In 2010, the European Environmental Agency (EEA) produced its first assessment of eleven global megatrends as part of its five-yearly assessment of the European environment’s state, trend and prospects (European Environment State and Outlook Report – SOER – 2010). The 11 megatrends are:
1 Increasing global divergence in population trends
2 Living in an urban world
3 Disease burdens and the risk of new pandemics
4 Accelerating technological change: racing into the unknown
5 Continued economic growth?
6 From a unipolar to a multipolar world
7 Intensified global competition for resources
8 Decreasing stocks of natural resources
9 Increasingly severe consequences of climate change
10 Increasing environmental pollution load
11 Environmental regulation and governance:
increasing fragmentation and convergence
The EEA is updating each of the megatrends, providing a more detailed analysis based on the latest data. This document summary concerns the revision of Chapter 2 about the shift of population from rural to urban areas. It is one of the 11 updated chapters published separately in the second half of 2013 and early-2014. In 2014 the chapters will be consolidated into a single EEA technical report, which will provide the basis for the analysis of megatrends included in SOER 2015.
Urbanisation is one of the eleven megatrends and the summary below is taken from the free online downloadable pdf here. This amazingly rapid relocation of the passengers on Spaceship Earth is a great significance and a high risk to future sustainability:
Urbanisation is an integral aspect of development. As countries transition from primarily agricultural economies, the shift to cities offers substantial productivity gains. Jobs and earnings in urban settings create strong incentives for internal migration, often reinforced by government policies and environmental degradation. Only later in economic development do urban-rural disparities begin to dissipate, easing the pressure for further urbanisation.
Together, these drivers have brought extraordinary changes to the geographical distribution of humanity during the last century. Whereas just 10–15 % of the global population lived in urban areas in the early 20th century, that figure had risen to 50 % by 2010 (WBGU, 2011) and is projected to reach 67 % by 2050 (UN, 2012). Almost all of that growth is expected to occur in today’s developing regions, with urban populations there increasing from 2.6 billion in 2010 to 5.1 billion in 2050.
At the individual level, urbanisation can boost opportunities and living standards. At the macroeconomic level, cities drive innovation and productivity. But while the associated growth of the middle class is welcome, it also carries risks in terms of rapidly growing burden of resource use and pollution. Dense urban settlements can provide for comparatively resource-efficient ways of living but exploiting this potential and creating a healthy, secure living environment requires effective urban planning. Indeed, the consequences of ill-managed urbanisation are apparent in the vast slums that today accommodate a quarter of the world’s urban inhabitants — more than 850 million people.