The Degree of Urbanisation, a new global definition of cities, urban and rural areas

On 5 March 2020, the UN Statistical Commission endorsed the Degree of Urbanisation as a recommended method to delineate cities, urban and rural areas for international statistical comparisons.

For the first-time ever, a common definition of cities and urban areas will be used worldwide. This is a major achievement not only for the international consortium of the European Commission (REGIO, ESTAT, JRC), OECD, World Bank, FAO, UN-Habitat and ILO, that launched the voluntary commitment to develop this definition in 2016 at the Habitat III conference, but also a major achievement for JRC itself.

The Global Human Settlement Layer (GHSL), developed by JRC, provided the underlying global baseline data of population and built-up areas and co-developed the definition with REGIO. This is an excellent example of scientific support to policymaking and a concrete contribution for the EU as strong global player.

The definition will be used in many policy areas, for example to measure poverty levels in cities, access to drinking water, or to classify Internally Displaced Persons (IDP’s) into Urban or Rural IDP’s as done recently by the International Organisation for Migration. It will also allow to link the SDG indicators to urban and cities areas, which was not possible until now because of the absence of a common global definition of cities. For example, we can now – see below -make a harmonised comparison of the access to safely managed drinking water in towns, cities and rural areas across the world.

With the adoption of the method, it is expected that a number of countries will request support in application of the definition to their own data. In fact, JRC has developed already a training curriculum and a set of tools that allows countries to use the definition.

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