The Ethical Cities Campaign

A Principled Approach to Urban Liveability

The global community is facing a series of wicked and seemingly intractable problems (climate change, energy, water and food security, poverty and unemployment, economic recession and industrial restructuring) with our national and global political systems struggling to put in place effective responses.

As the main concentrations of population and economic activity, cities around the world are increasingly seen as contributors to these problems (i.e. close to 70% of greenhouse gas emissions come from cities) and as the site where effective solutions can be developed.

The international secretariat of the UN Global Compact – Cities Programme is working with cities and partners to adopt a principled approach to tackling these problems. The starting point for this approach is the Ten Principles of the United Nations Global Compact that focus on human rights, labour rights, environmental sustainability and anti-corruption. Our underlying assumption is that many of the existing initiatives tend to focus on the branches of the problem (sustainability, health, low carbon, etc), while we want to focus on the roots of the problem – the value systems and agreed principles that shape urban development, governance and sustainability.

In this context, the UN Global Compact – Cities Programme launched the Ethical Cities Campaign for 2016 with the following objectives:

  1. Contribute to the New Urban Agenda as part of the Habitat III process through the promotion of an ethical approach to city development. This document will guide urban efforts and processes amongst a wide range of stakeholders – nation states, local governments, regional leaders, UN programmes, donors and civil society – for the next 20 years.
  2. Contribute to “The City We Need” framework as developed by civil society through the World Urban Campaign. This represents civil society’s input to the Habitat III process and has been enhanced through deliberations in 26 Urban Thinkers Campuses organised across the globe.
  3. Promote the notion of the ethical city through a Massive Open Online Course developed in collaboration with RMIT University and FutureLearn and to be launched at Habitat III in October 2016.


Key objectives of the Ethical Cities Campaign include:

  • enhancing knowledge about the value for urban citizens in striving towards an ethical city;
  • sharing examples of action perspectives, recipes, methods and cases that deliver visible results;
  • conveying the message that everyone can provide a diverse and useful personal contribution;
  •  increasing exposure of the UN Global Compact – Cities Programme and the value of its membership and service initiatives; and
  • outlining the added value for trusted local institutions that can provide a basis for citizens to make sense of their actions, future plans and ‘place’ in the city and globe.

Key Event Milestones

ETHICAL_CITIES_A4_Brochure_CoverFebruary 16, 2016: Urban Thinkers Campus 24 – Ethical Cities: Locking in Liveability, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia

Organised in collaboration with World Vision International and hosted at RMIT University this Urban Thinkers Campus brought together over 260 representatives from national and local government, business, civil society and academia.

See ‘Ethical Cities’ Briefing Paper

Also see ‘Ethical Cities’ Urban Thinkers Campus

July 6, 2016: Ethical Cities: Urban Innovation Forum, RMIT Europe, Barcelona, Spain

Organised in collaboration with RMIT Europe, UN Habitat and Barcelona City Council this event focuses on:

  • Affordable Housing
  • Urban Energy Transitions
  • Public Spaces and Inclusion

July 25-27, 2016: Third Preparatory Committee of Habitat III, Surabaya, Indonesia.

The UN Global Compact – Cities Programme and its partners have side events at PrepComm 3.

October 17-20, 2016: HABITAT III United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, Quito, Ecuador

The UN Global Compact – Cities Programme and partners conducted side and networking events at Habitat III and launched the Ethical Cities Massive Open Online Course (MOOC).

About the Ethical Cities MOOC

Ethical Cities MOOC CoverThe Ethical Cities MOOC is a collaboration between the UN Global Compact – Cities Programme, RMIT University and FutureLearn. Designed as a five week course with roughly 25 hours of study, the course introduces the notion of the ethical city and examines it from the perspective of ethical leadership, urban development and planning, ethical local business and engaged, ethical citizenry.

Case studies are presented in the form of video briefs that explore various aspects of the ethical city in Melbourne, Barcelona, Porto Alegre and Rotorua.

Ethical Cities Multiple Open Online Course (MOOC)

Registration for the MOOC commenced at Habitat III and the first course delivered in January 2017 and second course delivered in April 2017.