Tag Archives: urbanization

Cities Are Where the Action Is, Post-Rio

First posted on the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet blog on Aug. 16, 2012

Rio, sustainable development

Rio has undertaken a major renovation of its port to create a sustainable development, encompassing residential, commercial and industrial uses, along with improved public transportation, green spaces and other public services. Photo: City of Rio

Two months after the UN’s landmark conference on sustainable development in Rio de Janeiro, has anything changed?

For many, the official document that was a principal outcome of “Rio+20” is an extreme disappointment – little more than a reaffirmation of the problems and desires stated at the first Earth Summit in Rio 20 years ago, with no firm commitments, no tangible goals and no timetables.

Its defenders note that the document, titled The Future We Want,” sets the stage for further deliberations on a set of sustainable development goals, and that it makes important statements about protecting oceans, providing people access to energy, and establishing human rights to food, safe drinking water and sanitation. In the midst of financial crisis, they say, it’s too much to expect 190 nations with often diverging economic interests to agree on what to do – but at least, those nations are still talking.

And indeed, the UN secretary general has appointed a special panel to begin the debate over sustainable development goals, and launched a new project, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, to focus research worldwide on solutions to some of the daunting social, environmental and economic problems we face. Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs will lead that effort.

The real bright spots in Rio, however, had more to with what happened outside the formal UN conference June 20-22, in meetings of ordinary citizens, corporations, non-governmental organizations and local government groups. There, the sense of urgency about the world’s social and environmental problems resolved into action, including a long list of voluntary commitments.

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One Planet, Too Many People?

Mumbai, India. (Photo: Deepak Gupta)

Mumbai, India. (Photo: Deepak Gupta)

This was first posted on the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet blog on March 7, 2012

Professor Joel E. Cohen stood at the lectern, looked out over the crowd with his round, mischievous eyes and, with a click, posted a slide on the large screen to his right that brought a world of problems down to a more human scale.

There appeared two photos of door handles: one, a simple round knob, the second, a lever. This commonplace device, he explained, set the scale of the engineering challenge for a society whose population grows increasingly older: For the elderly who may have lost the hand-power of their youth, these two designs illustrate the difference between getting out and staying put.

The solution is a simple engineering fix, but on a daunting scale, when you think of all the doorknobs in all the cities of the world. But it’s possible. And that theme drove an Earth Institute-led discussion at Columbia Monday about the challenges faced in a world projected to reach 9.5 billion people by the year 2100.

Three-quarters of these people will be crowded into increasingly unmanageable cities. In some regions, such as North America and Europe, they will be older; in others, such as Africa, predominately under 30; many will be desperately poor. They will have different, and rising needs. Continue reading

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