As urban areas around the world continue to grow, cities are placing an increasingly heavy burden on our environment. Policymakers should therefore treat resource efficiency as equal in importance to climate policy if they want to move towards a sustainable future, according to a new report from the International Resource Panel.
The Weight of Cities: Resource Requirements of Future Urbanization calls for a new strategy to meet the needs of 21st-century urbanization, one that would result in cities that are low carbon, resource efficient, socially just, and in which people can live healthy lives.
Unless the world’s urban areas make optimal use of their resources, cities will soon demand far more resources than our planet can sustainably provide, placing a huge burden on agriculture, energy, industry and transport. In the next 30 years, 2.4 billion people are likely to move to urban areas, bringing the proportion of the global population living in cities by 2050 to 66 per cent.
The annual amount of natural resources used by urban areas could grow from 40 billion tonnes of raw materials in 2010 to 90 billion tonnes by 2050, an increase of 125 per cent, if changes are not made to how cities are built and designed.
The report, the 25th from the International Resource Panel, an eminent group of experts set up by UN Environment in 2007 to examine natural resource use, was one of two summary reports to be launched at the 9th World Urban Forum in Kuala Lumpur today.
“There are already far too many people around the world who are already being poisoned by breathing dirty, dangerous air in the cities they live in, and it’s alarming to see that this trend is set to worsen,” said UN Environment chief Erik Solheim.
“We can and need to do far better. We can design better cities, where people can walk or cycle instead of having to use cars, where waste is recycled rather than burned or tossed into landfills, and where everyone can access clean fuels and energy.”
Slightly more than a third of urban growth is expected to come from three countries: India (expected to contribute 404 million new city-dwellers), China (292 million) and Nigeria (212 million). At the same time, currently one in three urban residents lives in a slum or informal settlement, often without access to proper housing or basic services.
The increase in urban population will require the building of new cities and the expansion of existing ones. Building and operating these new cities, and supporting the urban lifestyles of those who live in them, requires billions of tonnes of raw materials, such as fossil fuels, sand, gravel, iron ore, wood and food.
Historically, existing cities have been spreading at a rate of two per cent a year, increasing global urban land use from just below one million square kilometres to 2.5 million in 2050, and putting agricultural land and food supplies at risk.
To achieve a transition to low-carbon, resource-efficient, socially just cities, the report recommends:
- Monitoring the flow of resources entering and leaving the cities to understand the local situation and to help develop resource-efficient strategies.
- Planning cities to have:
- Compact growth, to avoid urban sprawl and so economize on the square kilometres of asphalt, the concrete, the electricity and the water wasted in spread-out cities.
- Better connections by efficient and affordable public transport (e.g., light rail, bus rapid transit).
- Liveable neighbourhoods where design encourages people to walk or cycle.
- Resource-efficient urban components, such as car sharing, electric vehicles and charging point networks, efficient energy, efficient waste and water systems, smart grids, cycle paths, energy-efficient buildings, new heating, cooling and lighting technology, etc.
- Infrastructure for cross-sector efficiency, such as using waste heat from industry in district energy systems and industrial waste materials in construction, such as fly-ash bricks.
- Establishing a new model for city governance and politics that supports imaginative business propositions and experimentation.
The second report launched today, Sustainable Urban Infrastructure Transitions in the ASEAN Region: A Resource Perspective, was produced by UN Environment with scientific input from International Resource Panel member Dr Anu Ramaswami.
It examines future urbanization in the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – Indonesia, the Philippines, Viet Nam, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore and Brunei — where 205 million people are expected to move to cities by 2050, resulting in the rapid rise of 200 new small cities or urban areas with populations of fewer than 500,000. This is likely to take place against a backdrop of increasing air pollution and climate risks, and in a region where 73 million people live in slums, 120 million lack access to electricity and 280 million lack clean cooking fuels.
The report says that collaborative governance, at all levels, and long-range planning will be needed to transform the region’s cities. Strategies suggested include:
- Undertaking national and cross-ASEAN urbanization planning to balance economic growth across a range of city sizes and to preserve high-value agricultural land and ecosystem services.
- Promoting compact, mixed-use, accessible and inclusive cities through regional and city planning to reduce land-use planning, streamline infrastructure provisions and promote sustainable mobility (such as public transport, car-sharing, walking and cycling).
