-Article by Anna Leidreiter at World Future Council
The world is undergoing the largest wave of urban growth in human history. For the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population is living in towns and cities and the number of urban residents is growing by nearly 60 million every year. In many urban areas especially in Africa and Asia, increasing rural-urban migration challenges city leaders to ensure the delivery of essential services and tackle growing urban poverty. While we all know that we urgently need a new urban agenda that paves the way for a world in which nine billion people can live within the planet’s resources, the big question is how to facilitate this transformation.
What are the changes we need in cities?
Since the industrial revolution the process of urbanisation has become ever more resource-intensive and has significantly been contributing to climate change, loss of soil carbon, natural fertility of farmland, and the loss of biodiversity all over the world. Cities have developed resource consumption and waste disposal habits that show little concern for the environmental consequences. As they become larger and richer, they increasingly draw on nature’s global bounty rather than on resources from their own local area and hinterland. Whilst urban areas constitute three to four per cent of the world’s land surface, their ecological footprints, which measure the amount of productive land and water needed to produce the goods consumed and to assimilate the resulting wastes, cover most of the productive land surface of the globe. Apart from holding a near monopoly on the demand for fossil fuels, metals and concrete, an urbanising humanity now consumes nearly forty per cent of nature’s annual primary production.
This trend compromises the ability of current and future generations to meet their own needs and build a livable future. A new urban agenda is necessary in ensuring that cities not only become resource-efficient and low carbon-emitting, but go beyond that to positively enhance the ecosystems which provide them with services. The solution lies in thinking beyond the vague and rather unambitious notion of sustainability and, instead, actively working towards regenerating soils, forests and watercourses and aiming to improve rather than merely sustaining their currently degraded condition.
This new urban agenda transforms urban areas into regenerative cities that dramatically reduce their dependency on fossil fuels, boost the deployment of renewable energies, reintroduce water to the hydrology cycle and make sewage reprocessing and nutrient capture a central plank of urban waste management.
A wide range of technical and management solutions towards this end are already available, but so far implementation has been too slow and too little.
Image courtesy of IPS Inter Press Service
Who should make these changes?
Enabling policy frameworks constitute the foundation of achieving climate protection goals, social and economic development and meeting ever-increasing global energy demand. The political environment plays a crucial role in enabling businesses to invest in future-just and sustainable technology.
Transforming urban infrastructure into regenerative systems consequently requires an integrated approach, coordinated action and policy dialogue. It requires straddling the public, private and civil society spheres as well as a cross-sectoral approach among authorities.
While urban planning used to be the exclusive realm of specialised experts, today public participation is broadly understood as a prerequisite in transformation processes. Multi-stakeholder dialogues that ensure representation of a diversity of voices in the development process are therefore inevitable. Policy makers as the enablers of change, businesses as the drivers of innovation and civil society as the pathfinders to the future need to work together to design a cross-cutting strategy that provides competitive, feasible and effective solutions.
Image courtesy of Leila Parman
How do we create the paths for change?
In order to design the roadmap and reach the goal of a regenerative city, providing information is not enough. We need to inspire change by enhancing policy dialogue and capacity building for agents of urban change. An important tool for this is the dissemination and promotion of solutions and best practices worldwide. Legislators, experts, learners, business leaders and civil society need to come together to exchange knowledge on successful approaches and instruments as well as to identify the key obstacles and rate limiting factors to progress. To facilitate this, the World Future Council initiated the Future of Cities Forum to annually bring together agents of urban change to discuss the visions, strategies and pathways for the future of our cities. It gives participants the opportunity to showcase best practices and gain encouragement, inspiration, capacity building and a sense of empowerment which enable them to undertake the necessary actions in their constituency.
The next Future of Cities Forum takes place in Hamburg, Germany on September 4th – 7th. For more information please visit www.futureofcitiesforum.com.
Anna Leidreiter’s bio:
As Policy Officer at the World Future Council, Anna Leidreiter coordinates policy research and advocacy campaigns in the climate energy team. In her main capacity Anna works on enabling policy frameworks for a global energy transition towards 100% renewable energies as well as a transformation of urban areas towards regenerative systems. Anna holds a Master’s degree in International Development Studies focused on Environmental Governance from the University of Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Feature image courtesy of ElArbolito