The Global Goals, Cities and Human Settlements

The 2015 and 2016 agreements establishing the Global Goals, Sendai Framework and Paris Agreement commitments to tackle climate change, mark a historic moment and opportunity for transformational change. There is wide recognition of the critical role the population of cities and regions can play in the future of human development –living in a way that enables ecological restoration to take place as part of the shift to a more resilient world.

Cities are human creations. Places in which the Global Goals set aspirations for millions of people to lead peaceful, healthy, prosperous and fulfilling lives, with full respect of human rights for all. Human settlements are the embodiment of the human spirit –where we determine our rights and responsibilities, both as individuals and collectively.

Cultural Heritage and Faiths

We have roots in the places where we grew up, where our families rose to prayer and worship over generations, sustained by beliefs and practices relating to community care and respect for the environment. Churches, monasteries, shrines, sanctuaries, mosques, synagogues, temples and sacred landscapes are all woven into this sense of place and belonging.

I was a member of the committee tasked with defining priorities linked to Global Goal 11(1) –which champions sustainable cities and communities­– and stood firm behind the need to include “strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage” as a key target. I felt particularly strongly about this because I know — from my planning work around the world — that respecting and celebrating the different cultures of a region is key to moving forward with communities, to develop places that are fit for the 21st century.

People deal with change in a much more positive way when cultural and natural heritage is retained, looked after and respected(2). Part of this history lies in that faith institutions are the oldest social service providers we know. They were the original providers of health services, education, nutrition, farming, sanitation and energy. They are also the oldest fundraisers, community mobilisers and human and social capital builders. Their ability to convene people voluntarily to resource critical endeavors –particularly at times of risk– continues today. And the fact that vulnerable communities around the world are at increasing risk, brings us together in Zug to find solutions.

Faith-based action

All citizens need to be actively involved in the decisions that affect their future. The New Urban Agenda –agreed at Habitat III– makes it clear that “effective, accountable institutions will be needed for responsive, inclusive and representative decision making”. In the Faiths we find unparalleled convening capacity and infrastructure to make the Global Goals a reality for people “in and of themselves”. Billions of people rise to prayer and worship every day, sustained by beliefs and practices that relate to the Global Goals.

Faith institutions have an enduring and extensive network of congregations, affiliates, organizations and individuals. These horizontally and vertically organized networks across scales, constitute highly effective channels of communication as well as human and financial resources.

Faith institutions have the capacity to mobilise and direct financial, institutional and human resources towards a broad range of urban issues such as jobs, housing, mobility services and infrastructure.

Demonstration of resilient development in Sacred Cities

With rising numbers of pilgrims visiting sacred cities and sites every year, these locations could become the first powerful demonstrations of transformational practice to deliver sustainable water supply, waste management, low carbon energy, sanitation, eco-mobility and simple low energy accommodation for everyone.

Using a systems approach and, the total cost of these projects can be reduced by up to 40%, which gives a good return on investment and increased beneficial social impact. Pilgrims could take these examples and practices back to their cities of origin and mobilize resources for change there, providing a powerful scaling mechanism. A group of sacred cities have come forward to be such demonstrators –because of initiatives by ARC and R20.

Education and learning

It is very important to encourage young people to take on leadership positions for change. Faith institutions recognize the role of learning and capacity building through communities, working at all levels from the national to the neighborhood.

In our Resilience Brokers capacity, we can help faith institutions build a global system of learning. The data, which is systematically collected from investment experience in communities, is aggregated at the national and global level to help identify significant trends or emerging patterns. Using the same channels, insights can then be disseminated back to the grassroots to inform future planning and investment.

Roadmap 2030

In March 2016, the Ecological Sequestration Trust and UNSDSN convened a high-level expert group –at Rockefeller Bellagio Centre– to co-create a roadmap for financing and implementing the rapid global transition to resilient development paths by 2030, in all regions of the world(3).

It was decided –for all the reasons explained above– that the Faiths should be included as a key actor in every city region in the action plan and the multi-faith Bristol Commitments(4) –created through the convening of ARC– were included throughout the document. Roadmap 2030 provides a very practical action plan that any region of the world can use to help them achieve the Global Goals. It shows how all municipal and city governments, citizens, civil society, academia, faiths and private sector –with the support of nation states– can work in partnership to unlock, mobilise and redirect the transformative power of trillions of dollars of private funding resources into projects that can help achieving the Global Goals.


1. Global Goal 11 Accessed 11/10/17

2. Integrating SD and DRM in Historic Urban Areas

3. Roadmap 2030 Accessed 11/10/17

4. Report of meeting Bristol 2015 to support SDGs and links to multi-faith initiatives-Bristol Commitments Accessed 11/10/17