How urban societies can adapt to resource shortage and climate change

How urban societies can adapt to resource shortage and climate change

Exploring urbanisation, resource use and climate change adaptation

The increased pressures on the world’s natural resources and ecological systems in the past century, has been accompanied by rapid urban population growth. Urban centres themselves have ecological reputations since they drive unsustainable environmental change. They also lead to high levels of resource use and waste generation, causing serious ecological consequences locally, regionally and globally, especially in terms of climate change.

But there is good evidence that urban areas can combine high living standards with relatively low GHG emissions and lower resource demands. This paper draws on some examples of this and considers what these imply for urban policies in a resource-constrained world. These suggest that cities can allow high living standards to be combined with levels of GHG emissions that are much lower than those that are common in affluent cities today. This can be achieved by a wider application of what already has been shown to work.

Recommendations include:

  • GHG emissions from agriculture, deforestation and industry could be assigned to the final consumers of the industrial goods, wood products and food under consumption-based accounting.
  • in developing countries, strategies to improve housing and living conditions in high-density low-quality settlements should be put in place
  • recycling wastewaters in cities – the close proximity of so many water consumers cheapens the cost of recycling material from waste streams
  • there is a need for expertise of ecologists applied to urban systems and urban governments recovering control over land-use changes and integrating ecological concerns and climate resilience into this
  • urban governance needs programmes to tackle poor infrastructure and services in the worst-served areas of urban centres and to create better quality housing
  • new technologies may help but the scale of the needed reduction in GHGs suggests that the wealthy may have to accept lower material standards for enhanced geopolitical and ecological security.
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