Sustainability of Cities Beyond Fossil Fuels: A Comparative Analysis

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 17:30
Oral Presentation
Graeme LANG, City University of Hong Kong, Canada
All cities will eventually have to live without fossil fuels. The transitions will occur in most regions during the late 21th century (oil, gas) and early 22nd century (coal). The impacts of these transitions will be profound. What will cities look like after the depletion of fossil fuels? There are few certainties, but one is that no contemporary major city is sustainable, with current population and levels of consumption, beyond fossil fuels. It appears that unconventional sources of oil and gas (eg. from ‘fracking’) can provide only a temporary boost to supply (Inman, 2014). In most city-regions, there is no possibility of replacing more than a small fraction of the energy from these fuels with renewable energy, especially for transportation of goods and food (Friedemann, 2016). Nevertheless, cities vary greatly in sustainability (Day and Hall, 2016) depending on local renewable-energy sources, hinterland food production, population size and density, extent of urban sprawl, and access to a regional economy in which transportation is water-borne or uses renewable energy. This paper identifies the features of more sustainable versus less sustainable cities, with examples from Asia, the Americas, and Europe. Policy-implications are outlined, including initiatives (some already underway in some cities) with short-term benefits but which would also ease the inevitable and difficult longer-term transitions to the post-fossil-fuels urban futures of the late 21st century.


Day, John W., and Hall, Charles. 2016. America’s Most Sustainable Cities and Regions: Surviving the 21st Century Megatrends. N.Y.: Springer.

Friedemann, Alice. 2016. When The Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation N.Y., Springer.

Inman, Mason. 2014. ‘The ‘fracking’ fallacy’. Nature, Vol. 516, December 4, pp.28-30.