How can cities and sustainable urban development be a part of tackling the climate change and other environmental problems? How can it at the same time contribute to securing employment, growth, welfare and social security? And how can Europe do this, not only by itself, but in cooperation with the rest of the world?
These and other questions have been addressed at the European Cities and the Global Climate Challenge, in Stockholm, today September 14.
They are at the top of the agenda of the Swedish EU-presidency, too. Speaking at the conference, Minister for the Environment Andreas Carlgren said that “the world is urbanizing fast. Already, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. In Europe, it is close to eighty percent. In Africa and Asia cities are experiencing incredible growth rates. This means that a large and increasing share of energy is used in cities: for construction, industry, transport and heating. Global urbanisation causes enormous impacts on natural resources and on the environment. The social challenges of growing cities are fundamental”.
It is in cities, then, the challenges of global climate change and global warming are to be dealt with and won. Actions must be taken now, though, because it is “paramount to reach an ambitious and comprehensive global agreement on the climate in Copenhagen in December. An agreement that includes all nations, enables us to stay below 2 degrees of global warming and that unleashes the forces for sustainable development”.
The main challenge: meet the demands of growing cities, combining it with sustainable economic development and a dramatic cut in our emissions of greenhouse gases. The task is challenging, given that estimates show the global economy will grow 4 times to 2050. But Sweden has shown it is possible, Since 1990 the Swedish emissions have decreased with 9% and our economy have grown with 48%.
“Cities is part of the solution”, said the Minister for the Environment. ” Intelligent urban planning and smart transportation systems – he continued – can provide energy efficient communications. Biofuelled district heating can decrease greenhouse gas emissions substantially. Increased energy efficiency in the housing sector is one of the most cost-effective measures to reduce energy demand. Passive, or plus-energy houses can reduce demand even further”.
In a time of economic recession and crisis as we are experiencing now, making urban development sustainable also has the potential to create green jobs and growth. The challenges of the economic downturn and climate change can, if met simultaneously, offer substantial business opportunities. New markets and employment opportunities can be achieved, creating a forceful engine for growth and competitiveness. To achieve this, we need a transition to an eco-efficient economy. This means creating more wealth while using less natural resources and causing less negative impact on the environment.
“Going beyond Europe, the potential for cooperation, partnerships and trade in green technology and urban sustainable solutions is enormous. In fact, the transfer of knowledge and technical solutions for sustainable urban development can be an important part of a global climate agreement”.