AGB SURVEY : Urbanization to outpace the greening rate in future cities

A recent online poll conducted by AsiaGreenBuildings revealed that 44,4% out of the total votes of its readers consider urbanization a bigger challenge than the lack of sustainable innovation (33,3%) and green fatigue (18,5%) when discussing in regards to a sustainable built environment.

The different variables, as explained above, will need to be further evaluated and explained to understand the underlying issues that each presents when it comes to achieving a city’s future sustainability goals. AsiaGreenBuildings will elaborate each of these variables in more details below.

Urbanization Outpacing Greening Rate

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As the world continues to urbanize, the environmental policy pertaining to big cities has become a pivotal point for lawmakers worldwide, particularly in Asia.

A report released by the United Nation states that urban growth in Asia is not environmentally sustainable. Examples such as poor quality of air, growing inequalities, the ever expanding of slums, environmental degradation, vulnerability to flooding, unclean water supply and management of waste and sanitation become the main environmental issues. This is usually the case where inadequate governance planning happens in urban cities.

China, for instance, is experiencing a period of rapid urbanization – and it is expected to continue through to 2030 and beyond. China is accounted for two thirds of the growth in urban land and more than 80% percent of urban expansion in the region with its 477 million urban inhabitants in 2010 larger than the rest of the region combined. At present, over half of the Chinese population lives in urban areas.

To tackle the issue, the Chinese government initiated environmental policies focused on the landscape and green space of urban development. The figure below shows China’s major urban environmental policies initiated by the government dating back from 1986 to 2010.

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There are 627 projects in China (excluding Hong-Kong, Macao and Taiwan) as of April 2015 which had achieved LEED certification. In addition, there are 3,165 certified green buildings under the China Green Standard and LEED together.  According to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory report, the unprecedented phenomenon on China’s rapid urbanization led to a 250% growth in primary energy demand.  Due to the increase in CO2 emissions and future energy use, the government launched low-carbon pilot projects in 5 provinces and 8 pilot cities, a demonstration program back in 2010 aiming to promote the low carbon urban development.

Improvement in the government planning in cities and enhancement the urban infrastructure and services are at least what the governments across the region can do to mitigate and adapt to climate change effects.

Lack of Innovation

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As countries in Asia are becoming larger energy consumers in the global energy market, there is a rapid growth in energy consumption in line with the need of more energy intensive innovation. This issue exists at present time and but in the future it may or may not remain, depending on whether we take the right measures.

In India, for instance, innovation is still considered a shortfall in terms of human capital and education. In addition, investments and infrastructure are required in research and development activities. On top of that, lack of proper policies, system and incentives to support creativity and innovation often lead to excessive focus on quick fix solution that are not sustainable.

The governments across the region are responsible in tackling the aforementioned setbacks to create a more innovative ecosystem for people to inhabit in, drive developments on many fronts, and give cities a chance to operate in a more sustainable manner.

Not only governments, Asian Development Bank (ADB) also takes part in supporting a number of Asian cities by backing transformative renewable energy projects that will accelerate the city’s transition to low carbon, sustainable growth. For instance, ADB has lent their hand in the Philippines to improve the lack of the innovation by providing financial support such as helping to finance lighting retrofits of the government buildings and also the installation of 9 million compact fluorescent lamps for private residential sector.

In a more niche perspective, in Bhopal, India, the lack of innovation comes from their water management projects. Asian Development Bank (ADB) takes part in undertaking such projects and helps the city’s water supply achieve their goals. So far, the project has improved the water access for 5,3 million people and enhanced the quality of life in the city.

Green Fatigue   

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While the concept of “going green” implies a more environmentally self-conscious business practice, but also with the ever-growing awareness of people’s concern towards environmental impacts continues to increase, “green fatigue” has become apathetic about green issues surrounding society. This usually is a result of an overwhelming amount of ‘go green’ culture in advertising and the media, where people are bombarded with over-marketing of the concept to “go green” in their everyday lives.

Individuals are losing interest in the environmental impact of daily living due to ‘green fatigue’. In a corporate perspective, however, the corporate world is increasingly exploring how sustainable projects can make good business sense.

To encourage people to lead more sustainable lives, initiatives made by regional Green Building Councils across the Globe have launched ratings system for new residential developments. Communities will be assessed across a range of ”green” criteria, including livability, environment responsibility, economic prosperity and design. An example is the “LEED for a Neighborhood Development” (LEED-ND) project initiated by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) aiming to improve the quality of life for the community. (AGB.com – VL & DM)

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