Introduction: A Green Economy for Green Cities

Chapter
Part of the Local Sustainability book series (LOCAL, volume 3)

Abstract

With the international sustainable development discussions exploring the concept and new driver “Green Economy within the context of poverty eradication and sustainable development”, it is important and relevant to reflect upon its meaning for cities and urban areas. Cities and urban areas are a key dimension as by 2050 two-thirds of all humans will be living there. They represent 2 % of the Earth’s land surface, 50 % of the global population, and 70–80 % of the global energy consumption and CO2 emissions. At the same time there is a backlog in providing decent housing and infrastructure to one billion urban dwellers, while the global urban population will increase by another three billion over the next 40 years: a near doubling of the urban population to 6.2 billion.

Keywords

Green cities Sustainable development Introduction Green urban economy 

With the international sustainable development discussions exploring the concept and new driver “Green Economy within the context of poverty eradication and sustainable development”, it is important and relevant to reflect upon its meaning for cities and urban areas. Cities and urban areas are a key dimension as by 2050 two-thirds of all humans will be living there. They represent 2% of the Earth’s land surface, 50% of the global population, and 70–80% of the global energy consumption and CO2 emissions. At the same time there is a backlog in providing decent housing and infrastructure to one billion urban dwellers, while the global urban population will increase by another three billion over the next 40 years: a near doubling of the urban population to 6.2 billion.

Alone the richest 100 urban economic areas are estimated to account for US$19,874 billion (gross domestic product at purchasing power parity) (PwC 2009), almost 30% of global GDP in 2008. An even greater amount circulates when including urban areas made up of small and medium sized towns and cities, not only seemingly endless mega-cities.

Urban dynamics play out in regions, countries and cities very differently according to local and regional trends and conditions. In the process of managing the rapid growth of existing cities, designing and building of new cities, and the rehabilitation and revitalization of old, often even shrinking, cities, presents an opportunity and urgency to “get it right”. For an economy to thrive, it requires functioning cities. It implies that the urban economy across sectors needs to realize opportunities, have enabling framework conditions, and actors to work collaboratively together, so that all contribute to stepping up a level in their urban sustainability performance.

It is important to recognize that economic production and consumption patterns strongly interact with social and ecological systems. Societies are dependent upon the performance of their urban economies, while the urban economy is dependent on ecosystem services and resources. Urban economies rest and draw upon both local resources and cities’ vast hinterlands. The resulting tensions between the human and Earth system are expressed in numerous ways for example by rising energy costs, energy or water security concerns, environmental risks like climate change, shrinking natural resource base, declining ecosystem services etc.

Such tensions between economic forces, economic benefits and socially undesirable outcomes are deeply interwoven with the choices made on infrastructure investments, production, distribution and consumption cycles, and the inclusion of environmental and social considerations therein. Choices are being made in cities on what to invest where, what to produce and distribute how, and what to consume why, as well as what to throw away where. For example, India alone is likely to invest US$300 billion in urban infrastructure over the next 20 years (Asia Economics Analyst 2007). As such, capital spent on urban development needs to be spent in a way that it takes long-term economic, environmental and social viability into account. Choices of investments, asset management, business management and governance can be utilized for more optimal and more socially desirable outcomes.

For example in the wake of the global financial crisis 2008–2010 and subsequent economic slowdown, the concept of a Green Economy was provided with fresh impetus following wide-spread discussions on a ‘Green’ New Deal, to enable a “green recovery”. Large investments were seen as necessary to support the recovery of the world economy. These financial investments offered an opportunity to invest in green economic sectors.

Due to the concentration of people, knowledge, infrastructures, resources and economic activities, cities offer unique opportunities to address and respond to many environmental and social challenges. Cities and urban areas, large and small, are not only the source of resource consumption and pollution, they also offer many innovative responses, solutions, and provisions.

The political and economic foundations of cities will determine for example whether four billion new urban houses in the next 40 years can be built, whether global warming can be limited to 2 °C compared to 1990 levels, and whether the state and quality of our ecosystems and resources can be sustainably maintained. Urban economic activities and their local and global environmental implications need to be rethought, reshaped and remodeled.

