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Enhancing Science Partnerships for Innovation and Sustainable Development

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Event calendar for the month: September 2017

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Ambassador for the Year of Science

Science Network

Urbanisation / Megacities

Substantial strategies for growing cities

Sustainable strategies for the cities of tomorrow

Cities are turning into megacities and rural areas are turning into urban space. What will the cities of the future look like? What do they need to function?

For several decades, an ongoing trend towards urbanisation has been evident everywhere in the world: people moving from the country to cities. While around 3% of the Earth's population lived in cities in 1800, by 1950, this number had already reached 30%. By 2000, almost half of all people lived in cities. And, according to a forecast from the United Nations Human Settlements Programme UN-HABITAT, two out of three people will be urban dwellers by 2030. There are many reasons for this. Often, the appeal is the prospect of a better life and the diverse culture that cities offer. The lack of training and educational opportunities in rural areas and unemployment also lure people to the city.

Urbanisation is progressing at breakneck speed particularly in the developing nations and emerging economies. Small cities are turning into large cities and large cities into megacities. Some of these megacities are characterised by chaos, poverty and environmental problems. At the same time, they are absorbing a large part of the population explosion in many countries. Which raises the question of how the environment would look if some of the population pressure were not eased by this concentration. So an effective infrastructure for large numbers of people in concentrated urban areas does seem to be the most feasible. However, this development poses enormous logistical, environmental and social problems.

Where are the limits for a functioning city? How is it possible for a city to not become a monstrosity suffocating in its own rubbish and exhaust fumes? How can several million people in one location be supplied with water and energy? How can waste management be organized? How can traffic and transport systems be maintained, and how can free spaces be created to make humane coexistence possible in the first place? Urban planners and sociologists as well as waste disposal experts and energy scientists around the world are intensively working on all of these issues.

One of the regions with intensive urbanisation is the Global City Region of Gauteng that includes the cities of Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and Tshwabe, known as the JET cities. Around 10 million people, or around 20% of the total population of South Africa, live in this region. According to estimates, it will be one of the 30 largest urban regions already by 2015. Despite its relatively small area, approximately 34% of the South African domestic product is generated here. It is clear that securing a sustainable and affordable energy supply for all of the people in this region if possible is of key importance.

This is the starting point for the South African-German project called EnerKey, which is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. EnerKey stands for "Energy as a Key Element of an Integrated Climate Protection Concept for the Global City Region of Gauteng". The main goal of the project is to develop and implement an effective energy and climate protection concept taking into account technical, economic, environmental and social issues. Examples are increasing energy efficiency in the building and transport sectors, improving the energy supply for all parts of this densely populated region and undertaking measures to combat poverty.

This goal will be achieved through strategic cooperation between research institutions, the city governments of the JET cities, private companies and non-governmental organisations. Responsible for the project are – together with numerous other German and South African partners – the Institute for Energy Economics and the Rational Use of Energy (IER) of the University of Stuttgart and the Department of Geography, Environmental Management and Energy Studies of the University of Johannesburg.

EnerKey is an example of how German and South African experts jointly analyse existing challenges and work to find exemplary solutions that are important for cities throughout the world. For when a majority of people live in cities, these will be the places where decisions are made on education, health and, last but not least, climate protection.