The inaugural event of the Urban 20 Engagement Group was held in Ahmedabad on 9-10 February 2023.Urban 20, or U20, is among the most influential city-level diplomacy initiatives held annually. Receiving participation from Mayors and designated ‘City Sherpas’ from the G20 cohort, the deliberations at U20 inform G20 negotiations and are integral to the broader discourse around urban development. The inaugural meeting was attended by more than 70 delegates from 42 cities – the largest recorded attendance since the inception of U20!
It is fitting that India is anchoring the discourse on urbanisation and urban dynamics this year. Under the Modi government, India has increasingly led action on issues of global governance. One such success story has been the transformation of our urban areas which has now become a blueprint for other countries to learn from, particularly in the Global South. This year’s U20 aims to shed light on the powerful implications that policies and practices adopted by cities have on global agendas of development.
The inaugural meeting built on these themes by foregrounding the role of cities in economic prosperity and ecological harmony. Significant progress was made on developing a consensus around the six priority areas identified. The highest emphasis was given to the urgency of adopting environmentally responsible behaviours to reduce our carbon footprint. Secondly, conserving water resources and providing equitable access to water assumed greater salience. Thirdly, there was acceptance that climate financing needed to be accelerated as we seek to retrofit legacy infrastructure. Fourth, it became imperative that we rethink regulatory and governance frameworks in order to achieve strategic targets. Fifth, the popular demand to promote local identities of cities to animate civic society was recognised. Lastly, it was deemed essential to democratise processes that champion the use of technology and data.
City representatives expressed their solidarity in taking forward this collaborative agenda. This sixth edition of the U20has morphed into a platform that aims to equip city governments to close the gap between policy and practice by translating deliberations on urban governance into on-ground solutions. As ‘Chair City’ of the U20, Ahmedabad led by example as it expounded on the innovations adopted in developing the Sabarmati riverfront as well as the key features of its affordable housing policy and heritage management plan, among other reforms.
Ahmedabad encapsulates the spirit of citizen-oriented rejuvenation that India has embarked upon. In the last nine years, the Modi government has undertaken the largest planned urbanisation programme in the world, based on cooperative and competitive federalism; universalization and saturation of basic services; technological innovation; economic opportunity; and a rural-urban continuum. Our urban transport policies are designed to fulfil the commitments of the Paris Agreement by adding green mobility options to India’s urban landscape. Various transformative urban missions have resulted in Indian cities poised to help the country achieve its economic and SDG targets.
It is widely acknowledged that the onus of achieving SDG targets will lie with cities. In the case of India—which will have more than 600 million people residing in its cities by 2030—I have often said that “if India succeeds, the SDGs will succeed; and for the SDGs to succeed, India must succeed.” I have no doubt that India will succeed, and in doing so, shall show the rest of the world how developing economies can tackle global challenges. The proof of our urban capabilities lies in the way we overcame the pandemic despite the fact that our populous cities were severely affected. Through measures such as decentralised healthcare, direct cash transfers, universal service delivery and affordable rental housing, India demonstrated a governance approach that not only received global adulation, but also led to recent calls for replication.
At a time when the world is beset with geopolitical conflict, financial uncertainty and climatic stress, it is imperative that we coordinate and calibrate policy response from the lowest local level to the highest global gathering. As the oldest and largest democracy, it is in the Indian DNA to gain consensus among diverse opinions. It is from this ethos that the theme of this year’s G20 summit emanates: ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam – One Earth. One Family. One Future.’
G20 2023 has the potential to be the crucible from which a framework for mutually beneficial and sustainable international economic cooperation will emerge. I believe U20 Ahmedabad will be the vanguard for this spirit of collective action to take shape among our cities. With continuous guidance from the G20 Secretariat, the National Institute of Urban Affairs which is the U20 Technical Secretariat, and knowledge partners from across the globe, I am convinced that Ahmedabad’s stewardship will enhance the impact of this sixth edition of U20.
I commend the City Sherpas who made meaningful contributions to the inaugural U20 event. I hope Mayors, Sherpas and representatives from cities will continue to participate in the 2023 U20 cycle leading up to the Mayoral Summit in July. As we pursue the shared goal of a prosperous and sustainable world, this sixth edition of the U20 has the unique opportunity to build a roadmap that can inform urban policies for years to come.
(The Author is Union Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs, and Petroleum and Natural Gas in the Government of India