In the year 2050, a staggering 66 per cent of the human population will live in cities – a 12 per cent increase from 2015. Urbanization comes with many advantages, for example in terms of energy efficiency, resource distribution and provision of basic services, but none of these gains will be achieved if cities continue to be designed and built in the same fashion as they have been until now.
A recent study by UN Environment’s International Resource Panel warns the amount of natural resources and raw materials that cities use every year will increase by 125 per cent if no changes are made, jumping from 40 billion tonnes in 2010 to nearly 90 billion tonnes by 2050. That is more than what the planet can sustainably provide.
In Bogotá, the capital city of Colombia, groups of young people are already addressing this global challenge at a local level, through innovative projects that promote the efficient use of natural resources.
The project "#EnModoAcción", developed by El Bosque University in Bogotá and UN Environment, seeks to give visibility to initiatives carried out by young people who advocate for sustainable lifestyles in areas such as mobility, food, housing, consumer goods and leisure.
Diana Martínez and Diego Ospina are two young entrepreneurs who work for a more environmentally-friendly city and who believe that change begins with small day-to-day decisions.
The two have undertaken very different businesses, but with a common goal: to reduce the environmental footprint of the more than eight million people living in the Colombian capital.
Martínez co-founded the company "Bioambientar" and the #CompostarColombia movement a year ago. She encourages the sound management of organic waste, such as food waste, and promotes urban agriculture and large-scale domestic composting.
"Bogotá produces 7,000 tons of solid waste every day, of which 60 per cent is organic waste that goes to landfills, emits greenhouse gases and pollutes soils and groundwater by decomposing in open air," Martínez says.
She and her team have developed a biotechnological process that reduces waste decomposition time from six months to ten days. Among her clients are restaurants and supermarkets working to enhance their environmental social responsibility programmes. The team also offers home composting courses and teaches how to build pesticide-free urban gardens.
Diego Ospina's field is mobility. Eight years ago, he founded "Mejor en bici" (Better by bike). Ever since, he has been focusing on convincing Bogota’s inhabitants of the benefits of biking. Among his clients are companies that rent fleets of bicycles so that their employees can move freely and cleanly.
"I believe that bikes are the solution to the problem of traffic jams in Bogotá because cycling allows us to get to destination faster. The municipality estimates that we spend an average of 22 days a year stuck in traffic jams," he laments.
The use of bikes improves people’s health, encourages physical exercise and, above all, prevents us from polluting the air we breathe.
"Latin American cities have given all the power to cars and we have ended up destroying ourselves; we have no space left for parks or for pedestrians. We have forgotten about human beings – it is time to reconquer the lost space," Ospina says.
The project #EnModoAcción began a year ago and since then, more than 600 young people have been involved in its various activities, including fairs, workshops, markets, seminars and competitions on social networks.
"Young people have a growing environmental commitment, yet we have found that almost half of the young people who have participated in our activities are unaware of the environmental impact of their habits, and that is the segment that we want to influence," acknowledges Luis Miguel Casabianca, from El Bosque University.
In addition to the initiatives by Diana and Diego, the project promotes a score of interesting ideas such as "Clothes Moda Sostenible", which seeks to prolong the life cycle of garments; "Network of Agroecological Markets", focused on the empowerment of local farmers, and the YouTube channel "Nana Murcia", where a young influencer gives advice and tips on sustainable living.
"In Latin America, 80 per cent of the population lives in cities. We are one of the most urbanized regions: it is urgent to adopt innovative approaches that help increase the efficiency of resources, but these changes will not be achieved if we do not transform individual lifestyles in urban communities," says Adriana Zacarías, Regional Coordinator of Resource Efficiency at UN Environment’s Latin America and the Caribbean region.
“Through this project, we hope to strengthen the skills and abilities of those young people who are already trying to build more sustainable societies and encourage others to generate, through innovation, alternative solutions to the environmental challenges of the present," she adds.
The fourth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly will take place in Nairobi, Kenya, from 11-15 March 2019, on the theme “Innovative solutions for environmental challenges and sustainable production and consumption”.