This is the question is the question that the latest State of the World report poses to its readers. The Worldwatch Institute (WWI), a highly regarded environmental organisation based in Washington D.C., recently presented its annual analysis of the planet’s environmental and social health in Barcelona.
Invited by the Institute of Environmental Sciences and Technology of the Autonomous University of Barcelona (ICTA-UAB), the president of WWI, Ed Groak, and the publications director, Gary Gardner, spoke at two presentation events that took place on the 19th and 20th of January.
The ICTA-UAB research group Conservation, Biodiversity and Global Change, led by Dr. Martí Boada, contributed three chapters to the book, one on the role of biodiversity in urban sustainability, and case studies on Barcelona and Jerusalem.
Groak and Gardner underlined the importance of cities in efforts to achieve local and global sustainable development goals. With 54% of the world’s population currently living in urban environments (a number that is expected to increase to at least 60% by 2050), cities are the planet’s economic engines. On average, 80% of a country’s Gross National Product is produced in cities, which also account for the majority of tax revenues. At the same time, cities consume more than 60% of the natural resources and produce more than 75% of global waste.
As Groak so bluntly stated, “we would need 6 planets like ours to meet the material and resource demands generated by European and American cities.” This alarming fact has awoken the conscience of many metropolises, many of which have been working to remedy this situation with the support of networks such as ICLEIand C40.
In fact, more than 50 cities around the world have recently pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% before the year 2050.
One might ask what specific measures can be adopted to achieve such a dramatic reduction? Gardner cited several different proposals from the report, for example: buildings that integrate technologies to achieve maximum levels of efficiency, legislation in support of sustainability goals, and high-efficiency lighting systems with LED’s, among others.
Transportation systems also have a key role to play. According the publications director, it is essential that these systems be made efficient and accessible, so that citizens leave their private vehicles at home more often. Likewise, sustainable modes of transportation, such as the bicycle, should be actively promoted. Other examples include the adoption of alternative energy sources (solar, wind and geothermal), as well as innovative waste treatment methods to produce biofuels.
Moreover, the WWI experts also emphasized the importance of addressing the precarious conditions and inequalities that a large percentage of urban dwellers still face on a daily basis, particularly those who live in shanty towns that suffer from deficiencies in basic services such as water and infrastructures. Gardner summed up by affirming that “cities must become centres of wellbeing, ensuring that all citizens’ basic needs are met, and that they have a voice in the projects and policies that affect them directly.”
Information regarding the distribution of the report State of the World 2016. Can Cities Be Sustainable? is available on the website of the Worldwatch Institute.
Read here a summary of the report.