By creating circular cities with water at the core, it will create jobs and resilience to climate change, finds a new paper from the World Economic Forum.
No such thing as 'waste' water
In circular cities, there is no such thing as wastewater as metropolises would tap resources fully, including heat, organic waste and biosolids.
By managing water efficiently, it will enable cities to close the loop by reusing water and provide better insulation against climate change.
That’s according to a new “What If” position paper from the World Economic Forum (WEF), entitled: Circular Cities: A circular water economy for cleaner, greener, healthier, more prosperous cities.
Produced in collaboration with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, the paper is part of a new series from the World Economic Forum (WEF) to highlight new ways of thinking about global water resources.
“It is necessary to see water as a catalyst and as a key to unlocking multiple wins spanning these pressing issues to achieve a more equitable and sustainable global economy,” the Forum said.
Cities face a real challenge with increasing water stress, the paper said, stating that some are already “running out of water”.
“45 cities with over three million residents will face extremely high-water stress by 2030.”
One in four cities – representing over $4 trillion in economic activity – are already water stressed. This is also true of 70 per cent of the world’s megacities.
If the world continues with business as usual, it’s estimated that 45 cities, each with over three million residents, will “face extremely high-water stress by 2030”.
WEF said that it is the design of cities that is the issue. Currently, water is used in a linear way – captured, used and disposed of in a way that must “change rapidly in a climate-conscious world”.
Enhancing natural capital
As well as highlight the resource recovery potential for urban water, the paper said cities should use water to enhance “natural capital” through urban spaces.
Ponds, creeks and lakes, which also boost biodiversity, are more desirable places to live and work next to, enhancing the quality of life and mental well-being of city dwellers, WEF said.
“By investing into water circularity, it would drive the creation of new jobs in blue-green industries.”
By investing into water circularity, it would also drive the creation of new jobs in “blue-green” industries, including roles such as “green rooftop water manager”, “city wetland executive”, “urban cooling supervisor” and “circular water director”.
The paper referenced blue-green infrastructure such as the Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, which uses green roofs, buffer ponds and stormwater cisterns to help reduce summer temperatures by 2° Celsius.
Meanwhile in Paris, urban water sources have been harnessed to cool buildings with great effect. Climespace was listed as one example, which takes 50 per cent of its cooling needs from the River Seine, leading to a 35 per cent reduction in electricity and 50 per cent drop in CO2 emissions.
An earlier report from UNESCO listed Paris, as well as four other examples of cities putting circular plans into action.
Five recommendations to get started
To help get started, the paper recommended five points to help support a concerted global push for circular water city initiatives:
- Support a leader group of cities committed to a percentage of circular water infrastructure by 2030. The paper referenced China as a country where “it has already started”, citing its Sponge City project where 80 per cent of urban areas should absorb and reuse at least 70 per cent of rainwater.
- Form a network of “100 Circular Cities” modelled after the 100 Resilient Cities or C40 Network. By combining candidate cities that are already circular hotspots, together with at-risk cities, it would inspire peer-to-peer learning and best practice adoption network.
- Set up “blue” circular economic zones, with tax breaks and lower tariffs like free trade zones. The report recommended positioning industrial parks and new integrated city districts to demonstrate “circular economics” with water at the core. Such zones would encourage.
- Escalate consumer education and awareness globally on water and circularity. Education is needed on water recycling, as well as the need for food and beverage companies to use reclaimed water as an ingredient.
- Fund circular city water outcomes. Blue-green bonds and other financial incentives must look at aligning environmental, social and governance (ESG) water goals. Furthermore, real estate investors must encourage cities to adopt circular approaches, WEF said.
- The full report can be found here.
- 5 city-wide circular water strategies flagged by UNESCO
- What is a Circular Economy 2.0?
- Arnoud Molenaar: Rotterdam’s resilience leader