Four billion people likely to move to urban areas globally before 2050 Urban demand for resources could rise by 125 per cent without intervention
As urban areas around the world continue to grow, cities are placing an increasingly heavy burden on the 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 the 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 launched at the 9th World Urban Forum in Kuala Lumpur (WUF9).
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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: ONE: Monitoring the flow of resources entering and leaving the cities to understand the local situation and to help develop resource-efficient strategies.
TWO: 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 (light rail, bus rapid transit) and liveable neighbourhoods where design encourages people to walk or cycle.
Other factors are 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 as well as 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.
The report also recommends establishing a new model for city governance and politics that supports imaginative business propositions and experimentation.
“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.”
In October 2016, representatives from 167 countries joined together in Quito, Ecuador, to adopt the New Urban Agenda, a United Nations agreement to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable amid rapid urbanization. WUF9, is a continuation of the efforts to implement the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, His Excellency Najib Razak, opened the World Urban Forum in an official ceremony today with participants celebrating the energy building for implementing the New Urban Agenda.
Speaking at the opening, UN Under-Secretary-General and UN-Habitat Executive Director Maimunah Mohd Shariff said: “With its genuine openness and inclusive nature, the World Urban Forum is a chance for stakeholders from all over the world to contribute to the global conversation about our cities and human settlements.”
The World Urban Forum opened with more than 25,000 registrants from 185 countries attending more than 500 events and was celebrated as the most inclusive to date with 90 per cent of least developed countries represented.