Fifty years ago, only a third of the world's population lived in cities. Today, more than half lives in urban areas, and by 2100 more than eight in ten people will live in so-called megacities: metropolitan areas with a population in excess of 10 million and very loosely defined boundaries. What is certain is that megacities represent the paradigm of urbanisation in the coming decades, particularly in the developing areas of Africa and South America. The world’s current 27 megacities are home to 6.7 percent of the world's population and cover only 2 percent of the Earth's surface, although they are responsible for 70 percent of CO2 emissions. According to the latest estimates, megacities will rise to 40 percent of the global population in the next ten years.
It is therefore clear that the twenty-first century will be the century of cities, which will play a key role in the global economy due to their size and complexity. Such a massive urbanisation process involves a series of challenges, in terms of social inequality (such as the slums of the developing world) and sustainability (e.g. air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions). These were the main issues discussed in Quito, Ecuador at Habitat III, the international conference on sustainable urban development, organised by UN-Habitat (the UN agency for human settlements).
The conference, which saw the participation of UN members, academics, government officials and representatives of the private sector, focused on urbanisation and the challenges of a sustainable urban transition: from efficient energy production and consumption to electric mobility, urban resilience and climate change. The goal of the conference was to consolidate the world's commitment to the issue and the implementation of a new Urban Agenda, based on the Habitat Agenda adopted in Istanbul in 1996.
During the event, the book Cities in the 21st century was presented to the audience: a collection of essays edited by Renata Mele (Enel Foundation) and Oriol Nello (Autonomous University of Barcelona), with case studies written by over 40 academic specialists from different countries, analysing and interpreting the phenomenon of urbanisation in all its complexity. The text explores the evolution of cities from different perspectives, by identifying some of the key factors involved in sustainable development: megacities of the future, the impact of climate change, the role of utilities and technology, global city networks, and the challenges of urban governance.
The Enel Foundation also created – in collaboration with UN-Habitat and Polytechnic University of Milan – one of the first studies on the energy cycle in disadvantaged areas, with a particular focus on the analysis of energy services and consumer behaviour in the slums of Rio de Janeiro (Brazil).
Urbanisation is one of the main drivers of change in contemporary societies, along with economic globalisation and digitisation. Now it's up to companies like Enel, who are at the forefront of innovation, to offer their strong contribution to the development and construction of smart cities as a sustainable solution to such large-scale urban development.