By Kayleigh Lewis - 12th April 2013
With the increasing number of people living in urban areas, a focus on sustainability in cities and towns is more crucial than ever. Kayleigh Lewis reports.
More than half of the world’s population currently live in urban areas, which is why cities and towns must play a starring role when it comes to achieving sustainability. This month, Geneva hosts the seventh European conference on sustainable cities and towns, which will focus on the ‘green economy’ and aims to better understand how gaps between environmental, economic and social goals can be bridged.
European environment commissioner Janez Potocnik, who is attending the conference, told the Parliament Magazine, “Cities have a key role to play in the economic transformation toward resource efficiency. They have a number of instruments at their disposal, including green public procurement, waste and water management, smarter mobility, housing improvements, stimulating eco-product markets, and urban planning, which will help Europe in its shift towards a greener, more sustainable economy. He also said that cities can “deliver green infrastructure and efficient land use” and that “they can profit in many ways from establishing strategically planned networks of high quality green spaces, and other environmental features, that can deliver a wide range of ecosystem services”.
Arab Hobdallah, who is sustainable consumption and production branch chief in the UN environment programme’s technology, industry and economics division, told this magazine, “In a couple of decades, cities will host about 75 per cent of the population, will consume 75 per cent of the energy, will produce 75 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions and 75 per cent of the wastes. It is therefore obvious that no sustainable development can be achieved if not at city level first.” “Decoupling economic growth from unsustainable resource use and environmental impacts, especially in urban areas, underpins the transition to a low-carbon, resource efficient green economy. In the context of rapid urbanisation and growing pressures on natural resources, there is an urgent need for coordinated action on urban sustainability.” Hobdolla stressed, “This is essential both for preventing irreversible degradation of resources and ecosystems, and for realising the multiple benefits of greener cities. With the increasing level of consumption in the cities, mainly with the incoming three billion middle class consumers in the next two to three decades, development in cities can and should be the engine for a global sustainability economy.”
Meanwhile, Brice Lalonde, who is UN executive coordinator of the Rio+20 summit, told this magazine that although many national governments are “overwhelmed” by “short term” tasks some countries are nevertheless “showing the way and moving towards new patterns of production and consumption that they believe will not only ensure sustainability, but also give them a comparative advantage in the global economy”. The EU, he said, is “trying to follow that path,” despite being in the middle of a “difficult economic situation”. However, he said, “If the picture is disappointing at the global and national levels, it is very different locally”. “Cities usually have long-term views, having to figure, when they plan a new infrastructure, how their citizens will be living, working, and moving in 10, 20 or 30 years” He added that it is probably “easier” to have a “holistic vision” at city level, rather than the “fragmented” views of ministerial departments, while municipalities can also create a sense of ownership of policies that have been publicly discussed.
“Under Europe 2020,” Potocnik concluded, “our cities must become engines of economic growth, job creation and innovation. The challenge we face is to ensure that this growth goes hand in hand with quality and sustainability. We should never forget that there is no future and there is no way out of the financial and economic crisis without sustainable urban development.”
Kayleigh Lewis is a journalist at The Parliament Magazine