Today, more than half of the world's population lives in urban areas. With population growth, this is projected to increase to over two-thirds of 2050. Although cities cover only two percent of Earth's land surface, cities account for around 70 percent of the world's CO2 emissions. Cities are thus major drivers of climate change. The use of resources in cities places a strong pressure on the world's ecosystems. It causes major destruction of forests and other natural landscapes to meet the demand for timber and food; marine ecosystems are contaminated and overfished; and mountains are excavated in the hunt for metals and minerals. Overall, this means major reductions in biodiversity. An increased population and expansion of urban areas thus indicates that there is a great need to limit the impact cities have and will have on ecosystems, biodiversity and climate. This is one of the focus of the UN Conference on Sustainable Urban Development.
Go against the alienation. The UN's third Habitat Conference on Settlement and Sustainable Development of Urban Areas, held every 20. year, launched in October this year. Here, the world's politicians, bureaucrats, city planners, private actors and civil society gathered to discuss and agree on a common path for the development of the cities of the future. This year's conference in Quito in Ecuador resulted in a new global action plan for urban development, the so-called New Urban Agenda. The action plan will lead the world towards a more sustainable urban development into the next 20 years until Habitat IV.
We are constantly hearing that we humans are distancing ourselves more and more from nature, and as a consequence are less and less aware of how nature works and our dependence on it: We live in a city bubble and see only a small part of the big image – the food comes from the store, clean tap water and power from the power cord. In a city distant from nature and its ecosystems, understanding what happens to resources before they come to us, and what happens to them after we use them, is often quite remote.
However, being aware of nature and climate is crucial. Cities are not in themselves a functioning ecosystem, they depend on a constant influx of resources from outside – with everything from water to materials and energy. That is why it is of the utmost importance that urban development now and in the future is characterized by sustainable use of nature. If we destroy nature, we also destroy the whole basis of life for the survival of cities and people.
When all food and goods are bought in stores, we lose touch with the resources we use.
Green lungs. New Urban Agenda promotes the need for cities to become greener – not just in the metaphorical sense of shifting to green energy and resource use, but also literally. In many cities and urban areas, there is a great lack of green space. Lack of contact with nature causes people to rate it lower. The cities must go from being part of the problem to being part of the solution, and then the inhabitants of the city must have a greater understanding of the functions and vitality of nature. Green areas play an important role in connecting urban dwellers, who otherwise have little or no contact with nature areas, to nature. This will create a greater incentive to take care of it. Furthermore, green areas have a number of other positive effects: they create an arena for recreation that promotes mental health and reduces stress. Trees absorb pollution and lead to cleaner urban air. Gardens and parks create meeting places and arenas for physical activity, and several trees provide shade and temperature reduction in densely populated areas.
Locally produced food. Urban agriculture is another important tool to use in cities. With the forecasts of global population growth, in the future, given today's agricultural methods, large amounts of new land will be needed for food production to satisfy everyone. Not only can urban food production increase food security and reduce pressure on food land outside cities – it will capture CO in the same way that green areas2, heavy metals and dust from the urban air. Working with the food soil will also connect people closer to nature. Not least, urban agriculture provides a huge learning potential for urban people about how food production and the processes that bring out the food we are so dependent on function. Cultivating food in kindergartens will teach children where the food comes from, and urban food production provides access to locally produced food that can reduce the need for food transport into the cities.
We need sustainable consumption and production patterns. When all food and goods are bought in stores, we lose touch with the resources we use. We are distanced from the processes the products go through before they come to the store and come home with us. You might notice the tag Made in ChinaBut the actual implications are more difficult to grasp. What the product has gone through and what the ripple effects the product has had – all the way from extraction of the material to processing in the factory and on to transport to the store – are often complex and not tangible. Therefore, increased awareness, knowledge, frameworks and regulations are needed to develop consumption and production in more sustainable directions.
Great possibilities. In the cities there are also solutions. In response to the image of cities as big ugly wolves driving natural destruction, climate change and overconsumption, the Habitat Conference has highlighted a picture of the city as the center of innovation and knowledge. Cities have tremendous potential for developing new solutions that can drive sustainable development. Urbanization itself is not the problem. Increased consumption of resources is driven by increased prosperity in a society – not by urbanization as such. On the contrary, the fact that people live close to urban areas has many advantages. For example, in many countries, emissions per capita in cities are lower than the national average. When people live closer, it also means that the opportunities for sustainable transport are greater: people can walk, cycle and travel by public transport. Thus, increased urbanization should not be viewed solely as a threat. Rather, it should be seen as an opportunity to develop and integrate sustainable solutions in urban areas for large numbers of people at once.
Berg-Lihn is a member of the Spire City Committee. email@example.com