Urbanisation and the environment

Ended in 2013

Growing urban affluence tends to have profound environmental consequences, but the net impact depends heavily on how the transition is managed. IIED worked to identify the best means of making urbanisation more environmentally beneficial and less destructive.

The Retiro district of Buenos Aires features affluent shopping and business areas close to a large shanty town where many homes don't have running water (Photo: Mark Edwards/IIED)

It is hard to say whether urbanisation is environmentally beneficial or destructive. As our previous work on urban environmental transitions showed, it is growing urban affluence driven by economic growth that tends to have the more profound environmental consequences, shifting the predominant burdens from local health concerns (such as bad households sanitation and indoor air pollution), towards city and regional problems (such as pollution of the waterways and the ambient air) and towards threats to global sustainability (through high consumption patterns and carbon emissions).

At every scale, however, measures undertaken in urban areas can reduce the burdens, and we worked with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to examine how environmental improvement can be integrated into urban planning and management (PDF).

We also worked to highlight environmental concerns, such as those summarised in a Working paper on urban groundwater, which is critical to large numbers of mostly low-income households using wells in urban Africa and Asia.

Issues of urbanisation and environment are also closely linked to our cities and climate change work, including that summarised in books published with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on 'Population dynamics and climate change' and 'The demography of adaptation to climate change'.


Groundwater, self-supply and poor urban dwellers: a review with case studies of Bangalore and Lusaka, Jenny T. Grönwall, Martin Mulenga and Gordon McGranahan (2010), IIED Human Settlements Working Paper, Series 26 

The demography of adaptation to climate change, George Martine and Daniel Schensul, eds (2013), UNFPA, IIED and El Colegio de México

Additional resources

Population dynamics and climate change, José Miguel Guzmán, George  Martine, Gordon  McGranahan, Daniel  Schensul and Cecilia  Tacoli, eds (2009), UNFPA and IIED

Integrating the environment in urban planning and management: key principles and approaches for cities in the 21st century, David Dodman, Gordon McGranahan and Barry Dalal-Clayton (2013), UNEP

Evolving urban health risks: housing, water and sanitation and climate change, Gordon McGranahan, (2012), pages 15-41 in The Urban Transformation: Health, shelter and climate change, Elliot Sclar, Nicole Volavka-Close and Peter Brown, (eds), Earthscan/Routledge


United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)


El Collegio de Mexico

United Nations Population Fund (UFPA

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

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