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Cities Strive to Tackle Bad Environmental Habits

Jun 20 2012 (IPS) - UNITED NATIONS, June 20 — Cities have large stakes in the environmental degradation and resource exhaustion stretching the planet to breaking point, but inspiring new initiatives point the way towards escaping the downward spiral.


Up to 80 percent of the world population is expected to reside in cities by 2050, further intensifying the environmental impact of urban areas, which currently produce 50 percent of all waste, 60-80 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, and consume 75 percent of natural resources.

 The Global Initiative for Resource-Efficient Cities, launched by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) Monday at the Rio+20 summit, seeks to work with local and national governments, the private sector and civil society groups on issues of energy, water and waste in urban areas.

 The initiative’s accompanying report, “Sustainable Resource Efficient Cities. Making it Happen” illustrates how changing city habits through innovative sustainability initiatives can generate widespread planet-preserving benefits.

 Diverse initiatives sprouting up across the US echo the ethos of the report, from the burgeoning of green rooftops in Toronto, Chicago and New York, to electricity generating gym equipment, and the use of human-sized hamster wheels to power DJ sets.

 By capturing the rainfall produced by storms, green roofs can help mitigate the current cost of the giant-sized US water footprint, currently stood at 2,798 cubic metres per person per year— double the world’s average.

 Under the direction of Mayor Richard Daley the city of Chicago put a 38,800 square foot green roof on a 12 story skyscraper in 2000. Twelve years later, that building now saves 5000 dollars annually on utility bills.

 Toronto has since followed suit and is the first city to mandate green roofs through a by-law, which will require all residential, commercial and institutional buildings over 2,000 square meters to have between 20 and 60 percent living roofs.

 These initiatives go some way towards greening urban areas, but innovation is just one of UNEP’s factors for success in creating resource efficient cities.

 Other factors range from ‘smart urban design’ geared towards low-footprint public transport, pedestrian zones and cycle lanes and ‘finance’ aimed at supporting tax incentives and subsidies that will stimulate the up-take of green technologies.

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