UNESCO for Sustainable Cities

Culture, education and science for sustainable urban development
Today, more than half of humanity – 3.9 billion people – lives in cities, a five-fold increase in population since 1950. The global urban population will continue to grow at an unprecedented rate, with two out of three people expected to live in cities by 2050. Urban areas now account for 70 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product, serving as one of the main sources of economic, social and cultural prosperity. Yet rapid urban growth is also exerting pressure on the natural environment and public health, as well as increasing poverty, social exclusion, mass migration, economic crises, the effects of climate change and conflicts.

UNESCO’s common mission for sustainable cities
UNESCO is committed to enhancing the sustainability of cities through policy advice, technical assistance and capacity-building, drawing on its longstanding normative and operational experience in the fields of education, sciences, culture and development. Thanks to multi-disciplinary cooperation among all its sectors, as well as its broad network of experts across the globe, UNESCO has become a leading agency in promoting sustainable urban development, as well as the effective implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

People-centred cities are culture-centred spaces

  • Supporting the evolving identities of cities
  • Fostering dialogue and peace-building initiatives

Culture is key to achieving quality urban environments

  • Developing quality public spaces to improve social inclusion
  • Strengthening cities’ resilience to environmental challenges

Sustainable cities require integrated culture-based policies

  • Boosting socio-economic development
  • Improving cities’ liveability

UNESCO supports the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and strives towards:

Read the recommendations of the UNESCO Global Report on Culture for Sustainable Cities, Culture: Urban Future- launched on 18 October, 2016

The transformative role of Education in addressing 21st Century Urban Challemges

  • Prioritizing education in cities is essential to fighting inequalities and social exclusion, and reducing urban crime rates
  • Education planners should be included in urban governance to enhance employment opportunities and foster cities’ economic competitiveness and productivity
  • Education helps improve people’s awareness of the environment

The Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report, Education for people and planet: Creating sustainable futures for all, explores the complex relationship between education and urban development, and calls for this key sector to be given a seat at the table in discussions on how to create more inclusive and sustainable cities. One chapter of the report, Places, offers key messages and a cartoon on how this can best be achieved. 

Resilient cities require vulnerability reduction

  • Supporting cities through guidelines on disaster risk reduction
  • Strengthening scientific and technological capacities and Developing Early Warning Systems

Green cities must protect ecosystems

  • Building harmonious relationships between cities and the biosphere
  • Employing ecosystem services and ecohydrology

Sustainable cities are water secure

  • Supporting cities in reducing their water footprint
  • Promoting integrated urban water management

Science, Technology and innovation for Social, Economic and Environmental Suystaible Development

UNESCO supports decision makers and local communities in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction, through the:

Learning to live together in Inclusive Societies

Sustainable urban development cannot be achieved without addressing challenges posed by racism and discrimination. As incubators for cultural, social, economic and political innovations, cities are well-placed to:



  • Foster inclusion, resilience and diversity
  • Promote peaceful, just and inclusive societies
  • Ensure the full integration of migrants
  • Encourage learning about human rights and how to exercise them
  • Ensure gender equality through concrete actions
  • Develop mechanisms to strengthen democracy and inclusion


Launched by UNESCO in 2004, the International Coalition of Inclusive and Sustainable Cities – ICCAR fosters international cooperation between cities to strengthen advocacy for global solidarity and collaboration, and promote inclusive urban development free from all forms of discrimination.