The cities of Latin America will consume up to four times more their resources, if not they become more sustainable


The cities of Latin America and the Caribbean will consume between double and four times more resources in 2050 if they do not adopt a “comprehensive planning” and “increase the efficiency of their systems and circularity,” warned this Monday a new report from the Program of the United Nations Environment Program, which highlights that this scenario “implies the severe degradation of vital ecosystems.”

To achieve this goal, the UN agency study highlights that the cities of the region will need to promote a sustainable transformation that cuts the consumption of resources such as fossil fuels, minerals and food in half, while fighting the poverty and inequality.

The analysis of the Program traces the route towards a desirable urban planning based on a package of measures in four axes:

  • sustainable transport and mobility
  • efficient buildings
  • waste,
  • water and sanitation.

These actions would serve to reduce the consumption of resources, waste, environmental damage and greenhouse gas emissions.

CINU Bogota / José Ríos

Panoramic view of Bogotá, capital of Colombia.

Living in cleaner cities implies planning a sustainable transformation

The annual per capita consumption of resources in Latin American cities in 2015 ranged between 12.5 and 14.4 tons. More than half of the urban material inventory in the region was found in the cities of Brazil (38.1%) and Mexico (21.1%).

If in the year 2050 the regional population increases to 680 million people, the consumption of urban household material could increase to 25 tons per capita, well above the range of between six and eight tons per capita that the Program’s study considers sustainable.

The regional director of the Program highlighted that many of the region’s inhabitants suffer the consequences of this unsustainable use of resources, including environmental degradation and lack of access to services, which cause “a bleak future.”

Planning a sustainable transformation is crucial if we aspire to live in a cleaner region, in harmony with nature and without leaving anyone behind. Now that a sustainable recovery from COVID-19 is urgent, this report lights the way in the right direction, “added Álvarez.

Cities can significantly reduce resource consumption

The authors call for a bet on a regional “strategic intensification”, which, contrary to the horizontal expansion of cities, consists of increasing the density of population, jobs and services. in a set of urban centers connected by efficient and affordable public transport.

Likewise, it calls for building in a more sustainable way, promoting circularity, taking advantage of organic waste and water management that includes the treatment and reuse of water, as well as the restoration of associated ecosystems.

If all the actions proposed in the report are implemented, the cities of the region they could reduce their annual material consumption to between six and seven tons per capita by 2050.

The study also highlights some measures that are already being taken in this line, such as improvements to public transport in the Brazilian municipality of Fortaleza, which included more space for bicycles and pedestrians, the “harvest” of rainwater in the City of Mexico and the district heating project in the city of Temuco, in central Chile.

Urban growth and social inequity

According to the report, the space built in the region during 40 years grew by 99%, almost the same number that experienced the increase in the urban population in that period (95%). The inability of most cities to absorb that growth exacerbated social inequity and environmental injustice.

Closing the inequality gap will lead to solving the precarious situation faced by the most vulnerable populations; for example, the remoteness of urban services, poor infrastructure, violent conditions, and pollution.

The authors of the study call to address these challenges through “a sustainable transformation” and invite to “orient greater efforts towards intermediate cities”, which are growing faster than the average. They also recommend strengthening cooperation and implementing stronger alliances at the subnational, subregional and regional levels.  

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