GLOBE-Net, April 17, 2013 – Investing in sustainable infrastructures and resource efficient technologies in cities offers a golden opportunity to deliver economic growth with lower rates of environmental degradation, reductions in poverty, cuts in greenhouse gases, and improved well-being, according to a new report released by the United Nations.
Around three-quarters of the world’s natural resources are already consumed in cities, and the proportion of the global population living in urban areas is set to rise to 70 per cent by 2050, says the report. At the same time, cities generally offer lower per capita resource use and emissions than their surrounding areas.
[stextbox id=”custom” float=”true” width=”200″ bcolor=”add3d5″ bgcolor=”add3d5″ image=”null”]Achieving inclusive sustainable development for all, says the UN study, requires ‘decoupling’ city-based economic growth rates from the unsustainable consumption of finite natural resources, which has characterised most urban development to date.[/stextbox]
As the price of depleting natural resources continues to rise, promoting sustainable urban infrastructures can benefit the environment and shield cities from potential economic and social instability in an increasingly resource-constrained 21st century.
Melbourne, Australia, has seen a 40 per cent drop in emissions by introducing energy efficiency measures in public buildings, while in Cape Town, South Africa, a re-fit of low income housing with solar water heaters and efficient lighting has saved over 6,500 tons of carbon per year, cut respiratory illnesses by 75 per cent, created scores of green jobs and reduced the cost of hot water for poor households.
Thirty such case studies are featured in the report, City-Level Decoupling: Urban Resource Flows and the Governance of Infrastructure Transitions, produced by the International Resource Panel (IRP), which is hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Other efforts involve reducing oil consumption by moving more people and goods onto public transport powered by electricity, or re-establishing peri-urban farms to supply locally grown food.
“To date, the trend towards urbanization has been accompanied by increased pressure on the environment and growing numbers of urban poor,” said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner at the launch of the report in Nairobi.
“But unique opportunities exist for cities to lead the greening of the global economy by increasing resource productivity and innovation, while achieving major financial savings and addressing environmental challenges. Although many cities are seizing such opportunities, a holistic vision for the urban centres of the future is still lacking.”
Greener Infrastructure Vital
The study says much greater effort is needed to support new and improved infrastructure for water, energy, transport, waste and other sectors – generally located in and around cities – to wean the world off unsustainable consumption patterns, and avoid serious economic and environmental implications for future generations.
Some 60 per cent of the built environment required to meet the needs of the world’s urban population by 2050 still needs to be constructed.
The cost of meeting the urban infrastructure requirements of the world’s cities between 2000 and 2030 is estimated at US$40 trillion – both through the building of new infrastructure (mainly in developing countries) or retrofitting existing facilities (mainly in developed nations).
The report outlines recommendations for city planners to minimize environmental damage and maximize the potential for using resources more sustainably.
- Government investments should support the role of cities in national sustainable development strategies, and support infrastructures that stimulate low-carbon, resource-efficient and equitable urban development
- More investment is needed to support the capacity of city-level governments and universities to collect and analyze data on resource use and flows in cities as a basis for efforts to enhance sustainability
- Cities should set specific targets to use resources more efficiently, (eg. litres of water per unit of GDP, percentage of passenger trips by public transport) and formulate plans to achieve them
- For procurement activities, promote and use criteria favouring low-carbon, resource-efficient, green technology goods and services
- The private sector can play a key role in investing, and sharing expertise, to take small-scale sustainable infrastructure projects to a city-wide scale
The full report City-Level Decoupling: Urban Resource Flows and the Governance of Infrastructure Transitions, is available at www.unep.org
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