world. While innovation in its many forms—technological, economic, cultural—can also build capacities to respond to whatever challenges come next.

“To navigate uncertainty, we need to double down on human development and look beyond improving people’s wealth or health,” says UNDP’s Pedro Conceição, the report’s lead author. “These remain important. But we also need to protect the planet and provide people with the tools they need to feel more secure, regain a sense of control over their lives and have hope for the future.”

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To learn more about the 2022 Human Development Report and UNDP’s analysis on navigating the new uncertainty complex, visit

For media inquiries, please contact

Carolina Given Sjolander | Communications Specialist | Mobile: +1 347 908 4008 | Email:

Victor Garrido Delgado | Media Specialist, UNDP | Mobile:1-917-995-1687 | Email:

Decarbonising the energy system by 2050 could save trillions
Transitioning to a decarbonised energy system by around 2050 is expected to save the world at least $12 trillion compared to continuing our current levels of fossil fuel use.

Decarbonising the energy system by 2050 could save trillions

Published on 13 September 2022 by the Oxford Martin School at Oxford University

For decades, scientists have called for a transition to clean energy to prevent the worst impacts of climate change but fears that such a transition would be costly and harm the economy have held back progress. However, a study from the Oxford Martin Programme on the Post-Carbon Transition published in Joule today shows the reverse: an ambitious, decisive transition to green energy technologies such as solar, wind, and batteries, will likely save the world significant sums of money.

The research shows a win-win-win scenario, in which a transition to nearly 100% clean energy by 2050 results in lower energy system costs than a fossil fuel system, while providing more energy to the global economy, and expanding energy access to more people around the world. This result is based purely on the economics of different energy technologies, even without accounting for the costs of climate damages and climate adaptation that would be avoided by such an energy transition.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the costs of fossil energy have skyrocketed, causing inflation around the world. This study, conducted before the current crisis, takes account of such fluctuations using over a century’s worth of fossil fuel price data. The current energy crisis underscores the study’s findings and demonstrates the risks of continuing to rely on expensive, insecure, fossil fuels. The research confirms that the response to the crisis should include accelerating the transition to low cost, clean energy as soon as possible, as this will bring benefits both for the economy and the planet.

Completely replacing fossil fuels with clean energy by 2050 will save us trillions

"There is a pervasive misconception that switching to clean, green energy will be painful, costly and mean sacrifices for us all – but that’s just wrong," says Professor Doyne Farmer. "Renewable costs have been trending down for decades. They are already cheaper than fossil fuels in many situations, and our research shows that they will become cheaper than fossil fuels across almost all applications in the years to come. And if we accelerate the transition, they will become cheaper faster. Completely replacing fossil fuels with clean energy by around 2050 will save us trillions."

The researchers analysed thousands of transition cost scenarios produced by major energy models and found that the real cost of solar energy dropped twice as fast as the most ambitious projections in these models. Over 20 years all of these models consistently overestimated the future costs of key clean energy technologies versus reality.

The Oxford team used a different approach, developing a ‘probabilistic model’ to estimate the costs of possible future energy systems more accurately based on past data. Probabilistic models are used widely throughout industry and research to estimate the likelihood of future events. The betting industry, for example, uses probabilistic models to make forecasts that, while never perfect, on average get the odds right and that enabled them to make £5.8 billion in UK profits in 2020 alone.

In prior work, the Oxford team showed it could ‘get the odds right’ in its probabilistic forecasts of energy technology costs. It tested the forecasting method against decades of historical data for 50 different technologies, using a technique called backtesting, which is routinely used in the financial industry. The data used in this study includes 45 years of solar energy costs, 37 years of wind energy costs and 25 years for battery storage. Using probabilistic models, this study shows that the probability of further cost reductions in key green energy technologies is now so high that our best bet is to push ahead rapidly with the energy transition.

A common objection to scenarios for a rapid transition to net-zero carbon is the need for large amounts of energy storage to handle intermittent renewables. The study showed that the costs for key storage technologies, such as batteries and hydrogen electrolysis, are also likely to fall dramatically. Meanwhile, the costs of nuclear have consistently increased over the last five decades, making it highly unlikely to be cost competitive with plunging renewable and storage costs.

Past models have overestimated key green technology costs again and again, as real world costs plunged

The study’s ‘Fast Transition’ scenario shows a realistic future of a near fossil-free energy system by 2050, providing 55% more energy services globally than today, with large amounts of wind, solar, batteries, electric vehicles, and clean fuels such as green hydrogen (made from renewable electricity). Such a net-zero carbon future is not only technically feasible, but the research shows it is expected to cost the world $12 trillion less than continuing with the polluting fossil fuel-based system we have today.

