Living in the suburbs is more harmful than in the city, scientists say

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Living in the suburbs is more harmful than in the city, scientists say
Living in the suburbs is more harmful than in the city, scientists say

What attracts people to cities? Opportunity to find a job and get an education. There are better communication systems and more places for leisure. By the end of this century, it is predicted that about 85% of the world's population will live in cities. Which is the most harmful to the environment - a city or a village? The answer will surprise many.

Previously, there were suggestions that the situation with COVID-19 will slow down the trend towards urbanization, but is unlikely to stop. For some experts, this trend raises concerns, since on a global scale, urban growth exacerbates the environmental situation. Metropolitan areas are often blamed for increased energy consumption and carbon emissions. The World Bank estimates that 80% of global GDP is generated in cities. Subsequently, emissions occur during urban expansion and land use change, when areas of vegetation are destroyed by urban areas.

On the other hand, cities cover only about 3% of the land surface, which is currently home to 58% of the world's population. This compact structure can provide emission reductions associated with higher density, communication and other capabilities, accessibility and use of land resources. Copenhagen and Amsterdam, for example, are great examples of cities that make good use of these compact structures and offer a low-emission lifestyle.

Where there are more harmful emissions

  • People living in rural areas need cars to get around.
  • Town houses are usually smaller.
  • City shops and entertainment centers are within walking distance.

After examining the consumption habits of more than 8,000 households in Austria, the researchers grouped them into urban, semi-urban and rural areas to estimate greenhouse gas emissions.

On average, urban dwellers have the smallest carbon footprint. Suburbanites are responsible for the largest carbon dioxide emissions. Rural areas are in the middle.

Taking into account other socio-economic factors, it was found that suburban areas of Austria emit 8% more CO₂ than cities, and in rural areas 4% more.

The carbon content in Austrian cities, according to other studies, is comparable to other industrialized countries in Europe, such as:

  • United Kingdom,
  • Finland.

However, urbanization in less developed countries tends to increase harmful emissions. One of the reasons is the income gap between urban and rural areas. Higher incomes for urban dwellers lead to increased consumption and, as a result, harmful emissions.

On the other hand, in high-income countries, the income gap between urban and rural areas is much smaller, as consumption levels are high everywhere. Thus, in countries such as Austria or the United Kingdom, urban life tends to have a better climate, as compact living helps to reduce emissions from transport and heating.

Overcome the curse of big cities

There is no clear answer whether urbanization is good or bad in the long run. The relationship between urbanization and income, if you take just one factor, is very complex. The growth of cities on a global scale has been proven to increase the amount of harmful emissions. It is hoped that at a certain level of income, urban life will become more acceptable.

There are many ways to reduce harmful emissions:

  • well-functioning public transport systems and cycling routes;
  • short distances to basic infrastructure;
  • heating and cooling ecosystems.

In short, all those proven methods leading to the reduction of the greenhouse effect.

In addition, carbon pricing can create incentives for greener value chains and more sustainable consumption. Land-use planning should take into account trends in rural-urban migration and other behavioral aspects.

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