Whether within or between countries, by choice or by force, these trends demonstrate that people are definitely on the move. As the global population grows, so do rates of urbanization and migration, with potentially significant social, political, and environmental implications (see ‘Age groups’).

There is a multitude of factors pushing people to move, including economic development, conflict, political instability and, increasingly, the impacts of climate change. More people live outside their country of birth than ever before and many of them end up in cities, which are growing in number, in size and in importance. Indeed, the power of cities as economic and social centres could potentially see them overtake countries as the dominant political entities in future (see ‘Changing trade patterns’). If managed well, urban centres will foster social and economic development and more sustainable living. But in places where the pace of growth outstrips the resources to support it, this trend could compound social inequalities and lead to greater conflict.


Increasingly, people are moving from rural areas to cities, resulting in significant growth in urban populations. People are seeking the economic opportunities and increased quality of life that living in cities can offer. It is expected that 70% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2045.[1]

For individuals, urban life can offer many opportunities: improved access to services like education and healthcare, daily conveniences offered by urban infrastructure and access to broader job markets. The benefits for society as a whole are significant: cities are associated with economic growth[2], wealth generation and innovation.[3] Cities are extremely productive and contribute more than 80% of global gross domestic product (GDP).[4]

For cities, increased population inflows can create strain on resources and challenges for city planners and resource managers.[5]

Urbanization can be seen as a double-edged sword – it offers the possibility of increased social and economic development alongside the risk of compounding social inequity.[5] Particularly in the developing world, where urban planning has not anticipated substantial growth and resources are already stretched, increasing urbanization may create problems as well as opportunities in the coming decades. Historically, unplanned, or informal urban settlements have exacerbated inequalities[5], and in many countries, service provision in these areas is not keeping pace with urban population growth.[2] Rapid urbanization could lead to conflict in places where resources are insufficient and/or poorly managed[6], but where it is well-managed it may yield significant benefits to urbanizing populations.[7]

Multiple city ‘types’ are expected to increase in number in the coming decades. Much of the attention around urbanization is focused on so-called ‘mega-cities’, usually defined as having populations of at least 10 million.[6,7,8] While the number of mega-cities is expected to grow somewhat, the bulk of the growth in cities will occur in ‘small’ (under 1 million inhabitants), ‘medium’ sized (1–5 million inhabitants)[6] and ‘large’ (5–10 million inhabitants) cities.[7] The World Bank[3] offers a classification of large cities:

  • Global hubs: Cities that wealth and talent flow though. Examples include Singapore, London, and New York.
  • Mega-cities: Cities with large populations that are ‘population magnets’ for their respective regions. Examples include Mumbai, Sao Paolo, Jakarta.
  • Gateway cities: Cities that function as part of regional clusters that facilitate access to specific markets. Examples include Dubai, Almaty, Johannesburg.

Thinking of these functions of cities raises interesting questions for city planners and for the role of cities in global trade, both physical and digital. According to the European Strategy and Policy Analysis System[6], “When we say 2030 will be urban, this is not merely an expression of residency, it will be the way of life of society as a whole.”

Perhaps paradoxically, cities can provide opportunities for increased sustainability and reduction of environmental impacts. While cities are expected to be responsible for 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions, they are also places where proactive and innovative environmental management and urban planning can yield substantial benefits. Higher density living allows for more coordination of waste management, innovative energy management, reduced reliance on cars for transport and efficient distribution of food and other resources. Public transit and sustainable transport options are a particular area of opportunity in terms of acting on the opportunities offered by increased urbanization.[1]

Politically, urbanization can increase the power of local governments, leading to more localized decision-making and, perhaps, more empowerment of citizens.[6] Cities have been described as ‘virtual islands’; places where resource allocation and generation/distribution of power can be managed within a relatively closed system to the benefit of all.[9] The Inter-American Development Bank and the Inter-American Dialogue[10] suggest we can look forward to a positive future in cities. Successful urban areas will be the ones that: improve services; enhance national and international connectivity (the Internet); ensure water and electricity supplies; raise levels of education and healthcare; anticipate adaptation to climate change plans and measures; consider greening cities; provide talent pools of technical specialists and other experts; secure efficient and reliable financial systems; cultivate cultural activity, and; provide citizens with two important benefits, i.e. an improved quality of life and increased productivity.

