The oil giant is keen to alert policymakers and business leaders to what it calls the ‘stress nexus’ – the deep interdependence of the world’s energy, water and food – which is set to heighten in the face of rapid urbanisation.

More than half of the world’s population, which currently sits at 7 billion, already lives in cities. By 2050, it is expected that 75% of the 9 billion people living on the planet will be city dwellers.

According to Shell, the challenge posed by increasing resource pressure can act as a driver for change and encourage society to make cities more resilient. It was keen to drive this message home at its ‘Powering Progress Together’ forum in Rotterdam last week where it brought 300 policymakers, business leaders and academics together to discuss the issues.

Collaboration came out as a key theme in terms of building resilience, both within and across cities – especially at a grassroots level. For example, techniques used to prepare for disasters have been applied to manage traffic. Nature and technology can also mix to create more livable cities in the future.

Wetlands Internationals is a global NGO and an environment partner with Shell. Its CEO Jane Madgwick pointed out that cities were eco-systems within a large eco-system. “They are intricately connected systems. So we cannot just look at the city in isolation but the full landscape,” she said.

Madgwick highlighted the city of Jakarta as an example, where its water shortages are linked to over-extraction of ground water outside of the city.

“We can combine new solutions with natural solutions in areas like water technology,” she told delegates. “There is an opportunity in cities where there is no current fixed infrastructure to create clever solutions that combine social and economic resilience with environmental resilience.”

Resilient cities

Meanwhile those who have a strong connection and accountability factor to the city they live in, such as mayors or council leaders, could play a leading facilitator role in forging the type of collaboration needed.

Benjamin Barber, a political theorist and author, said that mayors were pragmatists and problem solvers. “So cities can co-operate, working across borders and solve problems globally, not just locally. It is possible to create coalitions that work out common practices and solutions together.”

Lessons may be learnt from the ‘100 resilient cities’ programme set up by The Rockefeller Foundation in 2013 to enable 100 cities better address the increasing shocks and stresses of the 21st century.

The first phase is now underway, involving 32 cities, each of which must create and implement a resilience plan, and hire a chief resilience officer to oversee the strategy. It is hoped the initiative will become a testbed of innovation.

Meanwhile Shell is involved in variety of work to investigate how future cities can integrate transport, energy, water and waste systems more effectively.

Last year it partnered with The Dow Chemical Company, Swiss Re, Unilever and The Nature Conservancy to assess the potential of natural elements to boost resilience in the energy industry, such as oyster beds for coastal protection and reed beds to clean industrial water.

Maxine Perella

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