Lead author Dr Rupert Way said, "Past models predicting high costs for transitioning to zero carbon energy have deterred companies from investing and made governments nervous about setting policies that will accelerate the green transition and cut reliance on fossil fuels. But past models have overestimated key green technology costs again and again, leaving modellers to play catch up as real world costs plunged over the last decade. Only a few years ago, net zero by 2050 was believed to be so expensive that it was barely considered credible, yet now even the most pessimistic models concede that it’s entirely within reach. Our research goes further and shows that scaling up key green technologies is likely to drive their costs down so far that overall they generate net cost savings, and the faster we go, the more we will save. Accelerating the transition to renewable energy is now the best bet not just for the planet, but for energy costs too."

Professor Farmer adds, "The world is facing a simultaneous inflation crisis, national security crisis, and climate crisis, all caused by our dependence on high cost, insecure, polluting, fossil fuels with volatile prices. This study shows that ambitious policies to dramatically accelerate the transition to a clean energy future as quickly as possible are not only urgently needed for climate reasons, but can save the world trillions in future energy costs, giving us a cleaner, cheaper, more energy secure future."

The research is a collaboration between the Institute for New Economic Thinking at the Oxford Martin School, the Oxford Martin Programme on the Post-Carbon Transition and the Smith School of Enterprise & Environment at the University of Oxford, and SoDa Labs at Monash University.

Article retrieved from

Human Development Report 2021/2022 - Uncertain Times, Unsettled Lives: Shaping our Future in a Transforming World

The central message of this year’s Human Development Report is straightforward: to turn new uncertainties from a threat to an opportunity, we must double down on human development to unleash our creative and cooperative capacities.

Uncertain Times, Unsettled Lives: Shaping our Future in a Transforming World

2021/22 Human Development Report by UNDP | Published in September 2022


We live in a world of worry: the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, war in Ukraine and elsewhere, record-breaking temperatures, fires and storms. Each is a troubling manifestation of an emerging, new uncertainty complex (figure 1) that is unsettling lives around the world. It is driven by three novel, interacting layers of uncertainty at a global scale: the destabilized planetary systems of the Anthropocene, the pursuit of sweeping societal transformations to ease planetary pressures and widespread, intensifying polarization.

Feelings of insecurity are on the rise nearly everywhere—a trend at least a decade in the making. That trend began well before the Covid-19 pandemic, which for first the first time ever, sent global human development in reverse—for two years straight (figure 2).

What is going on? How does the wide-angle lens of human development help us understand and respond to this apparent paradox of progress with insecurity? Such questions animate this year’s Report. The 2019 Human Development Report explored inequalities in human development. The 2020 Human Development Report focused on how those inequalities drive and are exacerbated by the dangerous planetary change of the Anthropocene. UNDP’s 2022 Special Report on Human Security examined the emergence of new forms of insecurity. The 2021/2022 Human Development Report unites and extends these discussions under the theme of uncertainty—how it is changing, what it means for human development and how we can thrive in the face of it.

The central message of this year’s Report is straightforward: to turn new uncertainties from a threat to an opportunity, we must double down on human development to unleash our creative and cooperative capacities.

To do so we must:

  • Expand human agency and freedoms, in addition to wellbeing achievements.
  • Widen the vista on human behaviour, going beyond models of rational self-interest to include emotions, cognitive biases and the critical roles of culture.
  • Implement smart, practical policies that focus on the three I’s:
    • Investment: to form the capabilities people will need in the future and enable socioeconomic and planetary conditions for human flourishing
    • Insurance: to protect people from the unavoidable contingencies of uncertain times and safeguard people’s capabilities, including their fundamental freedoms (human security).
    • Innovation: to generate capabilities that might not exist today.

The direction we head from here is up to us.

Accelerating Urban Inclusion for a Just Recovery
Cities cannot achieve a just recovery without understanding and addressing the barriers to urban inclusion faced by citizens.

Accelerating Urban Inclusion for a Just Recovery

Published by World Economic Forum in August 2022


The COVID-19 pandemic has drawn attention to and at times worsened stark inequalities in cities around the world. Cities’ resilience to both acute crises such as COVID-19 and long-term challenges including climate change depends in great part on their ability to encourage urban inclusion, for example, in terms of access to housing, mobility, public services and economic opportunity.

Different groups – including women, lowincome residents, ethnic and religious minorities, disabled people, migrants, refugees and others – face distinct barriers to urban inclusion. Cities must understand and respond to the unique vulnerabilities – including intersecting vulnerabilities – faced by all urban dwellers.

