Prof. Dr. Dirk Messner at the Opening Week 2020: "Cities are key“

2020-10-08 The President of the German Environment Agency was keynote speaker on the fifth day of the Opening Week. He called for a sustainable transformation of cities to stop climate change.

The political scientist Dirk Messner has been President of the German Environment Agency since January 2020. ©Marvin Sokolis
The political scientist Dirk Messner has been President of the German Environment Agency since January 2020.

The facts speak for themselves: 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are related to urban areas. They are caused, for example, by increased mobility, increased energy consumption and the use of CO2-intensive building materials such as steel, cement and aluminum. "If we want to solve the climate crisis, cities are key," said Prof. Dr. Dirk Messner, President of the German Environment Agency, to the first-semester students. A step-by-step transformation is no longer enough. The scientist warned of the urgency of action. 

Dirk Messner spoke of the "century of cities": "Global urban population rises from 3.7 billion in 2017 to 6.5 - 7 billion by 2050. 80 % of the global population will live then in cities." At the same time, cities are getting bigger and bigger. Messner predicted that up to two billion people will live in slums by 2050 if cities are built as they are today. Today there are already around 850 million people living in precarious conditions. In contrast, there are probably one billion people who could move to the suburbs. "Suburbs is not a sustainable trend. We need shorter distances," said Dirk Messner. 

The great importance of cities for people and the negative influence on climate change also has political consequences for the President of the German Environment Agency: "If urbanization is one of the major drivers of human developement in the 21st Century, we need better, stronger and capable local government structures." In many countries, the current political structure is too hierarchical. National governments know too little about local challenges; investment decisions are too rarely made at the local level. 

Until next Friday, October 9, the approximately 1400 first semester students of Leuphana will have the opportunity to discuss this year's topic of the Opening Week "Future::Cities" with experts from science, politics and economy. Other guest speakers include the politician Marina Weisband and Yale Professor Elijah Anderson.