Priority Export "Family": Sustainable Cities


Demographic growth and the global urbanization process are causing many social, economic and environmental challenges, highlighted by the COVID-19 health crisis.

In its World Cities Report 2020, UN-Habitat estimates that $38 trillion must be invested in cities in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

The sector of sustainable cities brings together town planning, architecture and planning, engineering, construction, energy efficiency, eco-industries and urban services, mobility and related digital technologies. In all these areas, France has vast skills, technologies and expertise in order to meet these urban challenges.
Gérard Wolf’s position as exports unifier for sustainable cities was extended in February 2018.

Growing urban challenges and booming markets

All regions of the world are currently and will increasingly be confronted with the challenges of urbanization and its impact on the environment and people’s quality of life.

  • Although they only account for 3% of the world’s land area, cities use 75% of the energy produced, generate 60% of greenhouse gas emissions and use two-thirds of the planet’s water resources.
  • Cities are currently home to 55% of the world’s population, and the United Nations estimates that this will rise to 68% by 2050, with 95% of urban growth occurring in developing countries, mainly in Africa and Asia.

International trade in the area of sustainable cities is led by demographic and urban growth and the efforts of a growing number of States to promote sustainable development, and in the future will see increased liberalization of trade in environmental goods. Within this framework, according to UN-Habitat, the investment required to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in cities by 2030 is estimated at $38 trillion.

In light of global trade prospects and the comparative advantages of French businesses in the sector, this is a strategic sector for French external trade.

France’s international position in the sustainable cities sector

Sustainable urban development is a sector in which France has strong expertise and economic positions.

French products can be seen throughout the value chain in urban areas:

  • development,
  • planning,
  • design,
  • construction,
  • exploitation,
  • maintenance.

This is based on companies of all sizes in the sectors of the environment, energy, mobility, construction, architecture and engineering, including international leaders and a rich ecosystem of innovative SMEs and start-ups.

They mobilize new technologies to embrace the challenges of the ecological and energy transition, demographic shifts and the development of new forms of organization and uses. These products are strengthened by vast experience in public-private cooperation, passing on expertise to operators, and a culture of local adaptation.

Some twenty competitiveness clusters are active in the urban development sector. In 2016, the “sustainable city” family accounted for over €12 billion in exports for France, with a trade surplus of €2.2 billion and over 40,000 export companies.

The role of the “exports unifier for sustainable cities”

Set up in 2012, the “unifiers” mechanism involves shaping a partnership between the State and a prominent private-sector figure to carry out communication and bring together a sector-specific package aimed at foreign markets.

Appointed by the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, the exports unifier is charged with making French sustainable city products more prominent and more transparent, and identifying tangible ways of improving their effectiveness on these markets of the future.

The unifier has three roles to play:

  • An advisory role to guide public action in the area of external trade, taking into account the issues and concerns of the professional sector of sustainable cities;
  • A representative role to promote French products by emphasizing France’s expertise and investment potential in priority areas and countries;
  • A coordinating and mobilizing role to contribute to structuring French products for export.

He is supported in his mission by the Economic Diplomacy Directorate of the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs. He works in close collaboration with the industry strategic committees (CSF) for “water”, “waste processing and recycling” and “construction industries”, as well as an extensive public-private ecosystem to support French sustainable city products.

Updated: November 2020