Can Asia’s rapidly growing cities become more green and liveable ?

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Asia is leading the global urbanization boom and its rapidly growing cities offer exciting opportunities for sustainable development.

The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific estimates that about 120,000 people in Asia are migrating to cities every day.

Of the world’s 28 megacities — cities with populations over 10 million — 17 are found in Asia. By 2050, the proportion of people living in Asia’s cities is expected to rise to 63 percent, creating an urban population of 3.3 billion people. In China alone, McKinsey estimates that one billion people will live in urban areas by 2030.

Mention urbanization, and people are quick to list the potential downsides: pollution, overcrowding, unsafe construction and the rise of slums. The challenges of urbanization can be immense, especially when vast numbers of people move to cities within a short period of time.

However, the opportunities available to help build sustainable cities are numerous and the positive gains of doing so are compelling.

Urbanization is among the most powerful mechanisms we have to fight poverty because cities have a competitive advantage over rural areas when it comes to moving more people out of poverty — one of the World Bank’s twin goals, along with promoting shared prosperity.

According to the World Bank’s Urban Development Overview 2015, more than 80 percent of the world’s GDP is generated in cities. McKinsey calculates that 600 of the world’s fastest growing cities are set to generate more than 60 percent of global growth by 2025.

Cities not only contribute the most towards national growth, but have also been able to reduce poverty in great numbers. The Asian Development Bank found that between 1990 and 2008, the number of rural poor in East Asia Pacific fell 69 percent, from 734 million to 227 million while the number of urban poor dropped 73 percent, from 137 million to 37 million, despite a doubling of the urban population over the same period. Asia’s cities proved to be adaptable and resilient by absorbing huge numbers without the new arrivals sliding into urban poverty.

Urban dwellers benefit from proximity and economies of scale that cut their commuting time, which reduces energy demand for transport, encourages productivity and allows easier access to health and education services.

EDGE reduces the utilization of energy, water and materials by at least 20 percent each.

With reliable infrastructure, sustainable buildings and green supply chains, big cities attract talented workers with higher incomes and more private sector investment. In turn, this generates strong growth and better tools and platforms to help tackle poverty.

However, urban investments need to embrace sustainable practices. 66 million people in the developing world are migrating to urban areas per year and the World Bank expects the world’s urban population to reach 60 percent by 2030, rising to 70 percent by 2050.

To meet the huge demand developing for food and energy, expanding cities should invest in efficient and sustainable global supply chains that boost demand for food and goods from suppliers in poorer countries.

This supply chain expansion holds the potential to alleviate poverty in local rural areas as well as across borders.

The combination of this unprecedented move towards urbanization and the challenges we face from climate change triggered IFC to launch its Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiencies (EDGE) green buildings certification program in East Asia Pacific this summer, highlighted by the debut of EDGE in Indonesia on June 8.

EDGE is a free and simple-to-use software application to improve resource efficiency in new buildings.

A low-cost solution, EDGE reduces the utilization of energy, water and materials by at least 20 percent each, with a goal of mainstreaming sustainable urbanization while lowering the utility costs for those who live and work in buildings.

In cooperation with the Green Building Council Indonesia, IFC aims to award EDGE certification to 20 percent of new construction projects in targeted Indonesian cities, including 80,000 housing units.

This level of penetration will cut 1.2 million metric tons of greenhouse-gas emissions per year, avoid 500 megawatt-hours of energy use, and save almost US$200 million per year on utility costs by 2021.

Ciputra Residence, one of Indonesia’s top developers, is leading the way in the country and has already received its fourth EDGE certificate.

In Vietnam, where EDGE was also launched this month, the upside of green building development can already be seen. Nam Long Investment Corp., the developer of the Bridge View Apartment building in Ho Chi Minh City, says adopting EDGE added about 2 percent to the construction bill, but was offset by ongoing savings of at least 20 percent in residents’ water and electricity bills.

This was achieved by using the EDGE software and installing features that include energy efficient lighting, reflective paint for outdoor walls and roof, high thermal performance glass and low-flow faucets.

We estimate that about 50 percent of buildings in Asian cities will be replaced with new ones by 2050.

Smart and efficient building would translate into a powerful mechanism to help residents, tenants and owners to benefit from utility savings with positive environmental outcomes.

With cities in Indonesia and across Asia being built at an unparalleled speed and size, EDGE can help these cities develop sustainably as we experience the most profound changes to the way our cities develop in this, the new urban century.

Source: The Jakarta Post

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