Year of selection 2014
Institution Humboldt Universitaet zu Berlin
55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to 68% by 2050 according to the UN. The sprawl of cities, while a major driver of global prosperity, is fast depleting the planet’s resources, causing severe biodiversity loss and dangerously fueling the threats of climate change. Because urban areas now occupy the center stage in global development, they are also set to play a decisive role in providing the momentum for sustainable change. Dagmar Haase, Professor of Landscape Ecology at Humboldt University of Berlin, was the recipient of an AXA Research Fund Award in 2015 for her research on resilient cities. The 2-year grant enabled Prof. Haase to produce a global urban development model aimed at achieving a better understanding ongoing trends of global urbanization and predicting future urban landscapes. The project provides insights for better governance strategies and planning.
A new global urbanization model to examine the interrelated impacts of urban growth and climate change
Professor Haase’s model has resulted in two major scientific publications. The first, On the Nexus of the Spatial Dynamics of Global Urbanization and the Age of the City, examines the drivers of urban change over time and with a global perspective. “Knowledge regarding the spatial dimension of urban growth is imperative to address issues such as human quality of life, food and energy consumption, health, climate and hunger vulnerabilities and risks”, Prof. Haase explains. “Previous spatially explicit models were typically focused on a city or an urban region”. This approach has allowed the identification of future hotspots of urbanization globally. The second paper, Integrative assessment of climate change for fast-growing urban areas: Measurement and recommendations for future research investigates
the impacts of climate change in relation to different stages of the development of urban areas. Among these consequences are the repercussions on biodiversity according to growth rate, the nature of the urbanization, and the temperature and rainfall pattern exposure of each city (as a function of micro-climates and global global warming trends). One of the major findings of the project is that those areas facing major urban growth are also global hotspots of climate change, emphasizing the need for stakeholders to manage both issues jointly. “We see the integrative perspective we present as one way to foster such co‐management”, says Prof. Haase.
Urban land teleconnections as a driver of socio-ecological change
To develop the model, Prof. Haase and her team started by investigating past urbanization patterns. Using the History Database of the Global Environment, which presents time series of population and land use for the last 12,000 years, the team derived global patterns of urbanization and projected them into the future. This exercise provided multiple examples of land changes which no local variable could account for. Instead, they found underlying links with geographically distant urbanization dynamics. They thus introduced a new parameter of socio-ecological change: “urban land teleconnections”. Inspired by a concept used in climate science to refer to climate anomalies that correlate over large geographic distance, this notion designates the distant flows and connections between people, economic goods and services, and land-use change that connect urbanization to land change processes. “To date, a large body of literature has considered the proximate land changes brought about by urbanization, but the more distant land-use implications of urbanization remain underexamined”, she points out, giving as an example the influence of other cultures on fairly new urban habits such as vegetarianism.
As outlined by the 2018 United Nation’s report on World Urbanization Prospects, “well-managed urbanization, informed by an understanding of population trends over the long run, can help maximize the benefits of agglomeration while minimizing environmental degradation”. The global urban development model produced by Prof. Dagmar Haase with the support of the AXA Research Fund was devised precisely to meet this need for a long-term vision. The inclusion of climate change dimensions provides a more comprehensive understanding of future global trends This integrative approach is particularly crucial in Asia and Africa, which will experience a disproportionate increase in urban population and which are expected to suffer the greatest climatic changes.