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Resource efficiency becomes a necessity as we future-proof our cities

13 May 2014 #Environment

Reading, May 2014 – “Resource efficiency in every form is vital as urban development grows at a rate never experienced before,” Sir David King, The Foreign Secretary’s Special Representative for Climate Change, told a Thames Valley audience of business leaders and academic experts.

Sir David King was the keynote speaker at a symposium and reception hosted by the University of Reading and the Commonwealth Environmental Investment Platform, which explored the ways in which we can create smart and sustainable urban visions, provide transferable technology and knowledge solutions from the UK to the Commonwealth and how universities, business and the public sector should work together to realise this vision.

Sir David King

Sir David King

Sir David King
The Foreign Secretary’s Special Representative for Climate Change


In hosting the event, Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Reading, emphasised the urgency in making cities smart, as well as sustainable: “The theme of sustainability is particularly relevant as we do much here to understand better the impact of and on our urban areas as the climate changes and finding ways to make our cities and towns more sustainable. When I saw Sir David King’s appointment as the Foreign Secretary’s Special Representative, it seemed a great signal that the current Government has seen climate change as such an important priority for the UK, that someone of Sir David’s standing and stature was to become the Special Representative.”

Sir David Bell

Sir David Bell
Vice-Chancellor, University of Reading


In his keynote speech, Sir David King, who is also Chairman of Future Cities Catapult, outlined a succession of demographic trends that are creating threats to urban areas that the world has never faced before. He explained that climate change is one of the big challenges we are facing in terms of urban development and the future of developing cities, citing that “80% of existing cities are on coastlines under threat as sea levels continue to rise.”

However, according to Sir David, the biggest drivers for change in urban development are demographics:

“The growth of middle class people – those who spend between ten and one hundred dollars per day – has doubled from 1 billion in 2000 to 2 billion in 2013. This is projected to increase to 5 billion by 2030, most of whom will be urban dwellers. Preparing for this in such a short space of time is a challenge the world has never faced before.”

“Changing consumer behaviour means we have a whole bunch of challenges coming to us at the same time: conflicts of water resource, changing patterns of food consumption, energy security and supply. Each one of these impacts on each other and resource efficiency in every form becomes a necessity as we move forward in time.”

Sir David highlighted the need for these challenges to be addressed globally, expecting growth in urban development in the new world of Asia-Pacific and Africa to happen at a rate we’ve never seen before. He advised that we need to look for global examples of best practice to help future-proof developing cities.

The theme of sharing knowledge was strengthened by Michael Sippitt, Chairman of the Commonwealth Environmental Investment Platform, who agreed there must be collaboration among cities to generate shared ideas and define best practice. He described the Commonwealth as a ready-made network and international forum within which city-based clusters can be developed to create an ecosystem for innovation and growth:

“There are many developing counties in the Commonwealth that need technology badly. Europe has much technology to share with the Commonwealth and that needs to be facilitated. The Commonwealth’s common legal frameworks and existing business, governmental, linguistic and cultural links make it the ideal international forum. If the Commonwealth didn’t exist we would need to invent it.”

Michael Sippitt

Michael Sippitt
Chairman, The Commonwealth Environmental Investment Platform


He reminded delegates of the growing significance of sustainability: “Climate change impacts are enormous and will continue to be enormous. We need to connect people to work together on the common theme of how business can help the environment. I see the UK as a very principle facilitator for EU and Commonwealth enterprise. There’s a great opportunity for the UK to position itself in both camps, being able to help Commonwealth businesses work with the EU and vice versa.”

Conference speakers

Conference speakers (Left to right):
Michael Sippitt (Commonwealth Environmental Investment Platform)
Tim Curtis (Ricardo AEA)
Sir David King (The Foreign Secretary’s Special Representative for Climate Change)
Professor Tim Dixon (University of Reading)
Professor Janet Barlow (University of Reading)
Euan Burns (Carillion plc)

The presentation slides and videos from the conference are available here.

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