Today, half the world’s population -3.5 billion people- now live in cities, according to the latest data published by the United Nations. Our cities are where the ideas, culture, science, economies and prosperity are generated to make humanity evolve. Yet at the same time our cities also generate problems, with changes affecting people, the earth and its resources, which need to be well managed so we can move towards a safer, smarter city model — one that is more efficient, more inclusive and more environmentally sustainable.
What are some of these changes? What challenges do the cities of the future face?
1. Population growth.
By 2030 more than 8.5 billion people are expected to be living in urban areas. If cities are to be able to absorb and adapt to this increase, they will gradually have to undergo changes change in every respect: technology, mobility, sustainable development, etc.
2. Climate change.
As the earth’s temperatures rise, so does the level of the seas, because of melting ice. Cities and buildings are the source of more than 30% of greenhouse-gas emissions, while more than 20% are related to people’s mobility. Today, we are evolving towards the development of clean energy from renewable sources.
3. Energy transition.
The discovery of fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) was a major revolution for humanity, but over time we have seen how these fuels sources have a highly negative impact, because they pollute the air and water and increase carbon emissions. Current trends are towards a change in our energy model, replacing fossil fuels with a new efficient model with renewable energy sources. This new route map will entail numerous innovations in the energy and technology sectors and also in RDI: transport, buildings, agriculture, industry, recycling, etc. Urban mobility based on efficient, sustainable energy sources, with low fossil-fuel consumption, is one of the major tends and greatest challenges for innovation.
4. Water shortage.
Today, more than 748 million people have no access to clean drinking water and 2.5 billion have no decent sanitation system. And these figures keep rising. Assuring access to enough high-quality water, protecting resources together with properly managing the waste generated, will require specialisation and investment.
5. Disruptive technology.
Technological transformation will mean that some products and services that have until now been common features of society will disappear. This change on a global scale will mean transforming the economy, new ways of working, ongoing education, the emergence of new products and services and, in short, a whole new way of life, as we strive to achieve a healthier, more sustainable environment.
6. Economic globalisation and outsorcing.
The economic structure has shifted towards a model based on the services sector, increasingly abandoning industrial manufacturing. The main reason for this transformation is attributed to families having more spending capacity, enabling them to consume more services (healthcare, insurance, tourism, etc.). This scenario means that new strategies must be sought.
7. Waste management.
Every year on average, European cities generate 481 kilograms of waste per inhabitant. Much of this waste is recycled or recovered in the form of energy or compost, although much of it is still sent to landfills. The growth of our cities means that waste management has a key role for the environment, because by optimising it we will be able to cut emissions by 15-20%.
8. Efficient infrastructure.
In order to be able to keep up with the forecast growth in the world’s population living in cities by 2030 will call for an annual investment of 3.3 billion dollars and more complex infrastructure for basic services and mobility.
Creating a more sustainable future means transforming cities towards a healthier, more sustainable model, and we can only do this if all of us -governments, businesses and the public- are actively involved.