Australia ranks poorly in global sustainable cities index

by Tiffany Paczek
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Sydney is Australia’s most sustainable city according to the 2018 Sustainable Cities Index from Arcadis, the leading global design and consultancy for natural and built assets. London topped the ranking with European cities dominating the top of the overall Index, occupying eight of the top 10 spots, with Singapore and Hong Kong complementing the top 10.

Australian cities all scored middle of the road on the index, with Melbourne not making the top 50. All Australian cities performed well on people-focused measures, scoring well in health, education and digital-enablement, moderately well in the profit pillar due to employment and ease of doing business, but all scored worse in the planet pillar, with greenhouse gas emissions and waste management common issues across all four cities.

The Sustainable Cities Index ranks 100 global cities on three pillars of sustainability: People, Planet and Profit. The three pillars are closely aligned to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Stephen Taylor, Arcadis’ Australian cities director, says, “With no Australian city cracking the top 30 and one in the bottom 50, it’s confirmation that we need to continue to focus on improving the long-term sustainability, resilience and performance of our cities to act on the global stage.

“Across our cities, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne, we’ve seen a real shift over the last few years beyond green sustainability to social sustainability. Both government and private developments are increasingly focusing on how projects can better improve communities, including financial gains and community wellness.

“Despite the middle of the road rankings, the nation’s strong focus on developing integrated transit systems, addressing affordability and embracing sustainability in construction are all positive signs for future improvement across the three pillars,” Taylor says.

The 2018 version of Arcadis’ Sustainable Cities Index highlights the impact the rapid roll-out of digital technologies has on citizens’ experience of the city, and on the relationship between the city and its people.  Resiliency data for flooding or super storms, digitised utility bills, personalised mobility apps for Mobility as a Service (MaaS) are some examples of successful urban digital tools. Nevertheless, technology is not yet able to mitigate some of the ordinary urban discomforts, such as traffic jams, a lack of affordable transport options, the absence of sufficient green space, or the uncertainties caused by ageing infrastructure, among others.

According to the report, cities need to focus on well planned long-term resilience, even if they are subject to short-term changes and trends.  The successful path to long-term resilience requires the support and involvement of citizens, while at the same time, cities can also learn from each other.

The SCI data consistently highlights that the foundations of city sustainability are an educated and healthy workforce, effective low-carbon infrastructure and ease of doing business. Affordability, access to public transport and income inequality are the big swing variables that make or break a city’s sustainable success.

Global top 20 city ranking in Arcadis’ 2018 Sustainable Cities Index:

  1. London                                    11. Copenhagen
  2. Stockholm                               12. Amsterdam
  3. Edinburgh                               13. Seoul
  4. Singapore                                14. New York
  5. Vienna                                     15. Paris
  6. Zurich                                      16. San Francisco
  7. Munich                                    17. Hamburg
  8. Oslo                                          18. Berlin
  9. Hong Kong                             19. Seattle
  10. Frankfurt                                20. Dublin

The cities at the top of the Index have succeeded in achieving a degree of sustainable balance not only due to an historic economic legacy, but also due to far-sighted decisions taken to manage the long-term impacts of growth. London is one of few high performing cities in the Index with relatively similar scores across the three pillars of sustainability, even though it still faces huge challenges associated with affordability and congestion. Most highly ranked cities score well in one or two pillars. This means that even a high score in the Sustainable City Index does not offer any room for complacency. Also, high- and middle-ranking cities need to improve their performance across all pillars.

John Batten, Arcadis global director of cities, states: ”In many cities, developed or developing, citizens face huge challenges to meet basis needs, including shelter, food, water and warmth. Therefore, it is critical that cities maintain and evolve their services based on current needs, as well as assure that they address future requirements. City policy makers will play a key role by helping create long-term sustainable policies that specifically address these issues.”

The Index was compiled for Arcadis by the Centre for Economic and Business Research (Cebr). The full report can be downloaded at www.arcadis.com/SCI18_AU.

Image: 123RF’s Ashwin Kharidehal Abhirama © 123RF 

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