Researches done by various organisations and institutes world over estimate that by 2050 more people will live in cities than in villages. It is estimated that 2.5 billion more people are going to migrate to cities in next three decades. Most importantly, most of this transition will take place in India, China and Nigeria. For example, India will add 40 crore more people to its cities in next three decades. While smarter ones will convert this into an opportunity, others will struggle to cope with problems arising from the migration. One of the main reasons for problems getting exacerbated is because of lack of vision which ultimately leads to inefficient planning.
Increase in urban population, especially in India, will put additional burden on stretched infrastructure facilities and unless we follow up our master plans with firm actions, we will see half the population living in slums in the cities. Providing basic services to the population will become a problem and chaos may become a norm.
Migration of such a large population and consequent need to create required facilities for the additional population also means that there will be substantial increase in the consumption of materials. In fact, material consumption will be much more than the human addition to the cities.
Unless we find a new approach to urbanisation, consumption of material will grow phenomenally. Cities account for about 60 percent of total global ‘domestic material consumption’ of raw materials (including sand, gravel, iron ore, coal and wood). According to estimates made by the researchers material consumption by the world’s cities will grow from 40 billion tonnes in 2010 to about 90 billion tonnes by 2050. Cities use billions of tonnes of raw materials, from fossil fuels, sand, gravel and iron ore, to biotic resources such as wood and food in construction and operation and to support life styles. There is every reason for us to be nervous as the high demand for such raw materials far exceeds what the planet can sustainably provide. Scarcity of sand is already being felt in almost all the states in India and as the years go by many more such materials will be added to the list of scarce materials.
Therefore, resource efficiency should also be on the agenda along with other goals like low-emission and resilient housing, infrastructure and basic services. So, the strategy should be resource-efficient urbanization. We need to shift the expected urbanization onto a more environmentally sustainable and socially just path. The decisions we take on urbanisation and land use model today and also the investments we make on creating infrastructures should be future-proof and should not lock us into an unsustainable path.
Unfortunately, till now we have not yet realised the extent of problem that inefficient material use can pose in future. Such resource ignorance can be costly and our policymakers, at the city, regional and national level, need to monitor key resource indicators to get a better understanding of the current flows of resources on which both economic development and human well-being depend. In order to carry out an assessment of current and future resource dependencies, it is of paramount importance to get data on resource use in order and to monitor it regularly.
So, there is an urgent need to promote a transition from resource-intensive and polluting cities towards alternatives that manage resources more carefully for the benefit of all citizens. In other words, we need to integrate the urban metabolism into a wider understanding of which resources are being used where, by whom, and for what purpose if we want to connect the increase in resource efficiency to the overall goal of environmentally sustainable and socially just cities. We need to rethink on our urban development strategies and aggressively deploy resource-efficient technologies. There should be enhanced sharing of good examples and investing in the innovation and governance capacity of cities.
In short, we need to develop the low-carbon, resource-efficient and socially just cities which in turn calls for proper urban planning, investment in resource efficient infrastructure technologies and entrepreneurial governance. We should have a fundamentally new approach to the way we design cities, so that people live in functionally and socially mixed neighbourhoods with better mobility options, including public transport, walking and cycling. They should have more energy efficient heating, cooling and lighting and more resource efficient components, such as vehicles, infrastructure, buildings and factories. All of which should be complemented by changing habits from consumers and producers of good and services, including better waste management or recycling.
Thus, impending material scarcity calls for a new strategy for 21st Century urbanization, a strategy that allows us to understand its implications, the resources being used and how different tools and interconnected interventions can help cities to better manage their resources. Developing resource-efficient cities will not only save resources but lower GHG emissions and contribute to healthier cities.