Urbanisation: an economic and societal challenge, a climate opportunity

Every week, the world’s urban population grows by 1.5 million people. But if urbanisation constrains the development of infrastructure, it also becomes an opportunity in the fight against global warming, with 70% of carbon emissions generated by cities. As long as we review our planning models.

Let’s start with a few figures: according to the World Urbanisation Prospects, 55.3% of the world’s population lives in urban agglomerations and generates 70% of carbon emissions. In 2030, 60% of the world’s population will be concentrated in urban areas and one in three people will live in cities of at least half a million inhabitants, i.e. cities like Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Lisbon, Turin, Algiers. By 2050, more than two-thirds of the population will live in urban centres.

Demographic and economic development at the heart of this trend

This trend is mainly explained by two factors: on the one hand, population growth, of around 1% (on a decreasing trend), which mechanically impacts the development of the urban population; on the other hand, economic development, which progresses to varying degrees depending on the region.

Cities are engines of the global economy. According to the ‘new climate economy report’, they generated 85% of the global GDP in 2015. Urban centres, thanks to their density and economy of scale, are more productive because they attract businesses and talent, and facilitate the flow of knowledge and ideas. Urbanisation is therefore a means of enrichment for states. Investing in the development of cities allows to reap ‘dividends’ in terms of job creation, increased productivity, reduced infrastructure costs and environmental impact.

Urbanisation and its environmental challenge

These numbers, like all big numbers, are difficult to grasp and interpret. But in any case: they show that the undeniable weight of metropolises will place them at the heart of the fight against global warming. The application of specific solutions in cities can boost the ambitions and results of the signatory states of the Paris Agreement and the implementation of the UN’s 2030 agenda for sustainable development.On the sidelines of the COP21, several hundred local elected officials from around the world have also signed the Paris City Hall Declaration committing them to move towards 100% renewable energies and an 80% reduction of carbon emissions of cities by 2050.Today, in many cities, initiatives are abundant. They are implemented quicker and often go further than national policies, because it is also easier to mobilise stakeholders at the local level than to deploy large action plans.

Rethinking urbanisation to contain global warming

BG supports cities to meet the challenges of urbanisation and climate change. The need for adaptation and resilience requires political commitment, behavioural changes and citizen involvement. It also requires from the engineers a careful consideration on how to represent the city and its infrastructures for the benefit of the inhabitants in a holistic way.

This holistic representation of the city is based on strong skills in infrastructure, mobility, buildings and environmental management, in particular water treatment, and energy, produced and consumed. It is also based on the growing use of data in infrastructure management, facilitated by the emergence of digital technologies, another major trend of this century.

BG has developed “Smart City”, a methodology to handle this integrative approach which has already been tested in several cities in France and Switzerland. Participatory approaches are also integrated, which offer an increased space for the citizens inside the processes of ideas and solutions generation. BG supports municipalities in their digital and climatic transitions, by seeking to capitalise on what already exists and develop new services, in order to limit the use of energy resources, while guaranteeing residents a pleasant living environment and offering additional services.

Moreover, these integrative approaches complement a multitude of individual projects, which also meet our core business, such as the construction of district heating networks, the installation of decentralised renewable energy production facilities and hydrogen storage solutions, the deployment of mobility or water management plans, or projects aimed at improving energy efficiency, for example in wastewater treatment plants. All of these projects have their role to play in the fight against global warming.

Ultimately, the best of both worlds

The urbanisation that we are witnessing involves rethinking our lifestyles and therefore our way of planning and managing urban infrastructure, taking advantage of economies of scale. This paradigm shift places global warming and its inevitable effects at the heart of the projects we carry out for our clients. BG anticipates and therefore adapts to the main trends in our society: by daring to confront proven methods and digital technologies, we offer the best of both worlds to face the challenges of urbanisation and climate protection.

Anne-Claire Pliska

Director of Strategic Planning and Innovation, BG group

Two key dates

2015 remains a pivotal year in the fight against global warming:

  • In September, the ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ were signed by the member countries of the UN and for the first time combine actions against poverty and climate change.
  • In December, the Paris Agreement marked a turning point in the fight against global warming since it commits, through binding targets, all countries of the world to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and keep global warming below 2°C from now until 2100.
PICTURES: ©Vu & Jacek Dylag
(Article taken from BG Magazine 2021, updated version on the site)