TOP-5 sustainable cities with minimal impact on the environment

By Ion Ilasco

TOP-5 sustainable cities with minimal impact on the environment

Sustainability refers to the ability to meet our current needs and evolve without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own. It has become a hot topic in recent years, especially due to climate change and the increasing levels of pollution that threaten it. Cities, as the hubs of socio-economic and cultural development, are at the center of implementing sustainable programs. Taking into account the continuous process of urbanization, the more sustainable cities are, the less pressure is put on the environment. So which cities are the most sustainable and can serve as a model for others? The most recent research places Copenhagen, Oslo, and Zurich at the top of the list of the world’s most eco-friendly.

Understanding sustainability

Sustainability as a development framework refers to the ability of a certain community to meet its needs and evolve without compromising the ability of future generations to achieve the same. While the mainstream views on sustainability focus on the environment and the management of natural resources, the concept also embeds elements of social equity and economic development.

The United Nations, along with other several influential stakeholders, has aligned its development strategies to fit the core principles of sustainability. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals Agenda (SDGs) represent a plea to all nations to align economic prosperity, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability in one global mission.

Fig.1. The three pillars of sustainability

Source: Smart Cities – Resource Portal: Introduction to SMART Cities

What are sustainable cities?

Sustainable cities are characterized by their urban resilience or the ability to adapt, mitigate and promote efficient economic, social, and environmental policies. In many instances, sustainable cities are also referred to as eco, smart or green cities but whatever they are labelled, nowadays these cities focus on environmental aspects (energy efficiency, renewable energy, green solutions, etc.) to a greater extent.

Top 5 most sustainable cities in the world

There are numerous frameworks that rate green cities based on different socio-economic and environmental indicators. For this exercise, the ranking produced by Disruptive Technologies, a Norwegian tech company, and developer of Internet of Things infrastructure (IoT), assessed sustainable cities by weighing each city’s ranking across different global indexes:

🟢 Copenhagen (Denmark) – ranks as the world’s most sustainable city with the most efficient and intelligent plan for creating a greener city with a higher quality of life for its citizens and a better business climate. Over the last few years, Copenhagen has removed about a third of all transportation that uses fossil fuel and further expanded the infrastructure for bicycles meaning that the city is on route to meet its carbon-neutral objective by 2025.

🟢 Oslo (Norway) – Norway is experiencing a powerful wave of the energy transition with Oslo being at the heart of this. Consider the fact that about 80% of new cars sold in 2021 were electric. In 2019, Oslo was given the European Green Capital Award that mainly recognized the city’s ability to efficiently manage stormwater and facilitate the development and restoration of surrounding habitats as well as its efforts in tackling climate change.

🟢 Zurich (Switzerland) – is making considerable progress towards becoming climate-neutral by 2040 and in reducing indirect greenhouse emissions both within and outside its urban area. In 2016, Zurich was named the most sustainable city in the world. The award specifically highlighted the city’s smart building management systems and the highly sustainable model for public transport.

🟢 London (United Kingdom) – is one of the greenest capitals in the world with over 3,000 parks and green spaces. London aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030 by prioritizing its urban greening efforts and rationalizing energy consumption. The city is also known for the rich IoT (internet of things) infrastructure that allows retrieving large amounts of real-time feedback on the processes and phenomena taking place in various urban dimensions.

🟢 Stockholm (Sweden) – was awarded European Green Capital status in 2010 and was named the smartest city in the world in 2020. Both awards recognize the city’s considerable efforts in developing and implementing innovations in the environment, digital technology, and taking care of residents’ wellbeing. Stockholm aims to become climate positive by 2040.

Cities’ populations are constantly growing due to urbanization. Attracted by better living conditions and more opportunities, rural inhabitants are leaving their homes which, of course, puts more pressure on urban infrastructure thus damaging the environment. Sustainable cities are a benchmark aimed at states to reduce their impact on the environment and the planet. With no cities in the developing country being on the list of the top five most sustainable, the international development community and governments need to increase efforts to improve the sustainability of cities.

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