Green Urban Economy
The transition to a green economy is very knowledge intensive
Interview with Imme Scholz, Deputy Director of the German Development Institute (DIE-GDI) in Bonn
Ms Scholz, why are cities such important actors in achieving global sustainability?
Scholz: The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, which in turn make the greatest contribution to gross national product. That is why cities need to take action.
Do you think that the role of cities has received too little international attention to date?
Scholz: Well, there are networks of cities, such as the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group or ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability. But at international negotiations it is national governments who talk to each other. And that is why cities as such are not so high on their agenda. But cities are mentioned in the negotiating texts and no one doubts their importance.
What are the major challenges for cities seeking to transition to a green economy?
Scholz: That depends on the particular circumstances. If it is a city is on the east coast of China, it will have to deal with the threat of hurricanes. And apart from the natural environment, it will also depend on the structure of a city. What is the city’s economy based on? Is it a low density city or a city that is already very dense? And is a city’s density or growth proving to be an obstacle to developing sustainable infrastructure? I think the specific raft of actions needed is very different for each individual city. Nevertheless, there are areas where cities can learn from each other.
How can cities benefit from a green economy?
Scholz: Cities have the advantage that so many people live close together that it is easier to create innovation networks. People have access to universities and their knowledge because universities are located in cities. People in cities also tend to try things out. We have seen this happen again and again. For example, environmental movements often began in cities, not in the country.
One of the issues in international debates is the conflict between combating poverty and protecting the environment. Do you see any possibility of reconciling these two goals?
Scholz: Whenever you construe poverty reduction and sustainability as conflicting opposites, you have to also say why that is. The example often cited is removing fuel subsidies. It is poor households that suffer most as a result. But there is evidence that it is possible to phase out subsidies of that kind in a way that is socially acceptable. Any kind of change comes at a cost. If you first clearly identify that cost you can always find solutions that can better reconcile social and environmental goals. I do not believe this is an irreconcilable contradiction.
Bonn Perspectives is also working to bring different actors together. What do you think of that?
Scholz: I think that is a very good approach. And it was noticeable at this workshop that the representatives of cities do in fact take an integrated approach, because cities themselves are a kind of microcosm. The transition to a green economy is very knowledge intensive. And because of that it calls for very close collaboration with people responsible for educational policy and research funding. I think that collaboration could become much closer than it has been to date.
The interview was conducted by Monika Hoegen.
Photo: (C) Theresa Duck