Cities everywhere, including in low-income and conflict-affected countries, have developed innovative approaches to achieving greater inclusion, spurred on in part by the pandemic. Such initiatives may take varied forms and may emerge from government bodies, the private sector or civic organizations, but all successful initiatives actively involve the communities they serve. Thinking through the various dimensions of urban inclusion can help cities devise approaches relevant to their context, such as:

  • Spatial inclusion involves land use planning and urban and transport design that enhance safety and accessibility for all urban residents, regardless of where they live.
  • Digital inclusion involves reliable access to the internet, affordable devices and digital skills training, and has become vital for accessing services, education and employment, especially during crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Social and institutional inclusion involves removing barriers to participation by vulnerable groups in the economic, educational, political and cultural life of their cities, and ensuring that representatives of these groups occupy positions of leadership and influence.
  • Economic inclusion involves providing access to jobs, training and banking through targeted programmes and services.

To ensure urban inclusion, cities must have sound, sustainable municipal finance systems in place. This requires making intergovernmental fiscal transfers more transparent and predictable, and strengthening local revenue collection, including through land value capture, taxation and service fees, as locally appropriate.

Leadership across the public and private sectors is essential to urban inclusion. Leaders must be willing to listen to and learn from local residents, and “crowd in” resources from all available sources.

This report, co-written by experts from international organizations, private corporations, government bodies and academic institutions, makes the urgent case for greater urban inclusion, and aims to provide guidance and inspiration for cities on how to achieve it.

Access the full report here:

or download the attached PDF of the report.

Delivering Climate-Resilient Cities Using a Systems Approach
Adopting a systems approach to urban infrastructure delivery will help cities create more liveable spaces and curb climate change.

Delivering Climate-Resilient Cities Using a Systems Approach

Published by the World Economic Forum in August 2022


More than a thousand cities and local governments joined the United Nations Race to Zero campaign and 33 cities also committed to the Race to Resilience. The window to curb climate change is narrowing, and more aggressive actions are needed to fundamentally change urban systems. A systems approach exploits the links connecting multiple infrastructures, enhances integrated governance and finance, and deepens engagement among diverse stakeholders, thereby maximizing the cobenefits of climate actions.

Recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic poses a unique opportunity to accelerate the adoption of a systems approach to confronting the climate crisis. Despite broad interest, such an approach has not been comprehensively defined, especially in terms of the practicalities of planning and implementing net-zero carbon and climate-resilient urban infrastructure. Drawing on experiences from a wide range of stakeholders, this report outlines a roadmap for cities to take a systems approach to urban infrastructure in service of a green and just recovery.

The main message of each section of the report is summarized below:

What is a systems approach to urban infrastructure delivery? A systems approach treats the multiple infrastructure sectors that determine the structure and function of cities as components of a larger working system. To address climate change, it builds upon effective sectoral actions, but takes advantage of interconnections and interdependencies among multiple infrastructure sectors. It asserts that treating sectors as parts of a whole system leads to better outcomes than optimizing each sector individually.

Why do we emphasize a systems approach to urban infrastructure delivery? A systems approach is ideally suited to city-scale actions because cities are both the primary locus of demand and the level at which most infrastructure and services are provided. Such an approach simultaneously addresses multiple goals – in this case seeking to reduce climate change-related risks while maximizing co-benefits for public health and economic growth, among others. As such, a systems approach is well suited to creating liveable cities that improve residents’ well-being.

How can cities implement a systems approach? They can do so by promoting integrative governance structures, encouraging multi-objective planning, supporting legitimate participatory processes involving all relevant stakeholders, and adopting net-zero carbon and climate-resilience targets. Implementing a systems approach would also require comprehensive multilevel governance and deep collaboration among a diversity of social actors, as well as sufficient financial resources from both the public and private sectors.

What are the most serious challenges for cities taking a systems approach? The challenges of taking a systems approach include: 1) natural resource constraints and legacy infrastructure; 2) lack of technical and political capacity; 3) lack of multi-objective urban planning; 4) limited local regulatory power; 5) weakness of city government in regards to the multilevel governance system; 6) weak collaboration among multiple social actors; 7) limited access to finance and resources; and 8) lack of policy-relevant data and knowledge.


Cities alone will not be able to achieve a systems approach to net-zero carbon, climate-resilient urban infrastructure delivery. Rather, each city must engage with relevant stakeholders from government, business, academia and civil society that interact with the urban value chain. It must also use its hard and soft powers to accelerate action – for instance, by creating working groups to accelerate a green recovery or by declaring a climate emergency. This report provides a five-step action plan to guide cities in adopting a systems approach to urban infrastructure delivery. Recommendations are also provided to help cities transition from the current sectoral approach to a systems approach.

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