Cities As Sustainable Ecosystems (CASE)
Cities are pollution sources and sinks, and people
living in them utilize resources and generate waste. Cities also import resources
and export pollutants, although these activities have limits. Cities themselves
have limited carrying capacities. The infrastructure of a city influences its
carrying capacity. If the infrastructure of a city is eroded, it becomes increasingly
difficult, if not impossible, to achieve sustainable environmental objectives.
Ideally, a sustainable city must have adequate
infrastructure and flexibility to support the needs of its population, particularly
its poorest citizens, as well as those of the ecosystem as a whole. Sustainable
cities should not use resources faster than they can be replenished or substituted
for, nor generate pollution faster than it can be assimilated. Rather than devouring
water, food, energy, and processed goods, and discharging the remains as pollutants,
cities should align their consumption with realistic needs, produce more of their
own food and energy, and put much more of their waste to use.
Without new urban environmental management methods
and approaches, there is a danger that past problems of environmental degradation
and ecological impoverishment will continue. Given that these environmental problems
have arisen primarily because of inappropriate management and a lack of understanding
of the impact of management practices upon the environment, it is essential for
new management methods to be researched, developed and implemented. Unless cities
change their management practices, the resources they expend on protecting the
environment will be wasted.
CASE: IETC Related Activities
Basic research and development in CASE is necessary to provide the objective understanding
and support required for the integration of environmental considerations throughout
the economy of the city. It is also a necessary prerequisite for the development
and implementation of economically and environmentally efficient regulatory structures,
currently a critical policy deficiency. Related activities include:
- Planning and implementing a series of studies to understand
and model stocks, flows, and logistics of material movements throughout city for
all major materials, including both renewables and non-renewables, and wastes.
Environmental impacts and human/ecosystem exposure data could be mapped onto these
models, providing the basis for developing environmentally preferable processes,
and helping the urban and civil sectors and labour markets adjust to an environmentally
preferable world. Such knowledge is also critical to support the development of
valid, efficient, risk- based environmental regulations. Indeed, it is difficult
to see how environmental regulation can be effective in the long term without
such data and models.
- Developing an integrated approach using Environmental Risk
Assessment (EnRA) and Environmental Technology Assessment (EnTA) models of energy
production and use, water usage and conservation, waste production and disposal,
and transportation systems. These models can be linked where feasible to technology,
demographic and other systems, with risk assessment and technology option overlays.
As above, this will facilitate the identification of optimal national and local
strategies and programmes to produce environmentally and economically preferable
(and, hopefully, eventually sustainable) energy, water, waste, transportation,
and other EST systems.
- Developing integrated models of urban communities, including
small relatively self-contained cities, larger cities with surrounding suburbs,
and large megalopolises with decayed centres and most business activity decentralized
throughout the suburbs. Such models would include transportation, physical infrastructure,
food, energy and other systems. This would facilitate identification of major
sources of environmental impacts; patterns of activities, which give, rise to
them, and potential environmentally preferable EST or mitigation options.
- Developing integrated models of specific urban sectors of
particular economic, environmental, or cultural importance - including, for example,
agriculture, forestry, waste and water management - which could then be used to
understand how they might be affected by an increasingly environmentally sensitive
world. Such an approach could be particularly important in mitigating potential
economic and employment shocks of discontinuous environmental, and/or related
economic and regulatory, changes, and in supporting the continuous improvement
in quality of life while reducing attendant environmental impacts.
One of the hypotheses of CASE is that rapid evolution
of environmentally sound technological (EST) systems is a prerequisite for improvement
of quality-of-life in an environmentally sensitive world. The fundamentals of
technological evolution and diffusion throughout the economy are, however, poorly
understood. Even less is known about the optimum, or maximum, rates of technological
evolution, the associated economic and labour costs and benefits (and how they
could be optimized), and how such variables differ by class of EST. (For example,
it is apparent that moving to a solar-hydrogen based energy economy will be significantly
more difficult, and a far more lengthy process, than substituting for CFC-based
cleaning systems in electronics manufacture.) The CASE approach to such issues
may well produce valuable insights into:
- Investigating the interdependency of legal, economic, cultural,
scientific and technological activities and policies as they affect environmental
protection and the evolution of EST systems.
- Different regulatory tools and approaches in terms of how
cities and citizens behave.
- Developing efficient public environmental management structures
that support the adoption of appropriate EST systems.
CASE can provide information which can assist
in the prioritization and reordering of environmental values, both among themselves
(e.g., is ecotoxicity, human carcinogenicity, or global climate change more important?)
and in the broader context of other social values (e.g., employment, private property
rights). While it is doubtful that an unambiguous, uncontentious prioritization
of values is possible, some broader consensus is necessary to provide support
for further progress. How, for example, can an urban planner be expected to design
a "green" residential area when what is environmentally preferable cannot
be made clear? This is not a trivial task. It requires the development of comprehensive
environmental risk assessment (EnRA) methodologies, which evaluate and balance
risks and possible benefits on a systems-wide basis.
Clearly, cities are able to develop on their own the overarching legal, regulatory
and economic incentive structures, which will be necessary to support the integration
of environment into all urban activity. They are also able to restructure existing
regulatory systems - including environmental and other related regulatory regimes
as consumer protection and government procurement - so that they avoid unnecessary
interference with the achievement of environmental quality while still meeting
their original objectives. Similarly, in a world where environmental perturbations
are not restricted to political boundaries, it is obvious that the CASE programme,
and others like it around the world, must be linked together in a collaborative
international network. Existing international organizations, both quasi-governmental
and private, must assume increased responsibility in this area and proactively
support the integration of science, technology and environment in all urban activities.
IETC is actively pursuing development of CASE is currently commencing activities
with various partner organizations in this important area.
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