Facilitate cross-collaboration by engaging city departments, industries and businesses on ambitious, closed-loop circular projects.
🍏 Strengthen urban-rural links within the food system
Much of the world’s croplands are situated within peri-urban areas, yet this food is often not consumed in its neighbouring urban area, rather it is exported and consumed vast distances away. By strengthening links with food producers in surrounding peri-urban and urban areas, to create city-region food systems, cities can influence the way food is produced and how resources are managed. For example, reconnecting cities with their local food production can create local economies, encourage local seasonal diets, denser local transport networks, and even support regenerative techniques that support native crop varieties. This in conjunction with trade supports a more distributed system that relies on a diverse range of suppliers, and can cycle nutrients from food wastes back to the surrounding ecosystem.
To foster city-region food systems, local governments can engage and convene stakeholders along the local food chain, from farmers, to logistics companies, to jointly envision the path to a local circular food system. This can be facilitated through the creation of platforms to connect local stakeholders. The City can also stimulate the use of regionally and regeneratively produced foods through, for example, rewarding best practices, and raising public awareness through campaigns.
🏢⚡ Self-sufficient neighbourhoods
Cities are responsible for 60% of global resource consumption, and with increasing urbanisations, there are growing concerns about forthcoming shortages (water, food, energy). Urban sprawl is costly, damages the environment and affects quality of life. Making cities sustainable will need rethinking of every element of urban living, including the neighbourhood-scale.
Self-sufficient and socially inclusive neighbourhoods are centralised, self-contained communities, organised in a way that minimises dependency on inputs from outside the system and maximises interaction between its inhabitants. They often produce their own energy and treat their own wastewater, improving security and efficiency of materials, while offering new livelihood opportunities and local value creation.
Local governments can adopt more sustainable and efficient practices in constructing these areas. Through direct and indirect economic incentives, they can push the true costs of infrastructure onto developers and create a favourable real estate climate that helps with empty land in inner-city neighbourhoods. Then, cities can implement circular land planning through urban renewal projects. Building more self-sufficient and circular neighbourhoods will require, however, multi-stakeholder collaborations between municipalities, land developers, construction and waste industries and building owners.
⚡ Support local renewable energy cooperatives
As much as 90% of world energy use comes from fossil sources. Meanwhile in 2017, only 0.7% of global energy use derived from solar power and 1.9% from wind (<a href="https://www.bp.com/en/global/corporate/energy-economics/statistical-review-of-world-energy.html">Statistical Review of World Energy, 2021). Some of the highly contested issues stopping the energy transition from materialising are land requirements and high upfront investment costs. Decentralising renewable energy production through cooperatives could be a solution to both. Local renewable energy cooperatives allow the financial burden of purchasing renewable energy equipment to be spread amongst a voluntary group of people, all while relying less on new land.
Cooperatives, then, allow residents without renewable energy potential, perhaps due to lack of space or property rental restrictions, to gain the potential through others. A cooperative project, for instance, may involve a street of houses in which the participants collectively decide to install solar PV panels on the roofs of suitable participating homes, whilst all participants' equally benefit from the renewable electricity production. This enables more people to consume renewable electricity and save on costs. Furthermore, all participants have a democratic say within the decision-making of the project, unlike a traditional electricity utility contract. This type of model can also be applied for microgrids, local biogas installations, gasifiers and other projects.
Local governments can support and facilitate such initiatives. They can set up a so-called “support coalition” that can support experiments, aid cooperative agreements, mobilise resources and provide regulatory support, such as subsidising part of the energy system. Municipalities can also become cooperative members themselves, directly consuming or selling the energy produced and gaining an additional instrument to implement municipal energy policy.
💧 🍏 ⚡ Supporting solutions that maximise synergies between food water and energy systems
Water is not only at the core of different public services cities provide, including application and sanitation, water also acts as a carrier of nutrients and energy which can benefit other urban systems. However, Global demand for freshwater will exceed viable resources by 40% by 2030, if we continue with business as usual (<a href="https://www.arup.com/-/media/arup/files/publications/w/water_and_circular_economy_whitepaper.pdf">ARUP). Exploring the synergistic link between water, food and energy in urban systems becomes central to sustainable development and the sustainable management of water. Urban changemakers in all three areas should start taking a more holistic approach to water management—from water resource management, to ecosystem protection and water supply and sanitation (<a href="https://www.unwater.org/water-facts/water-food-and-energy/">UN Water).
Bringing circularity within the food-water-energy nexus means recognising all urban water flows—drinking water, stormwater, wastewater and source water—as potential resources for use across these three sectors. Circular water systems can maximise synergies between food water and energy systems by protecting water availability to maintain agricultural production in water scarce regions, or by recovering energy from wastewater treatment, replacing fossil fuels used for cooking or heating. Solid organic matter, or biosolids, recovered from a sewage treatment can also be used as a fertiliser, preventing harmful chemicals from polluting water streams so that water sources are clean and safe to drink.
Local governments can govern the food-water-energy nexus by looking holistically at the city’s infrastructure. They can update city plans to integrate Green Blue Infrastructure (GBI) which can provide tangible benefits to each dimension of the food-water-energy nexus. Parks, green walls, waterways and greenways can, for example, provide food, water, fibre and fuel to support the urban ecosystem. Moreover, bringing different actors together, from the department of water resources, food safety, as well as energy and planning, is at the heart of any form of integrated planning. To spur cross-sectoral collaboration, for instance, cities can convene different actors on dedicated platforms and facilitate effective communication between different city departments and public organisations. Embedding a nexus strategy in municipal policy may lay a foundation for cross departmental budgeting and program implementation.