Published on Sustainable Cities

It’s Time to Scale Up - and Speed Up

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Prof Peter Head
Director, Arup and Executive Chairman, The Ecological Sequestration Trust

Ecological Sequestration Trust logoProf Peter Head will share his work with The Ecological Sequestration Trust through a monthly blog on sustainable cities. For more information on the Trust log on to

Earlier this month, I gave a presentation to the urban team at The World Bank about the work of our newly formed UK Charity, The Ecological Sequestration Trust.

I created the Charity in April 2011 because I could see, through the work of my brilliant global planning team in Arup that, while the path towards a low carbon resilient world was getting clearer, the overall rate of change is too slow to meet the required reduction of emissions and ecological footprint to create a more stable world for us to live in. We need to scale up - and speed up.

Peter Head group photoGlobally, the private and public sectors are still managed in silos and integrated infrastructure and community planning, which is the key to substantial resource efficiency, is not being incentivised. Also the tools and knowledge for doing this are not accessible to all.

I created the Trust to launch an open source integrated planning tool that could be linked to a global data base. I also wanted to test this tool across emerging economies like India, China and countries in Africa to demonstrate that partnering with local communities can contribute to a low carbon, resource efficient economy, which is also attractive for investors and public sector.

Over the last few months since we launched, we’ve already learned some valuable lessons:

  • As we face a future blighted by pollution, climate change and resource constraints we now have the tools in terms of data and modelling capability to enable us to find new closed loop, resilient economic development approaches which could be run in real time using sensing technology. The Trust is bringing leading experts from across the world to turn this into reality.
  • The modelling of human activity through agent-based resource models can also include natural systems and ecology. It is suggested that this could lead to a new science of human activity, ecology and resource flows on a closed planet.
  • We must partner with local community leaders and link them to the arts and culture community through networks like Culture/Futures. A series of Culture/Futures events has been held around the world to test this idea and has received widespread support including that from Dr Rajendra Pachauri at COP 17 in Durban who said that ‘not involving art and culture in the Kyoto mechanism was a mistake’.
  • Cities need to evolve as complete city regions in which the hinterland is integrated with the urban area in terms of water, carbon, nutrients and food so that soil quality and ecology is enriched across the region to improve resilience and carbon sequestration.
  • It is important that adaptation to climate change in emerging economies is integrated with mitigation and ecological development approaches to generate greater overall value and resilience.

We’re seeing great interest in the Trust’s work from communities in the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand. What I’m sincerely hoping for is that, instead of investing our energy in spreading new ideas across the world through separate initiatives, we can speed up - and scale up our efforts - by focussing on a few large regions where profound change is demonstrably practical and desirable. We can then guide them towards resilience, based on our experience with open source tools.


Peter Head

Director, Arup and Executive Chairman, The Ecological Sequestration Trust

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