July 18, 2012

Urbanization and the Global Climate Dilemma

The National Intelligence Council (NIC) recently launched a new blog in advance of Global Trends 2030, which will be published after the presidential election this fall. The NIC releases a new edition of Global Trends after every presidential election in part to inform the incoming administration about important trends that will shape the global security environment in the decade ahead. The new blog features experts’ commentary on a range of global trends that are expected to shape the future security environment, such as the rise of major non-western economies and the competition over natural resources, trends that readers are likely to read about in the new edition this fall.

This week’s discussion is focused on the dynamics of urbanization. And today’s entries are focused in particular on urbanization’s national security implications, with commentary from David Kilcullen and Kori Schake. I also had an opportunity to weigh in with a post on urbanization and climate change. In it, I argue that national security practitioners must view urbanization and climate change as two interlinked phenomena. Below is an excerpt of that post.

Urbanization and climate change may be the two most important trends to shape global development in the decades ahead. On the one hand, urban cities have the potential to serve as engines of change, driving economic growth in some of the world’s least developed countries and pulling more people out of poverty than at any other time in history. On the other hand, climate change could undercut all of this by exacerbating resource scarcity and putting vulnerable communities at risk from sea level rise and more frequent and intense storms. 

Today, roughly 80 percent of economic growth comes for urban centers. Much of this comes from what experts refer to as the “urban advantage:” cities typically concentrate the full spectrum of economic opportunities that are not readily available in rural areas. This includes everything from social services such as education and healthcare, more reliable access to water, sanitation services and electricity, to industries and transportation hubs that are lynchpins for commercial development. 

Simply put, countries have more opportunities for economic growth as they urbanize. According to a 2010 study from United Nations Human Settlements Program, “The prosperity of nations is intimately linked to the prosperity of their cities. No country has ever achieved sustained economic growth or rapid social development without urbanizing (countries with the highest per capita income tend to be more urbanized, while low-income countries are the least urbanized).” Of course, how much a country benefits from urbanization depends on policies developed at the local level. Indeed, urban politics can make or break the benefits of urbanization if local policymakers fail to adopt policies that break down socioeconomic, cultural, ethnic and religious barriers. 

Continue reading at GT2030.com.

Photo: Lagos, Nigeria. Courtesy of flickr user obinho27.

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