Since 1976, the UN has recognized the ecological difficulties that ever-growing urbanization places on the environment, and indeed, on the inhabitants of cities. People continue to move to urban areas in the hope of improving their economic situation. The evidence shows that relocation can work in their favor, but it can also result in extreme poverty and increased vulnerability to disease and natural disasters.
With this in mind, the UN World Cities Report has identified the sustainability of cities as a priority, and in so doing, the interface between human communities and the environment cannot be ignored.
Ecological Difficulties: Four Primary Areas of Concern Identified
With an increase in the incidence and intensity of natural disasters, it is impossible to ignore the fact that their effect on impoverished urbanites is disproportionately high. Basics like access to clean water must be provided – but this will come at a price that may include biodiversity loss. The balance between human well-being and an environment that is able to sustain it will call for far-sighted measures.
1. Equal access to resources and public services
Superficially, this may seem like an “easy” goal, but with increasing demand for limited resources, the poor are often left behind. Extending resource bases and services has a direct impact on the environment. For example, a growing world population places increasing pressure on fresh water resources. To achieve sustainability, city planners must carefully gauge the impact of their decisions on both current and future generations while reducing the vulnerability of the urban poor.
2. Managing environmental hazards
In a changing climate, environmental hazards may be difficult to identify, but urban planners must make provision for worst-case scenarios. The Refugee Studies Center warns that large-scale environment-linked migration and displacement are distinct possibilities. To protect citizens, cities may need to move residents of high-risk areas to safer ground, with the provision of adequate sanitation being among the priorities to be considered.
3. Recognizing the impact of environmental change on cities
Urban sprawl is among the greatest threats to biodiversity in the world today. But it’s not only the natural environment that ultimately suffers. Cities cannot be viewed in isolation. For example, deforestation destroys the “green lungs” that keep the air clean, eliminating the ameliorative effect such areas have on global warming and exacerbating ecological difficulties in the longer-term.
4. A new look at resource consumption
With global warming directly attributable to our use of carbon-based fuels, cities face the task of ameliorating their contribution to the problem. This will imply strategies such as a move towards renewable energy sources; tighter regulation of emissions from industries; and carbon-fixing initiatives such as urban greening programs.
UN Identifies 10 Strategic Areas for Sustainable Cities
Ecological difficulties for cities are nothing new, but the need to address them becomes all the more pressing with each passing year. The UN suggests the following strategic areas that cities must address in order to create sustainable human environments.
Social justice, wise resource use, and the amelioration of environmental impacts in consideration of cultural issues will all contribute to greater urban sustainability. The ecological difficulties of cities must be addressed since their impact on the well-being of humanity has become undeniable.
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