The challenges of water, waste and climate change in cities. Migration version 2.0?

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The challenges of water, waste and climate change in cities. Migration version 2.0?

This publication in Environment, Development and Sustainability (DOI 10.1007/s10668-016-9760-4) written together with my colleague Stef Koop is an introduction for politicians, mayors, companies, citizens, NGOs and all other persons interested in the challenges of water in the next decades. The paper can also be used as background for the upcoming HABITAT-III meeting and is available here: A summary presentation is available too: The paper can be summarized in 10 bullet points:Figure 5.jpg

1. Relevance . Cities play a prominent role in our economic development as more than 80 % of the gross world product (GWP) comes from cities.

2. Challenges in cities . Climate change and urbanization are among the most significant trends of the twenty-first century, affecting global natural resources such as water, economic development and human well-being. Water infrastructure is very expensive. Water infrastructure, which underlies urban water security in many developed countries, is generally ageing and requires upgrading, in some cases urgently and extensively.

3. Transitioning and developing countries . Particularly at risk are cities in transitional and developing countries, where the trends and pressures of urbanization, economic growth and climate change, a lack of awareness and readiness, or the lack of ambition and government effectiveness, or limited financial resources for infrastructure construction and maintenance are immense challenges.

4. Cities and Citizens. Cities are the major problem holders. Municipal action can provide the local solutions for the global challenges we face. The local urban level is the relevant scale. It is the CITIZEN, the volunteer, the voter who provides and guarantees the continuity required for successful urban transitions. CONCENSUS is the framework for that essential participation. Active civil societies including the private sector with visionary local government can cope with most water challenges.

5. Water Governance . “Before fixing the urban water pipes, fix the institutions”. This recent quote of the OECD, highlights the relevance of water governance to improve Urban Water Cycle Services (UWCS). Water governance is the range of political, institutional and administrative rules, practices and processes (formal and informal) through which decisions are taken and implemented, stakeholders can articulate their interests and have their concerns considered, and decision makers are held accountable for water management.

6. City- to-city learning. The challenges require a multi-level water governance approach, a long-term strategy, a bottom-up approach and collaboration among cities and regions. Cities are encouraged to participate in learning alliances to actively share knowledge and experiences on implementation of state-of-the-art technologies (city-to-city learning). This is the most efficient way to improve UWCS.

7. Smarter Cities. Cities require a long-term framing of their sectorial challenges into a proactive and coherent Urban Agenda to maximize the co-benefits and to minimize their cost. We need smarter cities:

8. SMART goals . Cities should develop a cohesive set of long-term objectives that should be SMART:

(NB. SMART goals will be included in the Leeuwarden Declaration (see

9. Implementation matters . Regular benchmarking based on SMART goals is needed to monitor progress of the transition process towards water-wise UWCS in cities.

10. Sense of Urgency . The time window to implement a smarter city approach is narrow and rapidly closing. The longer political leaders wait, the more expensive adaptation will become and the danger to citizens and the economy will increase. This together with the high costs for water infrastructure and its maintenance make water a high priority, where procrastination, i.e. the avoidance of doing tasks which need to be accomplished, will not do. Mahatma Gandhi has raised this too : ‘The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems’.