- Developing zero-slum cities through land-use planning that prevents slum formation and rehabilitating existing slums in resource-efficient, disaster-resistant, multistorey buildings.
- Promoting resource-efficient, resilient buildings and electricity grids.
- Promoting resource efficiency at the systems level across the city through innovative and profitable exchanges of “waste” energy and materials.
Smarter and more energy-efficient buildings in the EU by 2050
MEPs set goal of near zero-energy buildings in the EU by 2050, following December 2017 EP-Council deal, backed by the full European Parliament on Tuesday.
The updated legislation, voted through with 546 for, 35 against and 96 abstentions, requires member states to develop national long-term strategies to support cost-saving renovation of public and private buildings, with a view to reducing emissions in the EU by 80-85% compared to 1990 levels.
These long-term goals to renovate the existing building stock ensure investment certainty and new financing tools for citizens and businesses, say MEPs.
The national strategies will provide roadmaps to a highly decarbonised national building stock by 2050, with indicative milestones for 2030 and 2040, and measurable progress indicators will have to be put in place to monitor the implementation of the national strategies.
The new directive will introduce electro-mobility requirements for new buildings and those undergoing major renovations, such as the location of at least one recharging point for electric vehicles in buildings with more than ten parking spaces. It will also require the installation of cabling infrastructure for recharging electric vehicles.
Smart tools to increase energy efficiency
The text introduces the “smart readiness indicator”, a new tool to measure the ability of buildings to improve their operation and interaction with the grid, adapting energy consumption to the real needs of the occupant. The European Commission will have to develop this concept by the end of 2019.
New buildings and existing ones, where heat generators are replaced, must have automated devices to regulate temperature levels, while rules on inspection of heating and air conditioning systems and building automation were tightened up.
- • Buildings consume most energy in Europe, absorbing 40% of final energy.
- • Approximately 1% of buildings are newly constructed each year, and three out of four European buildings are energy-inefficient.
- • The construction industry generates about 9% of European GDP and accounts for 18 million jobs.
Once approved by the Council, the updated Energy Performance of Buildings Directive will be published in the EU Official Journal and will enter into force 20 days after publication. The transposition period for these new rules into national legislation is 20 months.
The updated directive for Energy Performance of Buildings (EPBD) is the first of the eight legislative proposals of the Clean Energy for All Europeans package launched in November 2016 to be approved by the Parliament in first reading.
UN population forum urged to examine ways to protect people on the move, make cities work better
A great migration of humanity into cities is under way, and with millions drawn to urban areas for the promise of a better life, the main United Nations forum on population opened its annual session on Monday examining ways to protect people on the move and help create cities that can embrace the massive number of new arrivals.
“People are moving at high rates within national borders, and international migration is growing more complex, with more countries serving simultaneously as countries of origin, transit and destination,” said Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed at the opening of the 51st Session of the Commission on Population and Development.
Created to advise the UN and its Member States on population issues and trends, the Commission is meeting this year under the theme ‘sustainable cities, human mobility and international migration.’
Over the next week, delegates will tackle a host of matters related to the dramatic population shifts under way driven by the movement of people from rural to urban areas, between cities of different sizes and from one country to another. By 2030, six of every 10 people will be an urban inhabitant. By 2050, it may be two out of three, according to the UN.
Ms. Mohammed said that some of the rapid population change is due to growing drivers of displacement, including conflict, poor economic prospects and, in some cases, climate-related hazards. But much of the mobility also stems from people seeking new opportunities – better jobs, education and training, expanded social and family connections, and more.
Questions of migration and urbanization cannot be distinguished from those of sustainable development because as young people seek a better life in cities, the potential loss to communities and countries of origin can be significant, she said.
Some cities have successfully managed migration, said Ms. Mohammed
For example, since 2013, São Paulo has been successful in this endeavor through an awareness-raising campaign focused on ending xenophobia and better policy coordination. These measures have helped the Brazilian city embrace migrants and their families and provide them with assistance.
In London, the Home Secretary and the Archbishop of Canterbury have launched a new scheme to encourage community groups to sponsor a refugee family. An online service for refugees in the UK now makes it easier for any individual to support refugees, allowing local authorities to focus on the provision of public goods and services.
Data collection is crucial to improve collective understanding of the changing situation.
The Government of Zambia has partnered with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) to generate district-level development indicators. Analysis of data collected have been used to inform the latest national development plan and mobilize investments in health and education for children and youth.
