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.
Cities rally against hate, discrimination, racism and violent extremism
Local governments are and should continue to be key global actors and “co-shapers of a global framework for action” to address current worldwide challenges related to social transformations, together with national governments, international and regional institutions, and civil society. In this context, the Global Steering Committee of the International Coalition of Inclusive and Sustainable Cities – ICCAR adopted the “Nancy Declaration” at its meeting in Nancy (France), on 10 December 2018, in parallel with the City’s celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Led by Mayor Laurent Hénart of Nancy, Mayor Erias Lukwago of Kampala (Uganda) and Benedetto Zacchiroli (President of the European Coalition of Cities against Racism – ECCAR), mayors and other local officials representing regional and national coalitions charted and adopted this new roadmap for action for ICCAR member cities. The Nancy Declaration calls for renewed commitment to “develop effective responses to the rise of hate, bigotry and violent extremism, growing worldwide phenomena that accentuate racism, intolerance and discrimination, by implementing local and collective advocacy efforts to raise awareness, developing guidelines and tools in response to these threats, and conducting capacity-building and education-related initiatives”.
Ângela Melo, Director of Policies and Programmes of UNESCO’s Social and Human Sciences Programme, affirmed in her opening remarks that there is an urgent need to rethink the role of cities, to provide them with the means to promote inclusion and respect for diversity, and to ensure that they become green, inclusive and smart. A human rights-based approach should be the foundation of preventing and fighting discrimination through promoting inclusion and diversity framed on the 2030 international agenda of the sustainable development goals.
Held at the same time as the Intergovernmental Conference on the Global Compact for Migration (Morocco, 10-11 December 2018), the ICCAR meeting, organized by UNESCO and the City of Nancy, with the support of ECCAR, served as the “common voice” of its member cities. It concurred to “take action in line with the UN Global Compacts on migration and refugees to eliminate prejudice by highlighting the positive and multiple contributions of these groups to all spheres of life in receiving, transition and origin countries.”
The International Coalition of Inclusive and Sustainable Cities – ICCAR was launched by UNESCO in 2004. Represented by seven regional and national coalitions, ICCAR is a 500-plus member network of cities across continents. They advocate for global solidarity and collaboration to promote inclusive urban development free from all forms of discrimination. Over the years, the recognition of ICCAR has increased as a global reference for city-to-city cooperation in the pursuit of inclusion and diversity in the urban space.
How South-South and Triangular cooperation can promote green growth and sustainable cities
As part of the Global South-South Development Expo 2018, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) convened a thematic solution forum on sustainable urban-industrial development along the Belt and Road.
The forum, building on the outcomes of UNIDO’s flagship BRIDGE for Cities event, focused on how green growth and sustainable cities can be promoted through South-South and Triangular cooperation. It was attended by a high-level audience consisting of representatives from Member States, UN agencies, development finance institutions and the private sector, as well as from civil society and academia.
The moderator of the forum, GONG Weixi, who is Senior Coordinator for South-South and Triangular Industrial Cooperation at UNIDO, introduced the theme by referring to the fact that more than 50 per cent of the world’s population currently lives in cities. He suggested that dealing with urban issues will have a direct impact on poverty reduction and on ensuring quality of life around the world.
The panellists, who included Carlo Fortuna from the Central European Initiative; Sabine Ohler, Director of International Business at the Vienna Business Agency; Rohey Malick Lowe, Major of Banjul, Gambia; and Mohammad Mustafizur Rahman from Bangladesh’s Ministry of Information Communications Technologies Division; remarked that while the GSSD Expo makes an extremely valuable contribution to linkage and learning, it is up to developing countries themselves to leverage the success stories and lessons learnt, and that they should take ownership of their development strategies.
There was also agreement that while foreign investments and technology transfer are essential in the development process, South-South cooperation is a process that cannot be forced. It should deliver mutual benefits for all parties, while respecting their national sovereignty.
Gong said, “As the key take-away for this session, the ‘catch-up’ strategy for developing countries to develop through their own efforts is ‘3L’ – linkage, learning, and leverage. The forum today provides us with a platform to link with and learn from all development stakeholders. Ultimately, it is the engagement and ownership of developing countries themselves that can ensure development results.”
The Global South-South Development Expo is the only Expo offered by the United Nations system solely for the Global South. It provides a platform for all development actors and stakeholders to showcase Southern development solutions, celebrate South-South and triangular cooperation successes, share knowledge and lessons learned, explore new avenues for collaboration, and initiate new partnership efforts.
ADB Report Shares Best Practices in Chinese Cities to Combat Climate Change
Cities in developing Asia and the Pacific are growing fast, but this surge in urbanization has led to increasing pollution and environmental concerns, threatening to impact the quality of people’s lives. Innovative climate solutions in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), however, are demonstrating that it is possible for cities to pursue growth in a low-carbon and climate-resilient manner, according to a new Asian Development Bank (ADB) report.
The report, 50 Climate Solutions from Cities in the People’s Republic of China: Best Practices from Cities Taking Action on Climate Change, highlights case studies where cities in the PRC have embraced means of ensuring more sustainable and climate-resilient growth. Some of these solutions include reducing energy consumption, improving waste management, promoting green spaces, as well as introducing clean-fuel vehicles and public transport.
“Climate change could severely impact developing Asia and the Pacific’s economic growth in the decades to come if no action is taken,” said ADB Deputy Director General for East Asia Ms. M. Teresa Kho at the launch of the report in Beijing. “Actions taken in many cities in the PRC show that it is certainly possible to start to turn the wheel around on climate change and its impacts. Other countries could well find useful lessons from the PRC’s experience.”
The city of Hohhot in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, for example, is taking advantage of the area’s abundant wind resources to use renewable energy sources for district heating. The project, supported by a $150 million ADB loan and a technical assistance grant, has helped the residents enjoy cleaner air, while reduce health hazards due to toxic air pollutants due to the city’s previous reliance on coal.
About 50 hectares of old landfills in the city of Wuhan in central PRC, meanwhile, have been transformed into gardens for residents to enjoy, lessening health risks and environmental hazards from the untreated sites.
Other climate action efforts mentioned in the report include a market-based emissions trading scheme in Shanghai, which has seen 100% compliance since its launch in 2013, and the rollout of electric taxis in the city of Taiyuan in Shanxi province, which will help reduce 222,000 tons of carbon emissions per year once the full fleet of traditional taxis is replaced.
The report, which includes details of projects supported by ADB and others, is part of ADB’s aim to support the PRC government’s efforts to address climate change and showcase its innovations in low-carbon city development. ADB is committing $80 billion from 2019 to 2030 to combat climate change in the Asia and Pacific region, while ensuring that at least 75% of its committed operations support climate change mitigation and adaptation.
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