Sustainable cities must look beyond city limits

Oct 31, 2012
This is a global system of cities cooperating with rural regions for sustainable management of planetary resources. Credit: IGBP

City leaders aspiring to transform their cities into models of sustainability must look beyond city limits and include in their calculation the global flow of goods and materials into their realm, argue researchers in the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences journal Ambio.

Many cities are now developing sustainable strategies to reduce pollution and congestion, improve the quality of life of their citizens, and respond to growing concern about on climate and the environment. But sustainable city initiatives often ignore the from imported goods and services such as food, water, and energy to cities: sustainability, it seems, stops at the city limits.

Ultimately, this will not add up to a planet able to support over nine billion people.

"The sustainability of a city can no longer be thought of in isolation from the combined resource use and impacts of cities globally." Urbanization is no longer a local issue, say Earth-system researchers in a new paper, Planetary stewardship in an urbanizing world: beyond city limits, published October 2012.

Instead, the team proposes that cities analyse how resources consumed within a city are sourced, produced and transported. They suggest one solution could be that cities with viable sustainability strategies link together to create a vast system of cities. A feature of such a system would be an awareness of the global resource use of cities combined. The benefits of a network of this kind could be twofold, contributing to "planetary stewardship" whilst providing long-term resource security for cities.

"Urban areas drive much of the global changes we see, whether in energy use, food supply, or land-use change," says lead author Dr. Sybil Seitzinger, Executive Director of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, based in Stockholm Sweden.

The world has urbanized rapidly. In 2011, the United Nations announced humanity had passed a major landmark: over half the population of the planet now lives in urban areas. Urbanization is set to continue at pace throughout this century with most growth taking place in Africa and Asia.

The total urban area is expected to triple between 2000 and 2030, while urban populations are expected to nearly double, increasing from 2.84 to 4.9 billion, during this period, according to a recent publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

"On this kind of trajectory, more than 15,000 football fields (FIFA accredited) will become urban every day during the first three decades of the 21st century. In other words, humankind is expected to build more urban areas during the first thirty years of this century than all of history combined,," says Professor Karen Seto an urbanization expert from Yale University and co-author on the paper.

A system of sustainable cities will require adequate information on resource flows and their impacts, preferably in near-real-time and on a global scale. "Digital technologies are now putting this kind of information within our grasp," says Dr. Seitzinger.

Recently, cities across the globe have joined forces in alliances to curb greenhouse gas emissions, for example through the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and the World Mayor's Council for Climate Change. This approach allows cities to learn from one another. Good ideas can spread through the network while poor ideas can be ditched quickly.

However, these efforts may not focus explicitly on non-urban regions that often provide resources to . The notion of a partnership between "sustainable" cities and between cities and non-urban regions discussed in the paper is novel but untested. The new approach could harness existing partnerships and provide the foundations for a more sustainable approach to urbanization and urban living this century.

The new research is the outcome of a three-day international workshop on planetary stewardship organised by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme at the , 13-15 June 2011.

Explore further: German scientist starts four-week swim down Rhine river

More information: Planetary stewardship in an urbanising world: beyond city limits. AMBIO DOI : 10.1007/s13280-012-0353-7. Seitzinger, S.P., U. Svedin, C. Crumley, W. Steffen, S. A. Abdullah, C. Alfsen, W. J. Broadgate, F. H.B. Biermann, N. R. Bondre, J. A. Dearing, L. Deutsch, S. Dhakal, T. Elmqvist, N. Farahbakhshazad, O. Gaffney, H. Haberl, S. Lavorel, C. Mbow, A. J. McMichael, J. Morais, P. Olsson, P. Pinho, K. C. Seto, P. Sinclair, M. Stafford-Smith, L. Sugar. 2012. www.springerlink.com/content/t… wp126p3/fulltext.pdf

Journal reference: AMBIO search and more info website

Provided by International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme

5 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Report warns of urbanization swell by 2050

Apr 10, 2012

We hear and read a lot about our human carbon footprint but what do we know about our urban footprint? According to a new United Nations (UN) report, this urban footprint will expand by another 1.2 million ...

Growth of cities endangers global environment

Aug 19, 2011

The explosive growth of cities worldwide over the next two decades poses significant risks to people and the global environment, according to a meta-analysis published today in Plos One.

Ecotechnology for the smart cities

Dec 01, 2011

This alliance is generating a knowledge base on cities and ecotechnology; it will gradually be joined by various Basque and international organisations and companies capable of coming up with innovative solutions underpinned ...

Rapid urban expansion threatens biodiversity: study

Sep 17, 2012

A brief window of opportunity exists to shape the development of cities globally before a boom in infrastructure construction transforms urban land cover, according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of ...

Ecological impact of African cities

Dec 02, 2008

African cities are growing faster than anywhere else in the world. This is having a major impact, but few ecologists are studying the urban environment and effect of cities on rural areas. One of the most important ecological ...

Recommended for you

Australia approves huge India-backed mine

16 hours ago

Australia has given the go-ahead to a massive coal mine in Queensland state which Environment Minister Greg Hunt said Monday could ultimately provide electricity for up to 100 million Indians.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

eko
not rated yet Oct 31, 2012
That picture reminds me a diagram once when I was looking up the tragedy of the commons. I could swear I saw it somewhere.