How do we want to live
How can we live a good life without jeopardizing the life-sustaining systems of future generations? This has become a central question for many people and for research devoted to sustainable development. Reaching the ultimate goal of keeping our Earth liveable for future generations requires each and every one of us to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to consume fewer resources. In effect we will have to change how we build our homes and how we live, eat and drink, travel and communicate.
There is broad public awareness of the challenges that lie ahead. Most Germans no longer consider adoption of a sustainable lifestyle as a trade-off but rather as an improvement, as an opportunity to increase their quality of life. Eighty-two per cent of the population see the advantages such as cost savings and health benefits associated with greener consumer behaviour. Two-thirds claim they systematically buy products whose production and use leave as light a footprint as possible and also consider relevant labels (energy efficiency classes, organic labels or Fairtrade certification) when making purchases.
The public also expect policy-makers to focus on sustainability. According to a current survey by the Federal Environment Agency, 20 per cent of the public rank environmental and climate protection as the top two policy priorities of our age. Global challenges such as climate change or population growth can only be tackled in global cooperation. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research is funding a large number of research projects in sustainable development which are investigating today how we will be living tomorrow.
Will farmers soon live in megacities?
A poignant example of changes that are affecting not only a few individual countries or regions but all of humankind is the trend towards urbanization and the rise of megacities on all continents. Urbanization goes hand in hand with enormous consumption of energy and, as a result, increased emissions of greenhouse gases and land consumption. Land is consumed by building new roads and settlements on what used to be natural space. One of the great challenges of the 21st century is how to structure metropolitan regions facing unchecked growth in such a way as to make them liveable and sustainable for the people who live there.
One project funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research is ‘Urban Agriculture Casablanca – Design as an integrative factor of research'. Undine Giseke, Professor for Landscape Architecture/Open Space Planning at the Technical University Berlin and project manager, is working together with local partners to investigate how urban agriculture – food cultivation and self-sufficiency – might promote sustainable urban development and land use.
Will there be climate neutral cities?
The more relevant issue in German cities is upgrading energy efficiency in existing buildings and shifting to more sustainable modes of mobility in metropolitan areas and to climate neutral energy supply. The ambitious goal is for 30 German cities to be carbon neutral by 2020. What will such a climate neutral town look like? Will its energy supply come exclusively from decentralized solar, wind and hydroelectric power plants located in the city? Will only electric cars be seen driving in city centres? Will zero energy buildings – ones that produce as much energy as they consume – become the standard in the process of issuing building permits?
A key factor to the success of such sustainable strategies lies in motivating members of the public to be part of the process, for the high level of awareness of sustainable development among the greater public does not yet translate into comparable action. To illustrate: 94 per cent of the German population rate accelerated development of renewable energy as "important" or even "extremely important", yet only 3.9 per cent of private households in Germany were supplied with green electricity in 2010. Research projects such as “Social, Ecological and Economic Dimensions of Sustainable Energy Consumption in Dwellings” (Seco@home), funded by the BMBF, examine consumer behaviour to find out how renewable sources of energy can be supplied and used more sustainably.