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Megalopolises and Sustainability

This report is based on an Environment Institute seminar series that considered the key issues arising from the pursuit of sustainability for megalopolises - the mega-cities that are a feature of our urban landscape.

The report considered the increasing urbanisation of the world - by 2030 60% of the global population will live in cities.  By 2015 there will be 23 cities with a population of more than 10 million, some of which will take the complex form of megalopolises.   Examining the sustainability of these megalopolises – particularly in terms of the climate change agenda – is therefore highly pertinent.

The report discusses a number of key issues for megalopolises:

  • Energy use: In high consumption countries, there is an urgent need to change infrastructure so as to reduce the environmental burden of that consumption. There is scope, particularly at the urban scale, for innovation in infrastructure to deliver low carbon living.
  • Transport within megalopolises: Governmental involvement and subsidy is essential for delivering transport systems that are sustainable (although this need not always extend to public ownership and delivery).
  • Flooding and storm damage: Flooding – from inundation and sea-level rise – will increase and the largest cities are particularly vulnerable, often because of their coastal locations. The economic as well as social costs of flooding will be immense; it is the already vulnerable communities within cities that are most at risk of total loss.
  • Heat waves: By 2040 average summer temperatures in Europe are expected to be those experienced in the heat-wave of 2003 in which between 30,000 and 35,000 people died in Northern Europe, while heat-waves in 2040 will be twice as hot as those we experience now. Planning new urban development must be with this enhanced risk in mind.
  • Water security: Increased water scarcity is a common impact of climate change across many urban areas.  Arguments can be made for the value of citizen involvement in policy development and even in co-production schemes.
  • Disease and public health: The most significant public health issue is the availability of clean water and sanitation facilities to poorer urban communities.  The importance of community involvement and local innovation should not be under-estimated.
  • Modelling change. There is great potential in building models using the latest techniques to understand change in urban systems and then develop policy recommendations.  There remain questions over how far resources should be devoted to very fine-grained data collection and model-building in context where there is an urgent need to take policy steps to deliver sustainability.
  • Governance for sustainability. Considering the governance of major urban areas such as megalopolises throws up many dilemmas. The key issue ind elivering action for sustainability is the way that this goal intersects with different political interests and priorities and how these conflicts may inhibit collective action.
  • Urban culture and sustainability. If sustainability is to become part and parcel of the megalopolis then it has to have meaning within that urban culture and in terms of how people live within the urban area.  The prospect remains of a more progressive cultural engagement with sustainability.

Page last modified on 23 feb 11 16:32