Sponsored: Volvo Trucks – ‘Sustainability will be won or lost in cities’

Cities play a critical role in both causing and potentially solving many of today's sustainability challenges, says Professor Xuemei Bai, a leading expert and thought leader on urbanisation and sustainability and the latest recipient of the 2018 Volvo Environment Prize for her work in creating new cities and transforming existing cities to be sustainable and liveable.

The lure of a better life has always attracted people to the cities of the world, where they have been the cradles and powerhouses of new ideas and movements from the industrial revolution in Birmingham in the 18th century to the breakneck speed of economic growth of places like Bangalore in India, today.

However today, for the first time in history, more people are living in cities than in rural areas and this trend is set to continue, so by 2050 more than two thirds of the world population will live in urban areas.

“Urbanisation is arguably one of the biggest social transformations of our time,” says Xuemei.

”More than half of the world’s population lives in cities, and the trend keeps growing at an unprecedented rate.”

In just two generations, Lagos in Nigeria has ‘mushroomed’ from a population of 200,000 to nearly 20 million, but nowhere in the world has the scale and speed of urbanisation been more overwhelming than in China, where,nearly 500 million people have moved from rural areas into China’s major cities in just 30 years.

This is how China’s economy grew so quickly, but it has also resulted in polluted air and contaminated rivers and soil. Belatedly, the authorities are trying to rectify some of the mistakes, but the task will probably take generations.

At the core of Xuemei Bai’s research is how to do the right things when new urban areas are built.

Cities have a huge impact, with about 75 % of CO2-emissions from energy use traceable back to cities. Making cities sustainable will mean aiming for processes mimicking those in natural ecosystems, reducing input and output and making material and energy use more circular.

Although Xuemei’s focus is on Asia and the global South, there are lessons to be learnt on how to make rapidly growing cities more liveable, sustainable and resilient in more developed places like Europe or London, Glasgow or Manchester in the UK.

The European Commission are already preparing the ground for its post-2025 environmental standards, with the effectiveness of today's Euro-6 regulations in reducing NOx pollution coming under close scrutiny.

Looking further ahead, it is to be expected that future regulations will continue to inspire chemists and engineers alike to seek different and improved solutions to NOx reduction.

The first improvement will come into force in September 2019 with the advent of Euro-6 – Step D. but as yet a Euro-7 standard has yet to be agreed, which is generally expected to be implemented around 2025 with limits for a much wider range of pollutants, including substances such as formaldehyde and ammonia.

However, as Europe's requirements for its vehicle fleets head toward a goal of 98 grams of CO2 per kilometre by 2020, manufacturers have started to respond to the problem by exploring the possibility of including electric vehicles into their product range.

As befits a company having ‘care for the environment’ as a core value, Volvo Trucks are at the forefront of this technology and have already launched two new electric trucks – the Volvo FL Electric and Volvo FE Electric; the latter was showcased as a chassis cab configuration at last month's Freight in the City Expo.

A number of local authorities have continued to develop this thinking and are taking measures required to address poor urban air quality. London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone leads the way in the UK with an introduction date of April 2019, with many other cities following suit and developing  their own plans for Clean Air Zones.

“We need to approach cities as a human-dominant complex ecosystem, and manage them as such. If we do that I believe there is a bright future for humans and their cities,” she concludes.

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