Cities and Sustainability: A New Agenda for Urban Living

December 2022

Sustainability has become a prominent theme in the 21st century, especially in light of rising urbanisation, which is putting more pressure on infrastructure and quality of life. The report analyses sustainability across seven key areas: water, waste, energy, mobility, built environment, urban governance and the circular economy. It concludes by explaining why sustainability is vital for businesses, governments and consumers, and how these stakeholders can better achieve a greener future.

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Key findings 

Rising urbanisation adds to sustainability challenges

Urbanisation is making cities more populous and denser, and this is expected to continue. Between 2022 and 2040, the world’s urban population is expected to increase by 29%, with growth largely occurring in emerging and developing markets. Cities will need to implement strategies that promote sustainable development, and urban planning schemes which mitigate environmental damage.

Cities are major contributors to CO2 emissions

According to the World Bank, cities account for 70% of global CO2 emissions, due to traffic congestion, high energy consumption, waste production and economic activities. Implementing stricter regulations on fossil fuel use, while simultaneously promoting and subsidising low-emission fuels and renewable energy sources, can put cities on a path to net zero emissions.

Seven areas of urban sustainability for cities

Seven areas of urban sustainability have been identified: water, waste, energy, built environment, mobility, urban governance and the circular economy. Cities should seek to promote all seven themes of sustainability to enhance their path towards sustainability and achieving net zero emissions. However, emerging and developing cities face greater challenges, due to inadequate public finances.

Net zero strategies can be economically effective

Following a path to sustainability can bring economic benefits for businesses and governments, while simultaneously making cities more liveable and productive for their residents. With consumers becoming more climate-conscious, businesses need to ensure that their products and services align with the values and beliefs of city dwellers.

Scope
Key findings
Cities are a starting point for sustainable solutions
Large-scale urbanisation leads to environmental degradation and a decrease in quality of life
The increasing density of urban areas leads to inefficient and gridlocked mobility
Urban migration increases the risk of economic and social inequality
High air pollution due to unsustainable practices reduces the economic potential of cities
Sustainability goals need to be directed at seven main areas
Water: Climate change increases risks of floods, droughts and poor sanitation
Water case study: Lisbon ensures water supply with a recycled water programme
Waste: Zero-waste strategies help to reduce air and underwater pollution
Waste case study: Milan’s Urban Food Policy Pact aims to decrease food waste
Energy: Sustainable energy requires renewable sources, smart distribution and consumption
Energy case study: Cape Town shifts towards decentralised and renewable energy
Built environment: Green architecture and public spaces contribute to quality of life
Built environment case study: Bahnstadt district helps to cut gas emissions
Built environment c ase study: Singapore builds its first sustainable “forest town”, Tengah
Mobility: Sustainable mobility solutions are being promoted for consumers and businesses
Mobility case study: Making commercial transport sustainable in Berlin
Urban governance: Keeping the balance between interests of different social groups
Urban governance case study: Helsinki engages citizens in municipal decision-making
Circular economy: Circularity as a key part of sustainable urban development
Circular economy case study: Amsterdam’s City Doughnut concept aims at circularity
The cost of inaction is far greater than the cost of action
The main beneficiaries of sustainability
Governments gain better population health, increasing retailing taxes and investments
Brands can benefit by aligning products with climate-conscious consumption
Businesses invest in green technologies to improve brand reputation
Challenges on the way to sustainable urban development
Sustainable urban development against climate change and inequalities
Urban residents improve their life quality due to the sustainable development of their cities
City of the future: Underpinned by sustainability
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