LONDON (AlertNet) — More urban areas will be built in the next 30 years than have been built in all of human history – and building cooperation between them, rather than growing competition, will be key to their success and sustainability, a report says.
By 2050, nearly 70 percent of the world’s population will live in urban areas. That raises some questions about where resources will come from to support ever-growing cities, particularly as fewer people live in rural areas that are traditional sources of food and other needed goods.
“Where is the food going to come from? Where is the water going to come from? Where are the minerals, the fiber, the wood?” asked Sybil Seitzinger, executive director of International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), which published the report calling for increased sustainability-based cooperation between cities.
Globally, many cities are developing sustainability plans to reduce pollution, manage carbon footprints, and improve standards of living. What the researchers fear, however, is that the focus is too limited, and too focused on individual cities.
“So many people are still thinking of a sustainable city as being a city basically in isolation,” said Seitzinger, a lead author of the report. “The thought around sustainable cities is locked into much too narrow a context.”
The researchers see the formation of “systems of cities” as a way to aid global sustainability. Seitzinger explained that cities pulling resources from the same places should be working together, not least to mute the effects of growing competition for resources.
“All cities are drawing on, essentially, the same resources,” said Seitzinger. “There’s an opportunity for cities to think globally, an opportunity for cities to collaborate together.”
COOPERATION, NOT COMPETITION
Consequences to not collaborating include increased competition, decreased resource security, and potentially dire economic problems.
The needed transformation, however, should not be purely limited to urban areas, experts said.
“The non-urban areas should think of themselves as having a very strong card to play in this as well,” Seitzinger said.
David Satterthwaite, an urban sustainability expert at the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development, said that many organisations and cities already were improving on sustainability cooperation.
“Many innovative cities have actually led on building resilience to climate change impacts and also on reducing emissions – much more so than national governments,” said Satterthwaite.
The best course of action is to encourage sustainable cities to become models for other cities.
“We need to applaud and support the city governments that innovate,” said Satterthwaite. “And get other cities to interact with them, to learn about innovation, and learn how they can adapt innovation so it suits them in their particular situations.”
Seitzinger echoed Satterthwaite’s comments and explained that developing cities in China and Africa could be built from the start to be environmentally sustainable.
To make that a success, “you’ve got to get the local government right, with adequate resources, with accountability to their population,” Satterthwaite said.
He cited cities such as Porto Alegre in Brazil, Manizales in Colombia, and Rosario in Argentina as examples of success. Organisations such as the C40 Cities climate leadership group, ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, and the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) are also positive models, he said.
“We’ve got these good, strong examples from which to learn,” Satterthwaite said. “It’s just a question of getting the learning going.”
Jon Christianson is an AlertNet Climate intern.