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Cities


Resource Implications of Future Urbanization – A City-Region Perspective

The IRP published its first report on City-Level Decoupling: Urban Resource Flows and Governance Transitions in 2013. The report analyzed the role of cities as spatial nodes where the major resource flows connect as goods, services and wastes, and how infrastructure directs material flows and therefore resource use, productivity and efficiency in an urban context. It made the case for examining cities from a material flow perspective, while also placing the city within the broader system of flows that make it possible for it to function.

While this first report framed many of the issues related to resource flows within cities, the Panel will now deepen its work on the topic with the assessment: Resource Implications of Future Urbanization – A City-Region Perspective. It is estimated that 60% of urban infrastructure required by 2050 is yet to be built, and there have been numerous projections of urbanisation trends over the next decades. However, none have considered what the implications are in terms of resources. Building upon existing these projections for urbanisation trends and material flow analysis (MFA) for diverse cities, the IRP will set out to calculate the resource implications of future cities, in terms of new urbanisation, but also retrofitting of existing infrastructures.

This ambitious study will examine urban regions, rather than cities in the narrower sense (since the flow of resources into and out from cities is mainly in relation with their hinterlands or external areas), and will examine both residential and economic activities and requirements. It will address different types of cities by density, trade (net producing cities versus highly consuming cities), and address areas within cities by socio-economic status. It will focus on seven key infrastructure provisions: water, energy, transportation, building materials, sanitation, food supply, and public spaces.

City-level Decoupling: Urban Resource Flows and the Governance of Infrastructure Transitions (2013)

Full report ENGLISH

Annex Case Studies ENGLISH

 

Summary Report ENGLISH | JAPANESE

 

Factsheet ENGLISH | JAPANESE

Building upon previous work of the International Resource Panel on Decoupling Natural Resource Use and Environmental Impacts from Economic Growth, this report examines the potential for decoupling at the city level. While the majority of the world’s population now live in cities and cities are where most resource consumption takes place, both the pressures and potentials to find ways to reconcile economic growth, wellbeing and the sustainable use of natural resources will therefore be greatest in cities. 

Analysing the role of cities as spatial nodes where the major resource flows connect as goods, services and wastes, the report ‘s focus is how infrastructure directs material flows and therefore resource use, productivity and efficiency in an urban context. It makes the case for examining cities from a material flow perspective, while also placing the city within the broader system of flows that make it possible for it to function. 

The report also highlights the way that the design, construction and operation of energy, waste, water, sanitation and transport infrastructures create a socio-technical environment that shapes the “way of life” of citizens and how they procure, use and dispose of the resources they require. Its approach is innovative in that it frames infrastructure networks as socio-technical systems, examining pressures for change within cities that go beyond technical considerations.  The importance of intermediaries as the dominant agents for change is emphasized, as well as the fact that social processes and dynamics need to be understood and integrated into any assessment of urban infrastructure interventions and the reconfiguration of resource flows. 

A set of 30 case studies provide examples of innovative approaches to sustainable infrastructure change across a broad range of urban contexts that could inspire leaders of other cities to embrace similar creative solutions. Of course, innovations in and of themselves do not suffice if they are not integrated into larger strategic visions for the city, and as each city is unique, interventions need to be tailored to the set of challenges and opportunities present in each case.

Reports & Publications

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  • Options for Decoupling Economic Growth from Water Use and Water Pollution

    Global trends point to a relative decoupling of water – that is, the rate of water resource use is increasing at a rate slower than that of economic growth. The Options for Decoupling Economic Growth from...


  • Green energy choices: The benefits, risks and trade-offs of low-carbon technologies for electricity production

    This report represents the first in-depth international comparative assessment of the environmental, health and resource impacts of different low-carbon technologies for electricity production… ...


  • International Trade in Resources: A Biophysical Assessment                                                                                                                          

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  • Assessing Global Land Use: Balancing Consumption with Sustainable Supply

    This report explores how the management of land-based biomass production and consumption can be developed towards a higher degree of sustainability across different scales: from the sustainable...


  • Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production: Priority Products and Materials

    This report focuses not on the effects of environmental pressure, but on its causes. It describes pressures as resulting from economic activities. These activities are pursued for a purpose, ...


  • City Level Decoupling: Urban Resource Flows and the Governance of Infrastructure Transitions

    This report examines the potential for decoupling at the city level. While the majority of the worlds population now live in cities and cities are where most resource consumption takes place, ...


  • Measuring Water Use in a Green Economy
     

    Water is an essential resource for virtually all aspects of human enterprise, from agriculture via urbanization to energy and industrial production. Equally, the many uses for water create pressures...


  • Decoupling Natural Resources Use and Environmental Impacts from Economic Growth

    Humankind has witnessed phenomenal economic and social development in the past century. However, there are increasing signs that it has come at a cost to the environment and to the availability of ...


  • Towards Sustainable Production and Use of Resources: Assessing Biofuels

    This report provides an overview of the key problems and perspectives and use of biofuels. It is based on an extensive literature study, taking into account recent major reviews.


  • Building Natural Capital: How REDD+ can Support a Green Economy

    This report advocates placing REDD+ into a larger planning framework that should involve multiple influences (especially those driving deforestation, albeit sometimes inadvertently).


  • Decoupling 2: Technologies, Opportunities and Policy Options
     

    This report was produced by the Decoupling Working Group of the IRP. It explores technological possibilities and opportunities for both developing and developed countries to ...


  • Metal Stocks in Society: Scientific Synthesis
     

    The continued increase in the use of metals over the twentieth century has led to a substantial shift from geological resource base to metal stocks in society. This report reviews the relevant literature on this topic.


  • Recycling Rates of Metals: A Status Report
     

    In theory, metals can be used over and over again, minimizing the need to mine and process virgin materials and thus saving substantial amounts of energy and water while minimizing environmental ...


  • Environmental Risks and Challenges of Anthropogenic Metals Flows and Cycles

    This report focuses on the impact of metals on the environment as well as on their life cycle energy use. Currently primary metals production is responsible for 78 % of the total global energy use ...


  • Metal Recycling: Opportunities, Limits, Infrastructure
     

    A key question that relates to the very broad and intensive use of metals is whether society needs to be concerned about long-term supplies of any or many of them. This is a many-faceted question ...