No time to lose: Urban Transvergence now!

Roberto Cossu, Urbanization, Globalization, Megacities, Climate Change, Waste Management, Wasteless Future, Urban Transvergence, Cities, Urban migration, trade hubs

Roberto Cossu

This is more a manifesto and less a blog post. It’s written by my good friend Roberto Cossu, a Ph.D. student and a very good blogger. I enjoy his writings about planning, design, and policies for complex organizations at his blog Urban Transvergence.  According to Roberto “TransVergence is a neologism, it’s a new paradigm and mind approach. TransVergence is the key to taking a leap forward on studies and practice about “problems of organized complexity”. The aim of his blog is to foster the debate among different disciplines and sciences involved in complex organizations, beyond the cross-fertilization, toward necessary is TransVergence in knowledge and practice. Enjoy his manifesto on globalization, megacities and the cultural shift required.

A cultural shift to address globalization starting from megacities: Acting an #UrbanTransVergence* for a #WasteLessFuture**

“The 21st century is the Century of massive Urbanization, of the rise of Megacities and, of the apotheosis of Urban sprawl. Which are the consequences of this change on a global and local scale?  Are we making what is required, according to the currently available opportunities, to plan, design and build more livable Cities? Can we address the new challenges acting the old business as usual way? Which are the lessons learned so far? Which actions must be taken and promoted immediately?

Trying to answer from an Urban Planning Scholar and Practitioner point of view, I’ll try to focus on the essence of the problem: Cities, the home for over 50% of the entire world population, are #ComplexAdaptiveSystems shaped by deeply interconnected processes, starting from local and reaching the global level and vice versa.

#ComplexAdaptiveSystems is a way to describe urban systems as constituted by an internal and external environment communicating through an interface: the systems exchange continually information (data, energy, food) with their external environment through multiple interfaces and thanks to their internal processes, are able to reproduce themselves (autopoiesis) and to elaborate, through the mediation of the same interface, the stimulus from the external environment, taking benefits and without changing qualitatively their internal structures (resilience). #ComplexAdaptiveSystems are structured like “collective networks” of “reflective actors” in order to face “organized complexity”: actors involved into a complex adaptive system show an individual behaviour that can be related to the collective behaviour.

Cagliari, Urbanization, Globalization, Megacities, Climate Change, Waste Management, Wasteless Future, Urban Transvergence, Cities, Urban migration, trade hubs

Cities can be defined also as problems of organized complexity and they are the physical and human direct interface for multiple input and output processes (many would call it economy…). A direct observation of the real situation of Metro areas and Megacities all over the world indicates that we are far away from doing our best to plan, design and build more liveable Cities.

The whole cities supply-chain, primarily Food and Energy production, is governed by a market model that was produced in the last five decades, possibly the greatest and widest in range human failure ever seen: the connection between #MassiveGlobalPollution at all levels (air, high atmosphere, soil, fresh waters, oceans) and #ClimateChange, as the direct consequence, is heading, both on a local and a global scale, to a new and dangerous level we have never seen.

Therefore we can’t address these new challenges acting as in the past.

This is why these two main disruptive phenomena must become the major drivers for the next generation of #UrbanPlanningAndDesign and #UrbanManagement based on an #Adaptation principle.

Governments are on the way and, as broadly known, the objective of the main international treaty on climate change called United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic [i.e., human-induced] interference with the climate system”.

The current level of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere is 430ppm CO2e. Before the industrial revolution this level was 280 parts per million (ppm) CO2 equivalent (CO2e) and it’s broadly accepted that it should be limited to 450-550ppm CO2 to prevent the tipping point, this dramatic moment, well known in both Physics and Social Sciences when everything can change all at once and with unpredictable manners.

The network of the world’s megacities, called C-40, committed to addressing climate change and to deliver the ambition of the Paris Agreement, through 2020 and beyond, during its recent 2016 biennial summit in Mexico City. The final document, a 100-page report, entitled “Deadline 2020”, clearly outlines that the next 4 years will determine whether or not the world’s megacities can deliver their part of the ambition of the Paris Agreement and that without action by cities the Paris Agreement cannot realistically be delivered.

