Frameworks for Development

Sustainable Development Goals, The New Urban Agenda, and Africa’s Structural Transformation

M. Veronica Cardenas Vignes (MAUD ’19)

ver 1.png

Image by Veronica Cardenas

Sustainable development is a global concern and a major challenge for many nations, especially for developing countries. At the same time, urbanization has become a crucial factor to consider when considering sustainable development due to the fact that in recent decades, the world has experienced unprecedented urban growth (from 2.8 billion to 4.2 billion in the past 20 years) [1]. Currently, 55% of the world’s population live in cities or urban centers [2], and by the middle of this century, that figure is estimated to rise to 68%. [3] Additionally, cities contribute to 70% of global GDP, about 60% to global energy consumption and 70% to global carbon emissions. [4] Therefore, during my fellowship this summer, it was vital for me to acknowledge the macroeconomic potentials of urbanization, principally across spatial density and economies of agglomeration, given that it interlinks vital issues of economy, energy, environment, science, technology, and social aspects all within a physical setting. Hence, it is essential to consider multisector linkages and the interactions between financial flows and urban dynamics to formulate integrated policies needed to achieve sustainable development.

The official mandate of the United Nations’ Regional Economic Commissions is to promote the economic and social advancement of its member States, foster regional integration, and encourage international cooperation for sustainable advancement.[5] At the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), significant actions are being taken to plan and structure frameworks at multinational and sub-regional levels to promote adequate development. In addition, urbanization and industrialization are jointly being presented as a vehicle for structural transformation in Africa.

Due to rapid urban population growth and the increasing rural-urban migratory patterns in the continent, urbanization has become a pivotal opportunity to both alleviate demand and boost economic development. Moreover, it is essential to acknowledge the fiscal revenue potentials of cities that face the infrastructure, service delivery, and amenity provision financial gap. Therefore, the underlying economic opportunities coming from urbanization has led governments and international agencies to assess planning and policy interventions across urban systems in order to attain collective and inclusive progress. In “The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”[6], “The New Urban Agenda [7], and “Economic Report on Africa”, the role of urbanization is significantly recognized and featured via frameworks for development. Altogether they are useful guidelines to meet global and continental visions that, in my view, should be addressed holistically: integrating them into the national priorities of each member State.

Developing countries face many challenges that require diverse actions and demand special attention within their own country-vision plans. Therefore, the first step should be to consider ways to promote better national planning and management that can capture the urban dimension as a platform for inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable development. In my opinion, this can only be done when political leaders follow global recommendations with a critical position that considers their nation’s urban context and macroeconomic trends.

Finally, it remains essential to align and adapt frameworks for an effective management of a country’s multi-level planning that could mainstream positive context-related activities. These frameworks for development effectively inform policymakers on how to capture the spatial and economic potentials of urbanization for sustainable progress, and therefore should be seen as an adaptable means rather than a fixed end. In other words, there is a need to be analytical about exogenous and macro frameworks given that they should not be implemented without adequate coordination with each country’s plans and priorities to consciously achieve a sustainable spatial, social, and economic development.

[1] United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2018). World Urbanization Prospects: The 2018 Revision, Online Edition. File 19: Annual Urban Population at Mid-Year by Region, Subregion, Country and Area, 1950-2050 (thousands)

[2] United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2018). World Urbanization Prospects: The 2018 Revision, Online Edition. File 1: Population of Urban and Rural Areas at Mid-Year (thousands) and Percentage Urban, 2018

[3] United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2018). World Urbanization Prospects: The 2018 Revision, Online Edition File 3: Urban Population at Mid-Year by Region, Sub region, Country and Area, 1950-2050 (thousands)

[4] World Bank (2018) World Development Indicators. 

[5] United Nations, Economic and Social Council.

[6] “The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, is an ambitious agenda that is supposed to be implemented universally by all countries in a collaborative partnership with 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 global targets, and nearly 234 indicators that were set to be monitored between 2015–2030. The targets cover a broad range of social and economic development issues. Each goal is interrelated to specific targets to achieve them, which include poverty, hunger, health, education, climate change, gender equality, water, sanitation, energy, urbanization, environment and social justice.[1] The SDG’s set special attention to cities as a crucial platform to achieve sustainable development.

[7] The New Urban Agenda is an action oriented 24-page document that provides the global principles, policies and standards required to achieve sustainable urban development, to transform the way we construct, manage, operate and live in our cities. It will guide the efforts around urbanization for a wide range of actors including nation states, city and regional leaders, funders of international development, the private sector, the United Nations programmes and civil society for the next 20 years.


1. United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2018). World Urbanization Prospects: The 2018 Revision (UNDESA)

2. United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (2018). Economic Report on Africa 2015. Addis Ababa.

3. Unite Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) (2018) DG 11 Synthesis Report 2018: Tracking progress towards Inclusive, Safe, Resilient and Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements, Nairobi, Kenya

4. United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) (2015). Towards an Africa Urban Agenda.

UD IDComment