Urban societies can adapt to resource shortage and climate change

News, 26 May 2011

Cities can break the link between high living standards and significant contributions to climate change, using many technologies and policies that are already available if not widely used.

So says a paper published this month in the peer-reviewed journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A by Dr David Satterthwaite, senior fellow in IIED's Human Settlements Group.

The paper urges policymakers to seize the potential for cities to reduce waste, pollution and resource use whilst increasing the quality of life of their inhabitants.

It reviews evidence from studies of urban centres across the world — in both developed and developing countries — to show how such settlements can raise living standards and resilience to climate change without necessarily increasing their emissions of greenhouse gases.

"Most people assume that cities are centres of high consumption and waste generation — and so are also drivers of climate change," says Satterthwaite. "But this is not the case for many cities."

The paper shows that as low and middle income countries develop the growth of their cities need not come at a high environmental cost — while in high-income countries it will be possible to greatly reduce carbon emissions without sacrificing living standards or economic opportunities.

"Most cities have tremendous potential to delink high living standards from high resource use and greenhouse gas emissions," adds Satterthwaite. "This needs to be understood and acted on if dangerous climate change is to be avoided."

Read the full paper

Reference: Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 13 May 2011 vol. 369 no. 1942 1762-1783

Contact

To interview Dr Satterthwaite, email david@iied.org or telephone + 44 (0) 207 388 2117

Notes to editors

The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) is an independent, non-profit research institute. Set up in 1971 and based in London, IIED provides expertise and leadership in researching and achieving sustainable development (see: www.iied.org).

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