News stories

ODS 11
Sustainable Cities and Communities
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Las ciudades de todo el mundo corren para adaptarse al cambio climático. El aumento de las temperaturas provocado por las emisiones humanas de gases de efecto invernadero está alterando el equilibrio de …
Our cities produce most of the world’s carbon emissions. What can we do to reduce their impact on the climate and how can International Standards help?
A series of standards that map the information technology needs of cities is underway.
Urbanization is increasing, placing pressure on resources and infrastructure like never before. There’s no stemming the tide, so city leaders need to build resilience in order to cope. Work on a new International …
Urbanization is alive and growing: our cities are tipped to house an additional 2.4 billion people over the next 30 years. “Building Sustainable and Resilient Cities” is the theme of this year’s United …
The populations of most world cities are growing fast, and with it come challenges and opportunities for keeping citizens safe and well. New International Standards for measuring and improving the performance …
Traffic jams, pollution, derelict areas, these are problems that many cities face. And rising urban populations mean these problems may soon get a great deal worse. The move toward smarter cities is one …
Comité Técnico
Information technology
  • Publicados 3513 Normas | En desarrollo 510 Proyectos
  • IEC/AWI TS 63526 [En desarrollo]
    Gap Analysis on Standards Related to City Information Modelling and Urban Digital Twins
Comité Técnico
ISO/TC 204
Intelligent transport systems
  • Publicados 341 Normas | En desarrollo 77 Proyectos
  • ISO/TR 7872:2022
    Intelligent transport systems — Mobility integration — Digital infrastructure service role and functional model for urban ITS service applications
  • ISO 18561-1:2020
    Intelligent transport systems (ITS) — Urban mobility applications via nomadic device for green transport management
    Part 1: General requirements for data exchange between ITS stations
  • ISO/DIS 18561-2 [En desarrollo]
    Intelligent transport systems — Urban mobility applications via nomadic device for green transport management
    Part 2: Functional requirements and specifications for trip and modal choice application
  • ISO/CD 18561-3.2 [En desarrollo]
    Intelligent transport systems — Urban mobility applications via nomadic device for green transport management
    Part 3: Mobility integration service applications using hybrid V2X
Comité Técnico
ISO/TC 268
Sustainable cities and communities
  • Publicados 51 Normas | En desarrollo 20 Proyectos
  • ISO 37105:2019
    Sustainable cities and communities — Descriptive framework for cities and communities
  • ISO 37106:2021
    Sustainable cities and communities — Guidance on establishing smart city operating models for sustainable communities
  • ISO 37111:2024
    Sustainable cities and communities — Urban settlements — Guidance for a flexible approach to phased implementation of ISO 37101
  • ISO/DIS 37114 [En desarrollo]
    Sustainable cities and communities — Appraisal framework for datasets and data processing methods that create urban management information
  • ISO 37120:2018
    Sustainable cities and communities — Indicators for city services and quality of life
  • ISO 37166:2022
    Smart community infrastructures — Urban data integration framework for smart city planning (SCP)
Comité Técnico
ISO/TC 282/SC 2
Water reuse in urban areas
  • Publicados 9 Normas | En desarrollo 5 Proyectos
  • ISO 9111:2024
    Water reuse in urban areas — Guidelines for benefit evaluation of reclaimed water use
  • ISO/DIS 18997 [En desarrollo]
    Water reuse in urban areas — Guidelines for the urban reclaimed water for landscaping uses
  • ISO/CD 18998 [En desarrollo]
    Water reuse in urban areas — Guidelines for decentralized/onsite water reuse system - Management of a decentralized/onsite system
  • ISO 20760-1:2018
    Water reuse in urban areas — Guidelines for centralized water reuse system
    Part 1: Design principle of a centralized water reuse system
  • ISO 23070:2020
    Water Reuse in Urban Areas — Guidelines for reclaimed water treatment: Design principles of a RO treatment system of municipal wastewater
  • ISO 24416:2022
    Water reuse in urban areas — Guidelines for water reuse safety evaluation — Stability evaluation of reclaimed water
Comité Técnico
ISO/TC 292
Security and resilience
  • Publicados 57 Normas | En desarrollo 20 Proyectos
  • ISO/DIS 22371 [En desarrollo]
    Security and resilience — Community resilience — Principles and framework for urban resilience
Comité Técnico
ISO/TC 297
Waste collection and transportation management
  • Publicados 4 Normas | En desarrollo 1 Proyectos
  • ISO 24161:2022
    Waste collection and transportation management — Vocabulary
  • ISO 24162:2022
    Test method for energy consumption of refuse collection vehicles

