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Our approach

Sustainable urban development is the key to a more sustainable world.

Our pathways, our approach

ICLEI engages at the local to global levels, shaping policy and sparking action to transform urban environments worldwide. We build connections across levels of government, sectors and stakeholder groups, sparking city-to-city, city-to-region, local-to-global and local-to-national connections. By linking subnational, national and global actors, policies, commitments and initiatives, ICLEI strengthens action at all levels, in support of sustainable urban development.


At the subnational level, ICLEI drives change along five interconnected pathways that cut across sectors and jurisdictional boundaries. This design enables local and regional governments to develop solutions in a holistic and integrated way, creating change across entire urban systems.


These pathways, outlined below, are part of the ICLEI Malmö Commitment and Strategic Vision 2021-2027, which guides the work of the ICLEI network. The pathways were originally released as part of the ICLEI Montréal Commitment and Strategic Vision 2018-2024.

You can read more about the ICLEI Malmö Commitment and Strategic Vision in ICLEI in the Urban Era.

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ICLEI Malmö Strategy 2021-2027

ICLEI Secretary General Gino Van Begin presents the new ICLEI Malmö Strategy 2021-2027

Read More

How the pathways work

Cities are complex systems. The components of urban systems, from food distribution networks and energy grids to transport and greenways, are interconnected and dynamic. Intervening to create change in any one of these components may impact others, creating systemic change. Designing solutions that take these interconnections into account is critical to sustainable development.

The five ICLEI pathways towards low emission, nature-based, equitable, resilient and circular development are designed to create systemic change.

The pathways provide a framework for designing integrated solutions that balance the patterns of human life and the built and natural environments. They encourage holistic thinking to ensure that ICLEI, as a network of local and regional governments and global experts, optimizes our impact. For instance, we consider how nature-based development contributes to resilience, or how to bring equity into low emission development. When these pathways guide local and regional development, urban systems become more sustainable.

Local and regional governments use these pathways as a guide for sustainable urban development through systemic change. Often, our activities are guided by a predominant pathway or set of pathways. In any given city or region, multiple activities may be implemented along each pathway. These activities help local and regional governments advance sustainable urban development.

Urban systems are part of a broader city-region territory. Local and regional governments and their urban systems are interconnected. We address city-to-city and rural-urban linkages to create a multiplier effect. Our network of more than 2500 local and regional governments drives sustainable urban development worldwide.

The five pathways

Low emission development pathway

The low emission development pathway curbs climate change, creates new economic opportunities and improves the health of people and natural systems.

Low emission development reduces pollutants and emissions, aims to achieve climate neutrality, and promotes renewable energy by divesting from fossil fuels and using nature-based solutions. Successful low emission development promotes sustainable passenger and freight mobility, giving priority to walking, cycling, public transit and shared mobility as part of people-centered solutions.

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Nature-based development pathway

Nature-based development protects and enhances the biodiversity and ecosystems in and around our cities, which underpin key aspects of our local economies and upon which we depend for the well-being and resilience of our communities.

Healthy local environments are prioritized in policy and planning, and jurisdictions pursue economic opportunities based on nature and ecosystem services. Nature-based development seeks out blue and green infrastructure options and promotes green zones to reconnect and engage with nature in our urban world.

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Circular development pathway

Circular development, together with new models of production and consumption, builds sustainable societies that use recyclable, sharable and regenerative resources to end the linear model of “produce, consume, discard,” while continuing to meet the material and development needs of a growing global population. 


Circular development decouples urban economic development from resource consumption and environmental degradation and factors environmental and social costs into the price of goods and services, through equitable access to resources, closed-loop urban systems and sustainable waste management options. New local economies can be born out of circular development, economies that are productive and not extractive, where resources are exchanged and not wasted.


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Resilient development pathway

The resilient development pathway anticipates, prevents, absorbs and recovers from shocks and stresses, in particular those brought about by rapid environmental technological, social and demographic change, and improves essential basic response structures and functions.


Resilient development makes resilience a core part of all municipal strategies and prepares for new risks and impacts taking into account the rights and needs of vulnerable sections of our society. Resilient development continuously strengthens essential systems through a transparent and inclusive approach that enhances trust in public institutions.


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Equitable and people-centered development pathway

Equitable and people-centered development builds just, livable, happy and inclusive urban communities, addresses the systemic causes of poverty and in- equality, and safeguards the natural support systems for human life. 


Equitable and people-centered development ensures that the natural and built environments in and around cities improve livability and safety, promote human health, and mitigate the transmission of diseases. It provides equitable access to safe and nutritious food, quality education, clean water and sanitation, sustainable energy, clean air and productive soil for all, and climate-resilient infrastructures, and creates and sustains human-centered, safe, resilient, socially and culturally vibrant communities, where diversity, distinct identities, and solidarity are woven into the social fabric.


Join our efforts to build a sustainable urban future

Become part of our global network advancing along these five interconnected pathways.

Join us now
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