Some 75 per cent of the world’s population is expected to live in cities by 2030. The rapid acceleration of this trend becomes especially apparent when it is visualised.
New York City-based data visualisation expert Max Galka put an animated map together earlier this year, based on a project by a team of researchers who digitised, geolocated and standardised existing data about human settlements.
In a post on Metrocosm, Galka explains how the visualisation shows the rise of human cities, starting with “the world’s first city in 3700 BC and continuing up to the present.”
According to the UN, the world is projected to have 41 mega-cities with 10 million inhabitants or more by 2030.
But many of the fastest growing cities in the world are relatively small urban settlements. In 2014, nearly half of the world’s 4 billion urbanites lived in cities with fewer than 500,000 inhabitants.
The Power of The Rural Vote
This global shift in demographics has a major impact on a range of issues, including climate change – and not only because cities are now the primary source of human-caused carbon emissions.
Take the United States, for example, where the next president may try to slow down global action on climate change for the next four years. But if it had been up to Americans living in big cities – or simply the majority of the electorate – his opponent would have won.
Why? Rural Americans have a disproportionate share of the country’s electoral power, the New York Times’ Emliy Badger recently explained. So despite Hillary Clinton’s large margins in cities like New York, Trump was able to win because the antiquated US electoral system disproportionally favours rural areas.
So as cities grow, societies will have to rethink some of the most fundamental ways they are organised. And that also includes how infrastructure such as buildings, energy grids, water systems and drainage can be upgraded to sustain a growing population.
Cities Are Stronger Together
Governments and financial institutions are already looking for ways to shift investments towards sustainable infrastructure to meet global climate change targets and jump-start economic growth. According to a recent report, the $3.4 trillion that is currently invested in infrastructure globally every year could increase to $6 trillion – two-thirds of which in cities.
Whether the US president cares about climate targets or not, cities are aware of the opportunities and work together to make sure they stay involved – regardless of which way the wind may be blowing nationally. The European Commission has also announced it is setting up a North American chapter of its Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy.
This coalition of mayors is the largest and first-of-its-kind coalition of cities committed to fighting climate change.
Earlier this month, North American cities like Washington D.C., Toronto and Puebla already took part in the global Climathon, a 24-hour climate change solutions hackathon organised by Climate-KIC – the EU’s climate innovation initiative.
The event saw more than 60 cities around the world team up to beat local climate change challenges.
With city populations skyrocketing, innovation initiatives set up by the EU and countries in other richer parts of the world help ensure cities in developing countries do not get locked into old, high-carbon models of infrastructure and resource use.
Low Carbon City Lab for example – another Climate-KIC programme – is helping Mexico City create its first green bonds to fund sustainable infrastructure.
The rural population of the world has grown slowly since 1950 – and is expected to peak around 2020. Although it has been a long time coming since 3700BC, cities are here to stay.