home 2017, Cities, Sustainable Resilience and Resource Efficiency in Cities

Resilience and Resource Efficiency in Cities


City superfans, there’s a new report! The UN Environment report “Resilience and Resource Efficiency in Cities” is now available. Download here

The report reflects on resilience, on resource efficiency, and on the nexus between the two. The authors explore definitions and implementation.

Key Links



Report (PDF)


How was the report prepared?

Does the Global Initiative for Resource Efficient Cities (GI-REC) have an account on Facebook and Twitter?

For those interested in resilience and resource efficiency, are there relevant videos?

How can we gage how well or poorly our cities are doing in terms of resiliency and resource efficiency?

Given that this is the Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, what are the connections among urban resilience, resource efficiency and tourism?

Given that this is the #YearOfOpen, what resources are available with an open access license?

Rationale for the Report

Urban areas accounted for 54% of the total global population in 2014. Yet activities in
cities account for 70-75% of natural resource consumption, with significant impacts for
resource availability and ecosystems in areas far beyond urban boundaries. Cities are also disproportionately susceptible to a range of environmental hazards due to their concentration of people, infrastructure and economic activity; their exposure to risk is likely to further increase with climate change. The resource efficiency and resilience of cities will become even more signi cant as urban population and economic growth continues: the global urban population is projected to increase by approximately 1.84% every year between 2015 and 2020, with 90% of this growth occurring in Asia and Africa.

The major global challenges of the 21st century – urbanisation, climate change, resource scarcity and poverty – therefore have huge implications for urban planners and policymakers. This report looks at the relationship between building the resilience of cities in the face of global environmental change, and increasing the resource efficiency of cities to reduce their harmful impacts on the environment. It provides examples of effective ways to address these agendas, as well as the potential and challenges for integration. This speaks strongly to global policy agendas, including the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement and the New Urban Agenda.

Key Messages

  • ƒ  A resilience agenda can help cities become more resource efficient by being more flexible and by being better able to learn and respond to changed circumstances. The process of building resilience can therefore simultaneously offer opportunities to build resource efficiency.
  • ƒ  A resource efficiency agenda can help cities to become more resilient by reducing exposure to the risk of shortfalls in essential inputs. Various inputs addressed in a resource efficiency agenda (materials, products, water, energy, food) are all essential for urban functioning. The outcome of achieving greater resource efficiency can contribute to a city becoming more resilient, because it will rely less heavily on the systems that provide resources.
  • ƒ  A number of areas of action are common to both concepts, therefore providing ground for mutual reinforcement. City leaders aiming to achieve both resilience and resource efficiency can adopt measures for each with the potential to contribute to the achievement of both objectives.
  • ƒ  Possible tensions between resource efficiency and resilience may also exist. Redundancy and modularity may help cities to be more resilient to shocks and stresses, but could also be framed as representing inefficient use of resources. Overcoming these potential conflicts will require more integrated and responsive urban planning and governance.
  • ƒ  Achieving resilience and resource efficiency at city-level can help meet broader sustainability objectives. The urban resilience and resource efficiency concepts have overlapping objectives and both aim at addressing major challenges such as climate change and pressure on natural resources. They are concerned not only with short-term achievements, but also with providing key tools for the long-term sustainable development of cities.Structure of the ReportThe report has three main sections: on resilience, on resource efficiency, and on the nexus between the two. For each concept, it explores the state-of-the-art in understanding and implementation
    – looking at definitions, characteristics, benefits, limitations and practical applications. It then explores the links between the principles, objectives, and initiatives associated with urban resilience and resource efficiency.This report draws on theoretical and grey literature. More importantly, however, it is informed by the inputs of city officials from Africa, Asia and Latin America at a series of workshops on resource efficient cities held in 2013 and 2014. The case studies presented here – largely initiated by city officials – show how urban areas around the world are grappling with the different ecological and social challenges, and indicate potential avenues for other towns and cities to achieve the transformative commitments of the New Urban Agenda.The report concludes that resource efficiency is an essential element to urban resilience, and that resource efficiency can be accomplished more effectively when it is built in the context of a resilient system. The conceptual analysis and case studies make it clear that considering these issues together can help planners to address global challenges, such as climate change and poverty.

Spotlight: Gi-Rec

In June 2012 at the Rio+20 global summit on sustainable development, UN Environment launched the Global Initiative for Resource Efficient Cities (GI-REC) to capitalize on the potential for cities to lead action towards greater resource efficiency. The primary objective of the GI-REC is to integrate resource efficiency along with sustainable production and consumption into policies, tools and decision-making at city level.

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