Urbanization, Globalization, Megacities, Climate Change, Waste Management, Wasteless Future, Urban Transvergence, Cities, floods, sea level, rising temperature

The ambitious goal of C40 network is to bend the emissions by 2020 to a further 5% higher than current emissions from an estimated increase of 35%. This needs that the average per capita emissions across C40 cities drops by 2030 to around 2.9 tCO2e per capita from over 5 tCO2e per capita we have today.

What is very interesting is that the report states the following: first, that if those actions were adopted by cities globally the combined  action within urban areas would deliver around 40% of the savings needed to achieve the ambition of the Paris Agreement; second and finally, waste management is recognized as one of the 5 key paths towards substantial reduction of GHGs considering that waste management and the shift towards the circular economy are more likely and achievable comparing to other activities (like changing the buildings CO2 footprint) that require decades to be prepared and implemented.

#ComplexAdaptiveSystems do not work in a linear way but with multiple nonlinear paths that are almost unpredictable. Models do not explain everything nor can be considered strictly predictive. Scientific models, even those super sophisticated, seem to deeply underestimate the complex interconnections among all the natural and artificial components. Models can suggest just a bunch of possible solutions. And we have to pick those that give us the highest level of security for the sake of survival of the ecosystems.

That’s why it is reasonable to think that the milestone of 2050 in terms of climate change effects is more likely to anticipate on 2030 or at worst at 2020.

What we know, according to the data available, is that this process is evolving for almost 50 years at this pace and even if we’ll get the goal of UNFCCC, the sea-level rise and the increasing temperatures are already facts.

The train is on its way and our actions are not sufficient to take it to the station. The temperature will rise the same but is key to stay within a 1.5 F degree temperature to avoid an excessive sea-level rise.

Thanks to NOAA and NASA analyses now we know that 2016 was the hottest year on record globally. The calculations of the two agencies differ only slightly, but they both show the same warming trends. NOAA’s calculation shows the globally averaged temperature over land and ocean surfaces was  0.94°C (1.69°F) above the 20th-century average. NASA indicated a temperature of 1.01°C (1.82°F)above that average.

Roberto Cossu, Urbanization, Globalization, Megacities, Climate Change, Waste Management, Wasteless Future, Urban Transvergence, Cities, Urban migration, trade hubs

21.01.2017 Poetto’s beach, Cagliari, Italy, submerged during the Violent Storm

This is the main discussion today.

But it’s not all that we’ve learned so far.

Yet, although most of us are not aware, the Arctic ice sheet affects the entire planet because it regulates global temperature. Due to rising temperatures, the Arctic ice-sheet is getting warmer and thinner, and as a result, the entire world weather system is changing and in a dramatic spiral, the Arctic sea ice is further shrinking and again the global climate is changing dramatically. This process puts in direct danger local populations and wildlife together with all of us. In terms of the Science of Complexity, we are witnessing the worst and dangerous self-positive reinforcing process in our history.

That’s happening due to an increasing of CO2 levels in the atmosphere where we have unusually high air temperatures and consequently higher-than-usual sea surface temperatures. That’s why

this year the Arctic sea ice has retreated earlier than normal and the sea started to absorb sun heat earlier than expected. The sea is stocking sun energy more than in the past and when sea ice should be forming, at the start of the season, the water is still too warm. Sea unusually too warm means also air temperatures unusually high over most of the Arctic Ocean. This process is self-reproducing and self-sustaining over the years.

Because of global warming, many coastal areas are today at risk of flooding, and more and more people are at risk of having to leave their homes, becoming in effect climate migrants. In the United States, there are about 25 million inhabitants living in areas vulnerable to flooding, while in Europe a third of the population lives within 50 kilometers from the coast.