Part II draws together different perspectives on guiding principles, ideas and opportunities of what a Green Urban Economy can look like to further and instigate the debate amongst researchers, policy makers and practitioners.

Part II opens with Kenneth Odero tracing the notion of “green” to the Garden City movement associated with Sir Ebenezer Howard (1850–1928) and exploring important linkages and central issues of a green urban economy for an equitable and sustainable future. Following, Corina McKendry illustrates on hand of two selected post-industrial cities how the environmental and economic discourse has moved away from an antagonistic relationship towards one of mutual compatibility. An attractive and healthy environment emerges as an economic value to invest in.

Kes McCormick, Stefan Anderberg and Lena Neij explore conceptual ­connections between sustainable urban transformations and development for a green urban economy, and their key drivers and urban structures. It concludes with a call for further discussion and action on visioning, collaboration, sharing, learning, reconnecting and evaluation. It is deeply connected to the notion of green cities which is subsequently explored by Essam Ahmed, where achieving sustainable development can and needs to become a strategic economic policy agenda.

According to Edmundo Werna the resulting benefits to cities can transfer to its workforce especially when a net positive balance of decent jobs is created in the process. Benefits to a city’s workforce can be indirect in form of safer working ­conditions and a healthy environment, as well as directly through the additional business opportunities that create jobs for example in the construction, waste or urban forestry and agricultural industry. It is pivotal that any green urban economy agenda is strongly situated within the context of poverty eradication and is inclusive of low-income groups and marginalized groups. Asif Kabani and Maliha Kabani highlight how for example green buildings and retrofitting need to include low-income households, who lack resources to upgrade their homes to achieve energy cost-savings.

The implications of these principle goals are detailed by Philipp Rode on hand of the resulting opportunities and challenges that exist in urban sectors and across the economic, social and environmental spheres. His contribution is a condensed version of the Cities Chapter of UNEP’s seminal publication Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication. It underscores the need for enabling strategies and a regulatory framework for national, regional and local governments for greener cities. This chapter already provides an insight into possible strategies and instruments.

The final contributions highlight how through measurement systems the advances and performance can be measured and tracked. Vito Albino and Rosa Maria Dangelico illustrate this on hand of their Green Cities Practices Matrix. Jonathan Woetzel, Shannon Bouton and Molly Lindsay with the Urban Sustainability Index, which suggests that performance in Chinese cities are rapidly implementing a balanced approach between sustainability and growth. They suggest no negative association between economic growth and the index’s sustainability measures; rather they go hand in hand.

The chapter overview and the contributions make clear that a strong focus is evolving around the notion of green cities, and the multiple benefits a greening of the urban economy and its sectors can realize. The contributions set an ambitious but also an encouraging agenda to accelerate the urban transformation towards greater sustainability. The Green Economy and therewith a Green Urban Economy is only at the beginning of an important debate geared towards practice and action. The varying perspectives make clear that the economy and its urban sectors need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, become more resource efficient, grow or transform in a way that is inclusive, equitable and creates jobs.

In the process of such an urban economic transformation or growth it can and has to realize a number of social and environmental objectives, directly and indirectly. The outlook is positive not least as a changing economic make up also interacts with the way how the environment is treated and seen. An attractive and healthy urban environment and economic sectors emerge as an economic asset to invest in. The discourse and operationalization of a green urban economy can further facilitate and drive this process. Further research, documentation and exchange on principles, goals and benefits can provide the necessary stimulus to enrich the debate.

References

  1. Asia Economics Analyst (2007) Issue no: 07/13, 6 July 2007, Goldman Sachs Economic ResearchGoogle Scholar
  2. PricewaterhouseCoopers UK Economic Outlook November (2009) Available via: https://www.ukmediacentre.pwc.com/imagelibrary/downloadMedia.ashx?MediaDetailsID=1562. Cited Jan 2012

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ICLEI – Local Governments for SustainabilityBonnGermany

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