‘The Urban Species’: UN warns of “a deadly collision between climate change and urbanization”


"As a species we have lived in wild nature for hundreds of thousands of years, and now suddenly most of us live in cities—the ultimate escape from nature. If we do not learn to build, expand and design our cities with a respect for nature, we will have no nature left anywhere.”

Peter Kareiva, Conservancy chief scientist

According to the United Nations, humans officially became an urban species in 2007 when a milestone was reached. Over half of the world’s population now live in cities. By 2030, 60 percent of the world’s citizens, including nearly 2 billion from rural migration, will be living in cities. As industrialized nations and urban living demand more water, natural resources and energy, the world's cities are set to become the battleground in the global effort to curb climate change, the UN has warned. The report  by UN-Habitat said that the world's cities were responsible for about 70% of emissions, yet only occupied 2% of the planet's land cover.

The UN-Habitat authors warned of a "deadly collision between climate change and urbanization" if no action was taken. The Global Report on Human Settlements 2011, Cities and Climate Change, said its goal was to improve knowledge of how cities contribute to climate change, and what adaptation measures are available.

According to UN data, an estimated 59% of the world's population will be living in urban areas by 2030. The number of people who live in cities and town grows by 67 million each year — 91% of this figure is being added to urban populations in developing countries.

Every week humans create the equivalent of a city the size of Vancouver. In 2007, Earth's 6.8 billion humans were living 50 percent beyond the planet's threshold of sustainability.

Even with modest UN projections for population growth, consumption and climate change, by 2030 humanity will need the capacity of two Earths to absorb CO2 waste and keep up with natural resource consumption.

If everyone used resources at the same rate per capita as the United States or the United Arab Emirates, four and a half planets would be needed, it said, highlighting the gap in "ecological footprint" between rich and poor.

Cities are growing, and they’re growing fast. It is projected that urban growth will create an additional 350,000 square miles of cities — roads, buildings and parking lots, covering a combined area the size of Texas, by 2030. Every week humans create the equivalent of a city the size of Vancouver. What will this staggering growth mean for both nature and people?

"We are seeing how urbanisation is growing — we have passed the threshold of 50% (of the world's population living in urban areas," Jean Clos, executive director of UN-Habitat told BBC News. "There are no signs that we are going to diminish this path of growth, and we know that with urbanization, energy consumption is higher.

The main reasons why urban areas were energy intensive, the UN report observed, was a result of increased transport use, heating and cooling homes and offices, as well as economic activity to generate income.

Cities-with-climate-migrants_1 The report added that as well as cities' contribution to climate change, towns and cities around the globe were also vulnerable to the potential consequences, such as: Increase in the frequency of warm spells/heat waves over most land areas; Greater number of heavy downpours; Growing number of areas affected by drought; Increase in the incidence of extremely high sea levels in some parts of the world.

The authors also said that as well as the physical risks posed by future climate change, some urban areas would face difficulties providing basic services.

"These changes will affect water supply, physical infrastructure, transport, ecosystem goods and services, energy provision and industrial production," they wrote. "Local economies will be disrupted and populations will be stripped of their assets and livelihoods."

A recent assessment highlighted a number of regions where urban areas were at risk from climate-related hazards, such as droughts, landslides, cyclones and flooding, including sub-Saharan Africa, South and South East Asia, southern Europe, the east coast of South America and the west coast of the US. Southern Africa is considered to be one of the areas at most risk from the impacts of climate change.

"The atmosphere is a common good, which we all depend upon — every emission is an addition to the problem," Clos explained. "Consumption is carried out at an individual level; energy consumption is also an individual choice. This is why local governments and communities can play a big role, even when their national governments do not accept or acknowledge the challenges."

The Daily Galaxy via BBC News and nature.com

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