Increasing migration

Internationally, people are on the move. Reduced costs of transportation, climate change and economic opportunities are all expected to drive increasing international migration in the coming decades.[1,10,11,12]

While opportunistic migration has been common for some time, the effects of climate change are expected to prompt significant numbers of people to migrate internationally in the coming decades. In fact, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has noted that “the greatest single impact of climate change could be on human migration.”[1] The number of people displaced by conflict and political instability is also expected to increase.[4] More refugees moving along new and existing migration routes will have implications for public policy and international governance.

Economic development in the global south may also contribute to higher levels of international migration. While many assume that economic development will reduce the number of people emigrating in search of economic opportunities, in fact it is observed that economic growth leads to an initial increase in emigration, presumably as citizens are better educated and have more access to connectivity, transport and international job opportunities. Emigration tends to reduce when a country is sufficiently developed that there are good opportunities for workers ‘at home’.[13]

For developed markets receiving migrants, this means access to an increased working-age population to support ageing societies.[11] In many developed countries, migrants also help to slow the decline in population growth associated with lower fertility rates.[13]

Companies can expect to have an increasingly mobile and diverse workforce available to them, while countries hosting migrants can enjoy the cultural benefits of diversity along with the economic benefits of an enlarged workforce.

Comité Técnico
ISO/TC 211
Geographic information/Geomatics
  • Publicados 98 Normas | En desarrollo 26 Proyectos
  • ISO 19141:2008
    Geographic information — Schema for moving features
Comité Técnico
ISO/TC 224
Drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems and services
  • Publicados 31 Normas | En desarrollo 11 Proyectos
  • ISO 24595:2024
    Drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems and services — Guidelines for the provision of alternative water service for essential facilities during a crisis
Comité Técnico
ISO/TC 260
Human resource management
  • Publicados 32 Normas | En desarrollo 7 Proyectos
  • ISO 30415:2021
    Human resource management — Diversity and inclusion
Comité Técnico
ISO/PC 305
Sustainable non-sewered sanitation systems
  • En desarrollo 1 Proyectos
  • ISO/DIS 30500 [En desarrollo]
    Non-sewered sanitation systems — Prefabricated integrated treatment units — General safety and performance requirements for design and testing
Comité Técnico
ISO/PC 343
Sustainable development goals management
  • En desarrollo 2 Proyectos
  • ISO/PAS 53002 [En desarrollo]
    Guidelines for contributing to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)


  1. Future outlook. 100 Global trends for 2050 (UAE Ministry of Cabinet Affairs and the Future, 2017)
  2. Foresight Africa. Top priorities for the continent 2020-2030 (Brookings Institution, 2020)
  3. Global connectivity outlook to 2030 (World Bank, 2019)
  4. Beyond the noise. The megatrends of tomorrow's world (Deloitte, 2017)
  5. African futures. Key trends to 2035 (Institute for Security Studies, 2017)
  6. Global trends to 2030. Challenges and choices for Europe (European Strategy and Policy Analysis System, 2019)
  7. Global trends. Paradox of progress (US National Intelligence Council, 2017)
  8. Global strategic trends. The future starts today (UK Ministry of Defence, 2018)
  9. Future possibilities report 2020 (UAE Government, 2020)
  10. Global Trends and the future of Latin America. Why and how Latin America should think about the future (Inter-American
    Development Bank, Inter-American Dialogue, 2016)
  11. Asia pacific megatrends 2040 (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, 2019)
  12. Global trends 2020. Understanding complexity (Ipsos, 2020)
  13. Global risks 2035 update. Decline or new renaissance? (Atlantic Council, 2019)