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Urban sustainability in Europe: what is driving cities' environmental changes?

Heeckt, Catarina and Kolarič, Špela (2021) Urban sustainability in Europe: what is driving cities' environmental changes? EEA Report (16/2020). European Environment Agency, Copenhagen, DK. ISBN 9789294803153

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Identification Number: 10.2800/996158


The EEA's European Environment – State and Outlook 2020 Report (SOER 2020) emphasises that cities are key drivers of change when it comes to wider sustainability transitions across Europe. Cities are hubs of creativity, innovation and learning and have the capacity to effect systemic changes across a range of critical environmental issues (EEA, 2019). Cities concentrate people, jobs and economic activity, however, this also means that they are disproportionately impacted by social challenges such as segregation, poverty and inequality (EC, 2016). Vulnerabilities from climate change and other environmental stresses will also be felt most acutely in urban areas due to higher densities of people and infrastructure, and the dependence of cities on their hinterlands for food, water, energy and other resources (EEA, 2019). The EEA's in-depth analysis of drivers of change of relevance for Europe's environment and sustainability (EEA, 2020) emphasised that cities have a primary role in pushing forward societal change by harbouring the circulation of ideas and encouraging social and technological innovations, experiments and changes in values, lifestyles and approaches to governance. Cities are therefore both places where systemic challenges must be met, and places of opportunity to address these challenges. Of course, cities differ enormously in the challenges they face and the tools they have available to address these. Sharing concrete examples of the many different expressions of urban sustainability can help to inspire cities, irrespective of their context, to recognise that there is a transition pathway that is right for them. This report provides some initial ideas about how progress towards this goal can be accelerated by identifying common factors that can either enable or hinder urban sustainability transitions. Understanding the underlying factors that have allowed some European cities to address complex environmental challenges while simultaneously thriving economically and strengthening their social fabric has relevance far beyond the case of individual cities. Across the EU, the important role of cities as champions for environmental sustainability is being recognised, and yet there is not enough information about what actually allows some cities to engage in transformative change in this arena. Understanding the right enabling conditions and drivers of these changes is important, but so too is a clearer sense of the barriers that may be preventing some cities from reaching their sustainability potential or overcoming long-standing economic, institutional and cultural challenges that may be leading to sub-optimal environmental outcomes. This report also aims to provide important lessons about the way in which cities and national governments can foster more sustainable urban growth that protects environmental quality and creates thriving, low-carbon and climate‑resilient communities that promote economic vitality, health, wellbeing and social inclusion. This report is the first in a series of EEA outputs focusing on urban sustainability transitions.

Item Type: Monograph (Report)
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2021 European Environmental Agency
Divisions: LSE Cities
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
H Social Sciences > HB Economic Theory
Date Deposited: 16 Nov 2023 11:39
Last Modified: 16 May 2024 13:36

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