Megacities plan spurns science

 作者:高戴     |      日期:2019-02-27 06:15:01
By Fred Pearce in Istanbul EFFORTS to make the world’s cities better places to live in are overlooking science and technology, according to a panel of more than seventy national science academies. As the UN conference on human settlements, dubbed Habitat II, opened in Istanbul earlier this week, the academies complained that the urban action plan being prepared at the conference virtually ignores science. A statement from the Inter-Academy Panel on International Issues, which met in Istanbul last weekend, claims that “the potential for science and technology to solve the problems of the world’s multiplying cities has not been realised.” The document calls for a broader discussion of how science and technology can be harnessed to prevent urban pollution and help the hundreds of millions of urban poor who are without basic services such as clean water, shelter and sanitation. “The fact is that science and technology have a crucial role and responsibility in providing solutions and ensuring the long-term sustainability of cities,” says panel co-chair Sherwood Rowland of the University of California, Irvine, who shared the 1995 Nobel chemistry prize for his work on the destruction of the ozone layer. “But that concept is missing from the UN document.” The world’s urban population is currently increasing by 68 million a year, but “neither the pace of research nor its transfer into practical applications has kept up”, according to P.N. Tandon, Rowland’s co-chair and president of the Indian National Science Academy. The Habitat II conference will provide a shop window for examples of best practice in improving the urban environment. The bulk of the 12 projects, chosen by an international jury from some 600 entrants, emphasise social organisation—especially promoting women’s rights and self-reliance among the urban poor. The single overtly technological project found ways to develop “zero emissions” manufacturing and transport systems in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which once suffered from heavy pollution (see “The zero option”, New Scientist, 1 June, p 32). At their meeting, the panel identified many other technologies that could play an important role in improving living conditions in the cities of tomorrow. Computerised geographical information systems (GISs) should be used more widely by city planners in the developing world, the academies say. GISs enable planners to display large amounts of data in map form, as well as update and manipulate them to test the impact of different planning decisions. A system was recently installed in the planning office of Dhaka, Bangladesh, a city estimated to be growing by half a million inhabitants a year. But the academies say that many other cities that could benefit from GISs are not doing so. Also neglected are environmental engineering techniques for absorbing air pollution from motor vehicles via planting park vegetation, the panel argues. And cities should devote more effort to surveillance systems giving warning of the spread of infectious diseases, such as the 1991 cholera epidemic in Peru that killed 2600 people. The panel also wants more effort made in transferring technology to developing countries to enable them to switch to unleaded petrol. The World Bank, which describes lead as the “greatest environmental threat” to many cities in the developing world, is calling for its worldwide removal from petrol; and bank officials speaking in Istanbul this week argued that a ban is technically feasible, cheap and could raise the average IQ of children in cities such as Bangkok by 4 points. To this end the bank wants to lend money for refineries to switch to alternative petrol additives. While lead has been phased out in countries as diverse as Brazil, Sweden and Slovakia, in much of Africa petrol contains five times more lead than is allowed in most European countries (This Week, 23 March, p 6). The main conference is expected to spend little time considering such concrete measures, and instead to focus on more abstract debates. Top of the political agenda is the US government’s refusal to agree text in the main conference document that proposes a universal “right to adequate housing”. According to British delegate Felix Dodds, co-ordinator of the UN Environment and Development UK Committee, a nongovernmental organisation set up to pursue Agenda 21, brainchild of the 1992 UN Earth Summit,