Unleashing Innovation for One-planet Cities
To comply with the 2°C target of the Paris Agreement, humanity needs to stop using fossil fuel well before 2050. Not to comply leads to other sets of challenges, possibly even more taxing and trying than exiting the fossil fuel economy. All this is playing out in the context of a world population expected to reach 10 billion people by 2050.
Yes, our planet is finite. But our ability to look ahead and innovate is not. Possibilities and opportunities to succeed are indeed infinite, and will continue to be, if we embrace physical reality and make sure humanity’s resource dependence can be met by our planet.
Cities are crucial for this transformation. Indeed, the battle for sustainability will be won or lost in cities. In 2050 they will house 70-80% of the world population, meaning that city populations will most likely double from now to then. This confronts cities who want to be resilient and successful with a resource challenge: they need to find ways to operate and provide for thriving lives within the average budget of nature. Given the size of the planet, this resource budget boils down to about 1 global hectare per person by 2050. This 1 global hectare per person resource budget needs to provide everything: food, energy, urban space, waste assimilation, and all other amenities nature provides us with.
Cities have huge levers: they plan for land-use, transportation and utility infrastructure, and guide housing development. All those infrastructure pieces dictate the resource dependence of a city. Since infrastructure has long lifespans, foresight is crucial for adapting cities to future needs. Vice versa, delaying response and continuing to promote resource-inefficient infrastructure turns into large, lasting, and potentially devastating liabilities.
What are key opportunities to guide this vast and fast transformation of our cities? What are the priorities? What does urban science education have to deliver to prepare tomorrow’s urban professionals?
Mathis Wackernagel is co-creator of the Ecological Footprint and CEO of Global Footprint Network. He completed a Ph.D. in community and regional planning with Professor William Rees at the University of British Columbia, where his doctoral dissertation developed the Ecological Footprint concept. Mathis also earned a mechanical engineering degree from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.
Mathis has worked on sustainability with governments, corporations and international NGOs on six continents and has lectured at more than a hundred universities. He previously served as director of the Sustainability Program at Redefining Progress in Oakland, California, and ran the Centro de Estudios para la Sustentabilidad at Anáhuac University in Xalapa, Mexico.