Megacities use megaresources

Seoul at night Seoul at night Vincent St Thomas
29 Apr
Megacities across the world are resource hungry, but not all consume at the same rate

By 2020, there will be 37 megacities across the world. These areas will account for 14.6 per cent of global GDP, but will also consume a disproportionate share of the world’s resources.

Megacities are currently home to 6.7 per cent of the global population, and consume 9.3 per cent of electricity while producing 12.6 per cent of global waste, according to new research led by the University of Toronto.

But some megacities are better than others when it comes to resource consumption. ‘The New York metropolis has 12 million fewer people than Tokyo, yet it uses more energy in total: the equivalent of one oil supertanker every 1.5 days,’ says Chris Kennedy from the University of Toronto.

Temperature plays a role in the differences between urban areas. The colder megacities use more fuel for heating. Moscow and New York are leaders in energy consumption for heating. Moscow has the largest district heating system in the world, which combines heat and power to buildings housing over 12 million people.

Economics is also a factor. ‘Wealthy people consume more stuff and ultimately discard more stuff,’ says Kennedy. A New Yorker uses 24 times more energy than a Kolkatan, and produces 15 times more solid waste.

The average New Yorker uses 24 times as much energy as a citizen of Kolkata, and produces over 15 times as much solid waste. Efficiency also plays a role, Tokyo has reduced water loss to three per cent through targeting leaky pipes and Seoul reclaims wastewater for secondary uses, such as flushing toilets. This contrasts with Rio de Janiero and Sao Paolo where a consistent 50 per cent leakage contributes to an ongoing water crisis in Brazil.

As for the UK’s only megacity, London was the only place on the list that saw per capita electricity use decline as GDP increased.

This research appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science

Share this story...

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to Twitter

Related items

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.


Subscribe Today


Aberystwyth UniversityUniversity of GreenwichThe University of Winchester




Travel the Unknown


Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • The Air That We Breathe
    Cities the world over are struggling to improve air quality as scandals surrounding diesel car emissions come to light and the huge health costs of po...
    The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...
    Diabetes: The World at Risk
    Diabetes is often thought of as a ‘western’ problem, one linked to the developed world’s overindulgence in fatty foods and chronic lack of physi...
    National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    REDD+ or Dead?
    The UN-backed REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) scheme, under which developing nations would be paid not to cut dow...


NEVER MISS A STORY - follow Geographical

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in PLACES...


The spatial distribution of healthcare workers globally tells us a…


After an ‘unprecedented’ surge northwards into New Jersey, New York…


The historic end of civil war in Colombia has had…


Where in America can the country's various hate groups be…


The southern US state is sinking twice as fast as…


An increase in visitors is putting severe strain on Iceland’s…


Air pollution campaigners hold a disco roadblock, but can it…


Cities the world over are struggling to improve air quality…


HSBC has requested a Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil investigation…


Benjamin Hennig explores visions of a world made bright by humanity


The EU has asked the European court to authorise an…


Was last year’s El Niño a practice run for future…


Far from being separate threats, scientists have found links between…


Is the official height of Mount Everest accurate?


Where in the world is the highest density of languages?…


The next stage in autonomous vehicles is hoping to transform…


Geographical’s resident data cartographer presents a true picture of the…


What impact could an unprecedented incident of ‘river piracy’ have…


Norway is to undercut a mountainous peninsula to create the…


Benjmain Hennig explores global mortality with maps