Cities are where the future happens first

Published June 1, 2016

Cities, regarded by many as major contributors to climate change and other environmental challenges, are now becoming laboratories where the most innovative ideas for sustainable living are being tested.

For example, the City of Copenhagen aspires to be the world’s first capital city to become completely carbon neutral by 2025. San Francisco plans to move to zero waste by 2020. Munich strives to rely entirely on renewable energy sources by 2025 and Oslo will ban private vehicles in the city centre by 2019 in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

«Cities have more power than people think» Dr. Sudhvir Singh, EAT Policy Director

Highlights at the forum

This year’s EAT Stockholm Food Forum will have a special focus on cities and how they are at the forefront to finding solutions and sharing best practice.

“Cities have more power than people think,” says EAT Policy Director, Dr. Sudhvir Singh. “Whilst central governments can put together strategies and broad programs that can take many years to demonstrate results, cities can implement very practical solutions quickly. For example a city council can provide land for urban gardens, help supermarkets and restaurants cut food waste and donate surplus food, and ensure healthy food is sold in council facilities.”

EAT’s work with cities takes the form of several networks, two of which will be formally launched at the EAT Stockholm Food Forum. The first is the C40 Food Systems Network, a joint partnership of EAT and C40 (Cities Climate Leadership Group) – a collection of the world’s megacities that are committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and climate risk.

C40 now connects more than 80 cities in the world, representing over 550 million people and one quarter of the global economy. C40’s Executive Director Mark Watts will launch the network in Stockholm.

The second is the Nordic Cities EAT Initiative, a regional network that will be officially launched in Stockholm by a group of Nordic mayors.

Linking and sharing

EAT Policy Director Dr. Sudhvir Singh says it is not EAT’s intention to propose ‘magic-bullet’ solutions, but to help cities in practical ways to exchange ideas, share solutions and co-design projects to which EAT can contribute technical expertise.

“By linking cities, information can be shared quickly about what is working and the ideas can be scaled up. EAT can provide research tools and also help cities link their ambitions to the private sector.”

The first meeting of the Nordic Cities EAT Initiative was held in Copenhagen, a city Singh describes as being on the front line of implementing policies on health and sustainability. The city council is encouraging public procurement of locally grown and organic food, including at municipally-operated canteens, public schools and nursing homes.

“Copenhagen has very ambitious targets and goals,” says Singh. “One main goal is reducing the city’s carbon emissions, the other is procuring more than 90 percent organic food.”

Creating more demand for locally grown and organic food also increases incentives for the private sector to provide such options, which in turn increases the availability and affordability of healthy and sustainable foods beyond what the city council procures.

In some cases, the particular limitations cities face can actually fuel the innovation. Lack of space, for example, has given way to the idea of vertical indoor farming.


In Newark, USA, the company Aerofarms has transformed a former steel plant into a 22,000 square meter high-tech environment for growing herbs and vegetables. Vertical farming of greens only uses one percent of the land required by traditional cultivation methods. High-tech indoor farms also use 95 percent less water than conventional, commercial farms and there is no harmful run-off of fertilizers and excess nutrients into the surrounding environment. Moreover, production can be done in urban areas close to the consumers, thereby reducing transportation needs.

Co-founder and CEO of Aerofarms, David Rosenberg will attend this year’s EAT Stockholm Food Forum, which has a particular focus on the potential of the cities to be agents of change in the shift to sustainable production methods and living.


The shift

Just over half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas.

Further projections show that urbanization combined with the overall growth of the world’s population could add another 2.5 billion people to urban populations by 2050. Close to 90 percent of the increase is expected to be concentrated in Asia and Africa.

The largest urban growth will take place in India, China and Nigeria. These three countries will account for 37 per cent of the projected growth of the world’s urban population.

EAT Policy Director Dr. Sudhvir Singh says developing sustainability in cities is very important.

“I think that if we don’t get the planning of the cities right, we will face major problems. Urbanisation is occurring at a rapid pace around the world. With poor urban planning, more and more citizens are unable to afford or access healthy food, resulting in rising rates of obesity and non-communicable diseases as well as rising carbon emissions.”

“Is C40 important for a more sustainable direction?”

“Yes, because it’s an international network of cities that are committed to reducing their emissions. They have achieved very impressive results in terms of more sustainable cities. Now they have realized that food is the next priority, and they are developing the urban food systems network with EAT.”

Could you mention another city that is a role model in some aspects?”

“Bogota. Colombia’s capital city has put a lot of land aside to allow people to grow their own food. They have also done a huge effort in the transport area. Streets are closed for traffic on Sundays to allow people to cycle in them.”

Some of the cities in front line towards sustainability 

London: The number of vehicles in the central business district has been reduced by over 70,000 per day since an innovative congestion charging scheme was introduced in 2003, cutting carbon emissions in the central London by 15 percent.

San Francisco: The city has plans to move to zero waste by 2020. San Francisco currently recycles or composts 77 percent of its waste and is one of the most sustainable cities in the USA.

Bogota: Colombia’s capital city has been awarded for its efficient bus and taxi fleets. Bogota’s Bus Rapid Transit system shuttles over 70 percent of the city’s population of seven million. Future goals include replacing all of the city’s diesel fleet with hybrid and electric buses, electrifying the entire taxi fleet.

Sidney: The city has planned a large-scale scheme so every resident can live within a 250-meter walk of continuous green links that connect to major city parks.

Munich: The city will solely be using renewable energy sources by 2025.

(Main source: C40)