Study develops step-by-step guide to making cities sustainable

Guide was officially launched during the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP 15), which took place in December 2022.
Energy
01 February 2023
Study develops step-by-step guide to making cities sustainable

Faced with the challenges of aligning development demands with sustainability policies, researchers at Fundação Getulio Vargas’ Sao Paulo School of Business Administration (FGV EAESP), together with the organization Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI) and other partners, have created the Green and Blue Infrastructure Guide. This document provides step-by-step instructions on how to make cities sustainable, focusing on improving local governance in relation to food, water and energy.

According to the researcher who led the project, José Puppim, rapid unplanned urbanization, climate change and loss of biodiversity may lead to food insecurity and shortages of water and energy, as the consumption of these three elements will increase significantly in the coming decades. “These are some of the issues that most concern the world’s people today and they may have major consequences in the coming years, especially within cities,” he says.

The production of the Green and Blue Infrastructure Guide was supported by JPI Urban Europe and Belmont Forum, a program that brings together 30 funders, encompassing various projects to make cities sustainable using green and blue infrastructure. FGV’s contribution to this guide was focused on governance, understanding how municipal governments are dealing with food, water and energy systems, and identifying how to improve the management of these resources in order to reduce the risks of shortages and make cities more sustainable.

The study led by FGV was part of a larger project, Innovative Initiatives to Govern Water, Food and Energy in Cities (IFWEN). This is a consortium led by FGV EAESP, which includes Yale University, the Stockholm Resilience Center at Stockholm University, Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI), Ming-Chuan University in Taiwan, and The Nature of the Cities. It is funded by six research agencies, including the Sao Paulo State Research Foundation (FAPESP) and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Green and blue infrastructure

José Puppim says that before looking at the guide, you need to understand what types of infrastructure you have and why these elements were selected as parameters. “Green infrastructure is more focused on urban forests, urban farming, green roofs, street planting, conservation areas, and so on, while blue infrastructure is focused on the urban water system, such as urban flooded areas, lakes, lagoons, urban rivers, coastal ecosystems such as mangroves and bays, and the urban drainage system, among other things,” he notes.

The researcher also explains the importance of the three systems examined in the guide. “It is estimated that there will be a large increase in the consumption of food, water and energy over the next 50 years, and much of this consumption will be in cities. In terms of governance, it is evident that cities tend to have little management of these systems. For example, most of the food comes from outside cities, the water system is usually managed at state level and the energy system tends to be managed at country level. Thus, it is clear that cities have little governance over these systems, hindering them from governing green and blue infrastructure,” he says.

Considering the three systems, the Green and Blue Infrastructure Guide proposes governance-related best practices in categories such as supplies (water services, medications and raw materials), regulation (local temperatures, carbon indicators and wastage of water) and cultural (recreation, health and esthetics). It also presents measures to support the preservation of species and their habitats in cities. Practices related to food, water and energy are aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

Constructing the guide

The study that gave rise to the guide began by asking the following three questions: “Where are we?” “Where do we want to go?” “How can we improve city governance to get there?” To start with, the challenges and problems to be faced were identified. After that, impacts that affect people were analyzed, as well as possible partners capable of being engaged in the fight against these problems. A database of initiatives was then compiled and the researchers set up different teams and identified different strategies, scenarios, tools, indicators and resources. 

After verifying the challenges and possible ways to solve them, the project reached the implementation phase, which involves communicating the respective plans, applying the proposed solutions, testing alternatives and registering this step-by-step process. This phase involves constant reporting throughout the process and monitoring of actions and results by the researchers. 

Impacts

The guide is aimed at communities, governments, leaders and researchers, integrating knowledge about how to better manage food, water and energy systems in order to avoid waste and generate public policies. In all, 10 cities around the world were initially selected by the researchers to apply the different lessons in the areas of food, water and energy. Subsequently, these lessons may be used by other cities with the help of the Green and Blue Infrastructure Guide.

It is expected that more than 30 cities will use the guide, including two cities in Brazil: São José dos Campos in the state of São Paulo, which is currently focused on using tools; and Florianópolis, Santa Catarina, which has already started a new food security system based on this study.

Changes

Puppim notes that due to climate change and constantly growing demand for water, energy and food, cities are “held hostage” to these resources. Therefore, the idea of this project is to understand how better management of green and blue infrastructure can prevent shortages of these resources.

“We have created ways to develop cities in a sustainable way with respect to these three factors, with the aim of making them more efficient at consuming food, water and energy, using models that already exist,” he says. The guide was officially launched on December 14, after being presented at an event during CBD COP 15.

To see the full guide, click here.

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