World Economic Forum (WEF)

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Headquartered in Geneva, the World Economic Forum (WEF) engages the foremost political, business, cultural and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas. Deeply anchored in the public and private sectors, it follows a multi-stakeholder approach which is an important way for engagement with local and regional governments (LRGs). In its work with mayors and local communities, it facilitates ongoing conversation about the urban challenges, a peer-to-peer exchange on solutions and connections to business enterprises. WEF has so far had limited interactions with the UN system in Geneva when it comes to urban matters. It prioritizes direct engagement with business, academia, and cities’ global heads of business.

The work at WEF focuses on three key strategic axes – all of them crucial for LRGs:

  1. mastering the fourth industrial revolution;
  2. solving the problems of the global commons;
  3. addressing global security issues.

WEF also recognizes that governments can solve global issues by taking a pragmatic, local approach to find innovative solutions. It applies this approach to three challenges that are fundamental to the development of countries and the well-being of their citizens: (1) the need for food, (2) the access to clean water, and (3) bridging the digital divide. WEF sees local governments as the “in-between power” (using the definition by Peter Van Ham) who are connected to the citizens and local communities, which gives them credibility, and – in most countries – belong to the larger government system, which gives them legitimacy on the international scene.


Urban challenges and initiatives on the WEF’s agenda


World Economic Forum aims to “work with partners to deliver an urban future that is more sustainable and resilient for every resident – by developing initiatives that advance social mobility, modernize city services, and deliver a healthier and more affordable built environment.” It is committed to helping solve complex urban problems by fostering innovation and developing smart and sustainable solutions. Urbanization and city issues are addressed by WEF through different programs and platforms. Those initiatives have enabled WEF to build a broad network of public and private actors to address urban problems. It is a real example of multi-stakeholder participation in the ‘new multilateralism’. Main topics on the WEF urban transformation agenda include:

  • Urban governance
  • Urban economics
  • Urban society
  • Urban innovation
  • Urban resilience and climate change
  • Urban infrastructure and services
  • Urban environment and resources
  • Urbanization and biodiversity
  • Urban diplomacy

Among these topics, climate change and resilience are two key areas for cities. Cities will need to become leaders in sustainability or they lose out to climate change and its escalating impacts. WEF has identified five policies that deserve top priority as cities strive to get ahead of future calamities:

  • Rebuild mass transit and boost multimodality,
  • Electrify transportation,
  • Encourage walking and cycling,
  • Build climate change-resilient infrastructure and
  • Use emission-reducing technologies.

Technological development plays an important role in building a better future, and WEF pays special attention to that aspect in addressing urban challenges – from ‘vertical urban mobility’ which offers an alternative to move around efficiently between high-rises via innovative, time-saving vertical urban mobility solutions, to ‘digital twin technology’ which can provide accurate reporting data to help successfully implement local policies, including climate targets. In cities, where emissions are incredibly high, this data can track and improve net-zero progress more efficiently.


Selected WEF urban initiatives


WEF launched several significant initiatives related to urban issues. The initiatives below are, according to GCH, the most relevant from a multilateral point of view:

  • Platform for Shaping the Future of Urban Transformation: working with 100 global partners to ensure that technological changes deliver sustainable, resilient and prosperous future for all. This includes, for example, initiatives to support small and medium-sized enterprises, to advance social mobility, and to modernize public services provided by cities to residents and businesses. The three main focus areas are the future of cities, the future of the connected world, and the future of real estate.
  • Centre for Urban Transformation: The Forum has built a global platform for business leaders and other stakeholders to collaborate, commit expertise and mobilize action in support of cities and urban economies. The Centre for Urban Transformation helps catalyze new public-private collaboration around pressing urban challenges and advance more inclusive and sustainable models for urban development.
  • Net Zero Carbon Cities Initiative: Cities consume 78% of the world’s primary energy and generate more than 70% of global carbon emissions. The mission of this initiative is to “create an enabling environment for clean electrification and circularity, resulting in urban decarbonization and resilience. The program aims to do this by fostering public private collaboration to bridge the gap across the energy, built environment and transport sectors.”
  • WEF also leads the G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance on Technology Governance which “unites municipal, regional and national governments, private-sector partners and cities’ residents around a shared set of principles for the responsible and ethical use of smart city technologies. The Alliance establishes and advances global policy norms to help accelerate best practices, mitigate potential risks, and foster greater openness and public trust.”


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November 4, 2022