Green Urban Economy
Cities as Drivers of a Green Economy
More than half of the world’s population already lives in cities and the trend is rising. Cities must reorganise themselves if they are to go on meeting basic requirements for accommodation and jobs, commodities and services, and the handling of waste disposal and traffic. A green urban economy offers possible solutions to these challenges and is more topical than ever in connection with the Rio+20 Sustainable Development Summit.
Cities are both economic powerhouses and ecological problem zones. 80% of global gross domestic product is generated in urban areas. At the same time, cities are responsible for over 75% of all CO2 emissions. This makes cities key players in setting national economies on the path towards low-carbon yet socially compatible development, the so-called green economy transformation. How can this global transformation be shaped at local (urban) level? What challenges and opportunities does it offer for public, private and civil society actors in urban centres? What are the features of a green urban economy and which criteria does it have to meet?
Finding solutions together
Some 25 international experts from the fields of sustainable urban development, academia, business and politics, representatives from international institutions and municipal practitioners met in Bonn on 11 and 12 May 2012 to discuss these and other issues. They came at the invitation of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the City of Bonn in connection with its initiative Bonn Perspectives: A Fresh Look at Sustainability. The event was coorganised by ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability.
The experts started by discussing the vision of a green urban economy. According to ICLEI President David Cadman, a green urban economy clearly builds on Agenda 21, but is much more pressing in the current environment. “Sustainable development has to be swiftly implemented because urbanisation is progressing at such lightning speed. The future is clear: we cannot survive on this planet if we do not change our ways,” Cadman says.
Secondly, participants discussed three relevant action areas: green jobs and poverty eradication, financing and green investments, effective governance and institutions. The discussions were enriched by keynote speeches from global urban practitioners. By switching levels, it was possible to make conceptual progress while voicing concrete recommendations for action that are currently being summarised in the form of 10 messages. These are to be presented during the Rio+20 process and can be actively promoted by all participants.
Urban best practices lend a face to the green urban economy
A series of innovative best practices show that many solutions already exist for transformation towards a green urban economy. Robert Kehew, who is responsible for urban planning at UN Habitat, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, is convinced that urban sustainability and poverty reduction can be combined, and cites the example of Curitiba in southern Brazil. In this city, which has for many years been considered a model for sustainable municipal development, there is a programme called Food for garbage. People in poor parts of the city separate their waste and deliver recyclable waste to the municipal collection point. They receive one kilogram of locally produced food for four kilos of recycling waste. “This programme is ideal because it costs the city very little and encourages people to separate waste and protect the environment at the same time,” says Kehew.
The city of Hanover also proves that urban efforts to be sustainable and work towards a green urban economy actually pay off. The network of cycle paths and local public transport there has been significantly expanded in recent years. Many new green spaces have been created within the city, and the Directorate of Environmental Affairs and the Directorate of Economic Affairs have been combined. ‘We have noticed that environmental protection and economics are not opposites, and that sustainability is in fact a crucial economic factor,’ says Hans Mönninghoff, Deputy Chief Executive and Head of the Directorate of Economic and Environmental Affairs. Tourism in Hanover has gone up by more than 30%, and the relocation rate of companies and their staff is among the lowest of any German city. “Families stay here because they enjoy the high quality of life that Hanover has to offer,” says Mönninghoff.