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Q1) Cities are the engines of economic growth, but they can also be the black holes of the environment. What are some of the key environmental challenges facing urban areas in the 21st century? How should modern cities address these challenges?


  • Urbanization is growing in India rapidly. As per a World Bank Report, due to rapid growth in economy India will have around 70% population in urban areas by the end of 2030. This is likely to pose environmental challenges.

Urban areas face the following key environmental challenges in the 21st century:

  1. Climate change: Urban areas are major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to global warming. As a result, cities are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, such as extreme weather events, sea-level rise, and heat waves.
  2. Pollution: Urban areas are a significant source of air pollution, which has negative impacts on human health, including respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. They also generate a large amount of waste, including sewage and industrial waste, which can contaminate water sources and harm aquatic ecosystems.
  3. Loss of biodiversity: Urbanization can lead to the destruction of natural habitats and loss of biodiversity amidst increased pressure on land for housing and infrastructure.
  4. Energy consumption: Urban areas consume significant amounts of energy, much of which is generated from non-renewable sources. It poses challenges for sustainable development.
  5. Transportation: Urban areas challenges related to transportation such as traffic congestion, vehicular pollution, and non-inclusive policies, such as bias towards private vehicles.
  6. Water resources: Indiscriminate exploitation of groundwater results in loss of aquifers. This results not only in water shortage but also increased toxicity of natural water resources amidst increasing disharmony between humans and nature.

The urban areas can address the environmental problems of the 21st century in the following ways:

  1. Eco-friendly and sustainable lifestyle: Cities can encourage their residents to adopt sustainable lifestyles through behavioral changes. E.g., LiFE or Lifestyle for environment movement can help reduce the environmental impact of urban living.
  2. Use of public transport: Cities can encourage the use of sustainable transportation options such as walking, cycling, and public transportation. This can reduce the carbon imprint of cities and improve air quality. E.g., Transit-oriented development, creating pedestrian zones etc.
  3. Conservation of urban forests: Government should preserve and develop city forests as lungs of urban areas. Such urban forests can be declared as ecologically-sensitive areas.
  4. Green code for construction: Promote the construction of green buildings that are designed to be energy-efficient and sustainable. This can reduce energy use, improve indoor air quality, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  5. Reduce waste: Cities can implement waste reduction and recycling programs to divert waste from landfills. This can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and conserve natural resources. This will helpaddress the problem of mountains of landfills such as Ghazipur in Delhi.
  6. Manage water resources: Cities must implement water conservation measures such as rainwater harvesting, greywater reuse, and water-efficient landscaping. This can help reduce water use and conserve water resources. E.g., recycling of water in Singapore.

Addressing urban areas’ environmental challenges in the 21st century requires a multifaceted approach that involves collaboration between government, industry, and the public. By implementing these strategies, modern cities can become more sustainable and resilient in the face of environmental challenges.


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