Latin American Cities Double Resource Consumption

View of the Brazilian megalopolis Sao Paulo, with more than 12 million inhabitants. Cities in Brazil and Mexico, combined, consume more than half of the region’s favailable urban resources, and the growing trend portends severe damage to ecosystems. Photo: Diogo Moreira / Government of Sao Paulo


HAVANA TIMES – Cities in Latin America and the Caribbean consume twice as many of the resources that would guarantee sustainability, and that excess is on track to quadruple, degenerating vital ecosystems, warned a report by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) released on Monday, December 13.

Jacqueline Álvarez, UNEP regional director, said that “many of the inhabitants of Latin America and the Caribbean today suffer the effects of unsustainable resource use: environmental degradation, lack of access to services, and, as a result, a bleak future.”

In 2015, the most recent year with the highest volume of regional data, Latin American and Caribbean cities consumed between 12.5 and 14.4 tons per capita of resources annually.

The highest figures come from the Southern Cone (19.2 MT per inhabitant), with Brazil consuming 38.1% of the regional total; Mesoamerica, with 10.4 MT (Mexico consumes 21.5% of the inventory), the Andean area, with 10.2 MT, and the Caribbean with 7.4 MT per capita.

It is projected that by 2050, with a regional population of 680 million people, the consumption of urban household material could increase to 25 tons per capita, well above the range between six and eight tons per capita that is considered sustainable.

According to the report, in the last 40 years the constructed space of the region grew 99%, almost at the same time as the increase in the urban population in that period (95%). Due to the inability of most cities to absorb growth, social inequality and environmental injustice were exacerbated.

According to the International Resource Panel (IRP), which did the study with UNEP, cities in the world generate up to three-quarters of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.

The study calls for curbing the horizontal expansion of cities, increasing population density, and creating urban centers connected by efficient and affordable public transportation.

In addition, the region requires more sustainable buildings, promoting circularity, taking advantage of organic waste, and water management that includes water treatment and reuse.

Closing the inequality gap will mean solving the precariousness faced by the most vulnerable populations, for example, the scarcity of urban services, poor infrastructure, conditions of violence, and pollution.

Chile, Mexico and Brazil are the countries with the greatest inequity in the region, according to the study.

If the right measures are implemented, cities in the region could reduce their annual material consumption to between six and seven tons per capita by 2050. Efficiency could decrease the demand for virgin materials by 15 to 25% and reduce gas emissions from the industrial sector by up to 30%.

Among the recommendations is to implement adequate zoning measures and degrees of population density: approximately 150 people per hectare in urban centers, and between 75 and 100 people per hectare in adjacent areas.

Other recommendations include, to shape neighborhoods on a human scale, and inclusive, integrating population with diverse socioeconomic levels, demographic origins, lifestyles or cultural practices, and with mixed land uses, accessible and well connected on the basis of integrated and efficient systems of mass public transport.

Examples highlighted in the report include improvements to public transportation in Fortaleza, Brazil, which would include more space for bicycles and pedestrians, the “harvesting” of rainwater in Mexico City, and a district heating project in Temuco, Chile.

“Planning for a sustainable transformation is crucial if we aspire to live in a cleaner region, in harmony with nature, and leaving no one behind. Now that a sustainable recovery from COVID-19 is urgent, this report paves a way in the right direction,” Concluded Álvarez.

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