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How urban societies can adapt to resource shortage and climate change

Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 13 May 2011 vol. 369 no. 1942

How urban societies can adapt to resource shortage and climate change

Link to full-text

David Satterthwaite, International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), 3 Endsleigh Street, London WC1H 0DD, UK

david@iied.org

With more than half the world’s population now living in urban areas and with much of the world still urbanizing, there are concerns that urbanization is a key driver of unsustainable resource demands. Urbanization also appears to contribute to ever-growing levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Meanwhile, in much of Africa and Asia and many nations in Latin America and the Caribbean, urbanization has long outstripped local governments’ capacities or willingness to act as can be seen in the high proportion of the urban population living in poor quality, overcrowded, illegal housing lacking provision for water, sanitation, drainage, healthcare and schools.

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 not with an over-extended optimism on what new technologies can bring but mostly by a wider application of what already has been shown to work.

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