In 2013 IPCC data forecasted a global sea level rise that varies from a minimum of 53 cm to a maximum of 97 by 2100, depending on the level of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. Even if the goal of significantly reduced emissions, as required by the Paris Conference of 2015, would be achieved, the level would rise at a slightly lower rate, between 28 and 60 centimeters.

Different studies highlight that even in the case of extreme reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, large tracts of our coasts will be submerged by the end of the century.

Cagliari is the major city of Sardinia Island (Italy) and is placed on the south coast. Two scientific studies, one from the USA (2007) and one from Italy (2017) accordingly predict a significant ingression of the sea in all the coastal area affecting entire housing districts and the industrial area (of national interest) of Macchiareddu.

In October 2016, the Mayor of Cagliari, Massimo Zedda, showed to the City Council his Programmatic Statements ( for the 2016/2021 mandate. In this document climate change is evocated at pag. 34 as follows:

“Adapting to climate change is a need that can’t be no longer delayed and we intend to implement the activities appointing Scenario studies to the offices depending on which design emergency planning and proper risk management also by using additional technological tools for detection of weather conditions and improve communication to citizens.”

But at the same time, as it happens in many other cities, in chapter 2.6 entitled “Urban Planning and territorial setting” not a word were spent to explain how to integrate the climate change aspects in #UrbanPlanningAndDesign and #UrbanManagement based on an #Adaptation principle.

Then,  on January 21, 2017, the City of Cagliari and its surroundings, experienced a southerly warm wind storm whose severity was rather unknown, as well as its effects on the natural and built environment. At one point, warm winds clashed with easterly cold air in the sea in front of the city forming a tornado that threatened the petrochemical industry of Sarroch and finally hit a big gas tanker anchored in the bay.

In the news, Public Institutions and politicians fought each other speaking of nonsenses, lacking the evidence of what really happened.

In Cagliari and all over the world, a big stock of buildings and infrastructures as roadways, railways, pipelines and dumpsites are built in the coastal buffer and will be subjected to floods in the near future. All of those buildings and infrastructures are not designed to work in salt water conditions and most of them are going to be out of service in just a few years or even worst in few months.

21.01.2017 Poetto's promenade, Cagliari, Italy, submerged during the Violent Storm

21.01.2017 Poetto’s promenade, Cagliari, Italy, submerged during the Violent Storm

And, what if in the future the majority of industrial sites, uncontrolled or controlled break-ship yards, and #Dumpsites, even if sanitized, located in coastal areas would be flooded reversing large quantities of pollutant in the seas, summing its effect to the marine litter and plastic pollution just valued today as an average of 2 kg per square kilometre of sea water?

The world is on the edge. We can’t permit that this scenario will become reality. But we have it under our noses. The signs are everywhere.

Thousand miles away from Cagliari, Philip Stoddard a scientist, professor of biology at Florida International University, and politician, having won two successive elections to be mayor of South Miami, in an interview with The Guardian stated the following:

Another foot of sea-level rise will be enough to bring salt water into our fresh water supplies and our sewage system. Those services will be lost when that happens […] You won’t be able to flush away your sewage and taps will no longer provide homes with fresh water. Then you will find you will no longer be able to get flood insurance for your home. Land and property values will plummet and people will start to leave. Places like South Miami will no longer be able to raise enough taxes to run our neighborhoods. Where will we find the money to fund police to protect us or fire services to tackle house fires? Will there even be enough water pressure for their fire hoses? It takes us into all sorts of post-apocalyptic scenarios. And that is only with a one-foot sea-level rise. It makes one thing clear though: mayhem is coming.”

If this is not sufficient, in the same article Harold R. Wanless, Ph.D.,  Professor, and Chair of the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Miami backed the point:

“Every day we continue to pump uncontrolled amounts of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, we strengthen the monster that is going to consume us. We are heating up the atmosphere and then we are heating up the oceans so that they expand and rise. There doesn’t look as if anything is going to stop that. People are starting to plan in Miami but really they just don’t see where it is all going […] It is over for south Florida. It is as simple as that. Nor is it on its own. […] “The next two or three feet of sea-level rise that we get will do away with just about every barrier island we have across the planet. Then, when rises get to four-to-six feet, all the world’s great river deltas will disappear and with them the great stretches of agricultural land that surrounds them. People still have their heads in the sand about this but it is coming. Miami is just the start. It is worth watching just for that reason alone. It is a major US city and it is going to let itself drown.”

