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Consumption patterns need to change to cope with growing cities

Urban areas are spreading, minimising the time and distances between and in-and-out of cities. The International Planning Congress in Dalian, China, addressed this ‘urban sprawl’ and sought ways to achieve sustainable urbanisation. The European Environment Agency contributed to this debate by urging policy makers to tackle underpinning consumption patterns.

A green tax reform is necessary, one that gradually shifts taxes away from labour and investments and towards taxes on pollution and the inefficient use of land, materials and energy.

Ronan Uhel, Head of Spatial Analysis Group at the EEA

Urban sprawl is not driven principally by population growth but by changing lifestyles and consumption patterns as well as lenient, service-driven planning policies. “We need action to address the three urban-related consumption areas that have been identified as having the highest environmental impacts during their lifecycle: housing, food and drink, and private transport which, together, are responsible for about 65% of material use and 70% of global warming potential,” said Ronan Uhel, Head of the EEA Spatial Analysis group.

Structural policies play a key role in either promoting or preventing urban sprawl. In the European Union, significant  budget transfers from the Cohesion Fund and the Structural Funds to member states provide powerful drivers of macroeconomic change to support European integration. But the Agency’s analysis shows that they have also had inadvertent socio-economic effects that have promoted the development of urban sprawl.

“Alongside reshaping urban planning policies, a green tax reform is necessary, one that gradually shifts taxes away from labour and investments and towards taxes on pollution and the inefficient use of land, materials and energy,” added Mr Uhel.

Quick facts on urban sprawl in Europe

Today 72% of Europeans live in urban areas. By 2020, this figure will increase to around 80 %, and in several countries it will be 90 % or more. Today more than a quarter of the European Union’s territory is negatively impacted by urban land uptake, due in particular to urban sprawl, which is affecting towns and cities of all sizes across Europe. In the past 10 years alone, the equivalent of five times the size of Greater London has been given up to further sprawl of European cities.

Highly urbanised, Europe consumes much more than its biological resources can produce. Therefore it relies not only on its own resources but to a large extent on the resources from other parts of the world. For example, the Council of Greater London has calculated the land and ecological footprint of their city to be equivalent to 293 times its area.

Links

Speech presented at the International Planning Congress

The 44th International Planning Congress

Urban sprawl report

Geographical coverage

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European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Denmark
Phone: +45 3336 7100