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Sustainable Living Q1 2022

How greener cities can help protect economies from crises

iStock / Getty Images Plus / xmocb

Akanksha Khatri

Head, Nature Action Agenda, World Economic Forum

Cities are set to house 75% of the world’s population by 2050. However, urban living is putting pressure on the natural resources on which they depend, causing social and economic risk.

Cities are responsible for 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions and the insatiable urban metabolism is putting severe pressure on natural resources. What truly determines a higher quality of life such as healthy nutritious food, clean water and clear skies is a by-product of ecosystem services provided by nature.

Yet cities invest only 0.3% of their infrastructure spend on nature-based solutions. Environmental degradation exacerbates socio-economic inequality, with climate-induced rural-urban migration and higher prices for clean water and food. There is urgent need for action from local governments, ministers, businesses and communities to pivot away from current growth and consumption patterns towards nature-positive living.

Research shows that investing in nature and green infrastructure in cities can create more than 59 million jobs.

Investing in nature to address city challenges

Cities can provide a unique microcosm to address some of the world’s most pressing issues, including pandemic preparedness, the climate crisis and nature loss. Thankfully, solutions exist allowing cities to not only minimise these risks but turn them into opportunities securing a healthier and stable future.

Research shows that investing in nature and green infrastructure in cities can create more than 59 million jobs in cities worldwide generating over $1.5 trillion in business value by 2030. Examples of nature-based solutions include ‘rewilding’ cities and even creating micro-forests to ward off floods or heatwaves. Such natural infrastructure is 50% cheaper than man-made alternatives and delivers multiple benefits to the natural world. Cities can also promote more plant-based diets, improve energy efficiency in buildings, use natural water filtration and champion circular-economic models to positively reinforce, rather than an extractive relationship with nature.

New vision for urban development

Cities that harness nature favour health over pollution, and security over vulnerability. Singapore has been transformed into a City in Nature to achieve environmental and social resilience, while Cape Town prevented a water crisis by utilising natural infrastructure. Meanwhile, cities such as San Francisco and Toronto are legislating the use of green roofs, providing benefits to urban wildlife, air quality, food production and heatwaves.

Most urban development and lifestyles harm nature, but careful investment and planning can reverse this trend. Crucially, nature-positive cities are our best insurance policy against not only mitigating but also adapting to the climate crisis. We need to plan for the future we want to live in and nature must form a central part of this vision.

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