The Dominican Republic highlighted the contributions of Haitian migrants to gross domestic product (GDP), as well as the limited services they received.
“Because gaps in understanding are easily filled by myths and misperceptions, better data can usefully inform global discussions of migration and related issues,” Ms. Mohammed said.
“It is for this reason that the Commission on Population and Development, with its focus on population data and its emphasis on evidence-based policy-making, plays such a vital role,” she added.
Smarter roads for smarter mobility
As transport technology progresses at breath-taking speed we tend to focus on how advanced and intelligent vehicles are getting. However, of equal importance is the infrastructure that they travel on and where new technology can be used to make these roads more secure, safe, efficient and environmentally sound to support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
This is the subject that UNECE is now focusing on as part of the responsibilities of the Working Party on Road Transport (SC.1). SC.1 works on the development and facilitation of international transport by road of both passengers and goods, helping to create simple harmonized transport rules and requirements. The harmonization of intelligent infrastructure is a natural subject for these responsibilities, but has not yet received enough attention. That changed this week when SC.1 held a special session which explored current practices, trends and perspectives in smart road infrastructure.
Smart road infrastructure can involve a number of factors, from using technology for better monitoring of movement, controlling traffic flow, updating travellers, or even communicating directly with cars to warn of a speed limit change. It is as essential a part of the future of transport as smarter vehicles.
“Innovative new technology in transport is revolutionizing mobility, changing how people move, communicate, and pay for transport services, as well as how transport legislation is evolving,” said Mr. Yuwei Li, Director of UNECE’s Sustainable Transport Division, who emphasized the strong links with the work of SC.1. “As countries make individual advancements in smart infrastructure, the technology may not be compatible with other countries in the region making international road travel more complicated, and also denying neighbouring countries of the chance to make greater advancements by moving forward together.”
Innovation in smart road infrastructure: a world of perspectives
A number of presentations highlighted new or ongoing projects focusing on using emerging technology for road infrastructure. One of these focused on a project called Traffic Management as a Service from the City of Ghent, Belgium, co-financed by the European Regional and Development Fund through the Urban Innovative Actions Initiative. The project seeks to transform urban traffic control centres from giant immovable buildings which are difficult to update, into virtual traffic management services that are smarter and more accessible to the public. Mr. Pieter Morlion, Project Manager of the city’s Traffic Control Centre, explained that virtual traffic management based on a central cloud-platform was being developed.
The platform integrated with a number of existing systems that hold information on real-time traffic patterns. Currently existing systems such as Tom-Tom and Google maps may be familiar to most drivers, but modern traffic control centres find it difficult to constantly monitor or include data from these systems. This new system would integrate local and global information sources and monitor them for anomalies. The advantage is that authorities will be able to access the platform and manage traffic instantly. Additionally, citizens will be able to register with the system and, by providing their commuting routes and times, will be able to receive text updates when they might encounter an obstacle.
“By organizing traffic management as an online service, cities and countries around the globe can benefit from traffic management functionality just by subscribing to this service, without prior investments or installations,” said Mr. Morlion. “They get immediately access to mobility data for their area and the tools to converse directly with citizens. I strongly believe that this will make the gap smaller between countries that have been investing for years in traffic management and, for example, developing countries.”
Additional presentations included an address from the Julius Baer bank on how new technology, regulation and changing lifestyles are rerouting energy expenditures and reshaping industries. Two alternative future scenarios of evolution or revolution of today’s trends were suggested based on population growth, a rising Asian middle class, urbanisation, fuel economy and electric mobility, autonomous driving and the sharing economy.
Hellastron (Hellenic Association of Toll Road Network) gave examples from the Aegean Motorway SA to demonstrate the continuous improvement in road infrastructure and services being provided to users. These improvements included developing a virtual traffic management centre and a National User Information System.
The Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment in the Netherlands shared how the country is embracing smart infrastructure with an emphasis on public/private partnerships and projects. The Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) provided insight into how their Smart Cities initiative came about.
The exploration of smart road infrastructure was also the chance to highlight the synergies between UNECE’s work on sustainable transport and housing and land management, as well as with initiatives undertaken by other UN organizations in this area, including the International Telecommunication Union.
SC.1 will include smart road infrastructure as a regular item on its agenda for future meetings so that all stakeholders may remain informed about emerging smart technologies for the planning of new, or upgrading of existing, road infrastructure.
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