This is why the time for acting towards an #UrbanTransVergence* for a #WasteLessFuture** has come and we have #NoTimeToLoose.

Those above aren’t either simple keywords nor slogans but deep concepts and a call to action. We must act cutting carbon emissions but at the same time, we need a global disaster mitigation strategy for preserving life and urban culture heritage. Yet, wherever this is possible. We must to plan and design Urban systems under new perspectives according to the fact that they are #ComplexAdaptiveSystems.

So all Countries, and primarily all South East Asia, with China in the first place, USA, and Europe must take and promote immediately at least three parallel main actions starting the job from coastal #MetropolitanAreas and #MegaCities:

  • First a rapid implementation (5 years) of a systemic approach based on a massive recourse on #RenewableEnergies and #CircularEconomy; that’s why it is mandatory to reverse the dominant paradigm of production and growth based on fossil fuels, which from western Countries has spread and is spreading all over the world, and transforms poor Countries located in Africa and Asia into uncontrolled low-cost dumpsites;
  • Second, in the next 5 years, municipalities and regions should join the ISWA’s global initiative for closing the world’s biggest dumpsites ( At the same time, in order to prevent leachate leakages to water, we have to secure or remove other disposal sites, even if sanitized, in case they are within future flood plains;
  • Third, a 30 years program based on the relocation of urban population, strategic public buildings, and industrial sites and preserving urban cultural Heritage.

It’s a matter of life and justice because it’s all about people, poor people in first place, and about nature.

As many would say, that it’s also a matter of money. And as we can see in the case of Miami and Florida State, even the rich and wealthy western world is starting to cry.  Not acting or further delays mean that we must be prepared to an escalation of damages and losses without precedents.

Just 10 years ago Nicholas Stern (permanent secretary at the Treasury in Great Britain) published his landmark review ( of the impact of climate change. It was quickly recognized as the definitive account of the economic dangers posed to the planet by global warming. In his report he stated that what we do now can have only a limited effect on the climate over the next 40 or 50 years, but what we do in the next 10-20 years can have a profound effect on the climate in the second half of this century and the benefits of strong, early action considerably outweigh the costs.

According to Stern, these are the numbers:

  • each ton of CO2 we emit causes damages worth at least $85
  • emissions can be cut at a cost of less than $25 a ton.
  • shifting the world onto a low-carbon path could eventually benefit the economy by $2.5 trillion a year;
  • the cost of reducing emissions could be limited to around 1% of global GDP;
  • people could be charged more for carbon-intensive goods (Carbon Tax);
  • unabated climate change could cost the world at least 5% of GDP each year
  • if more dramatic predictions come to pass, the cost could be more than 20% of GDP.
  • By 2050, markets for low-carbon technologies could be worth at least $500bn.

But what about the impact of drought and flooding on food production and resulting potential global famine? This would result in a rapidly increasing global migration caused by classic economic disparities and wars. It’s not easy but it’s time for acting an #UrbanTransVergence for a #WasteLessFuture.


* #UrbanTransVergence ( is a neologism, it’s a new paradigm and mind approach proposed by Roberto Cossu (@rob_cossu) in his Blog as the key to taking a leap forward on studies and practice about “problems of organized complexity”. The underpinning idea is that to address that kind of problems Cities are necessary to foster the debate among different disciplines and sciences involved in complex organizations, beyond the cross-fertilization, toward a necessary TransVergence in knowledge and practice.

** #WasteLessFuture ( is the Vision of Antonis Mavropoulos (@amavrop) based on the assumption that it’s all about people, not waste. Antonis is creating a global network of thinkers with a vision for the future that is resourceful, equitable, and primed for change.”


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©2017 Wasteless Future Antonis Mavropoulos

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