The Report of the United Nations Secretary-General High Level Panel on Global Sustainability recommends guidelines for a long-term vision on global sustainability. Urban areas play a central role in that vision. They are home to more than 50% of the world population; they generate more than 90% of the global GDP within their boundaries; approximately two-thirds of the world’s energy is consumed by cities; and urban areas generate 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Urbanization now drives global environmental change and presents challenges and opportunities for sustainability. At the same time, global environmental changes such a climate change and loss of ecosystem services present new challenges for urban sustainability. Urban areas concentrate and exemplify the environmental problems produced by conventional development strategies. Yet, at the same time urban areas are arenas of cultural change, and have an enormous impact on ideas, values, beliefs and social organization, economic growth, and social well-being, highlighted in the report as key factors to make growth inclusive and production and consumption more sustainable.
Urban areas concentrate and exemplify the environmental problems produced by conventional development strategies.
Hence, tackling urban sustainability challenges successfully requires an understanding of these systemic interactions and feedback loops through which natural resources, ecosystem services, commodities, services, money, people and ideas flow across space. Global environmental/climate change is increasing both the urgency and complexities of these challenges, requiring carefully targeted suites of complementary mitigation and adaptation actions appropriate to local contexts.
It is within this context that the Urbanization and Global Environmental Change Project (UGEC), a core project of the International Human Dimensions Program for Global Environmental Change (IHDP), has worked to expand our understanding of the growing importance of urban areas for global environmental change. The UGEC project has been leading the way towards a stronger collaboration between academics, decision-makers, and practitioners in order to capture the benefits of urbanization and develop ways to mitigate and adapt to global environmental change in the same direction suggested by the Report of the United Nations Secretary-General High Level Panel on Global Sustainability. Researchers and practitioners in the UGEC network are exploring themes within the framework of Global Environmental Change (GEC) science, focusing on the impacts of GEC on urban areas and the responses of urban areas to those impacts. UGEC is also connecting science to policy through capacity development, thus making urbanization and global environmental change research more policy-relevant. These efforts coincide with the principles outlined by the report and contribute towards a long-term process for global sustainability and development.