Photo by Pixabay:

UNSUSTAINABLE: The Paradox of Cities

3 min readNov 7, 2022


As COP27 begins in Egypt, a lot of the discussion will be focused on the current and future impact of climate change on the Global South. The United Nations predicts that by 2050, 68% of the global population will live in cities, adding 2.5 billion inhabitants to urban environments. We are entering one of the fastest rates or urban growth in human history, and cities will need to expand to accommodate this growth. Doing so in the same way we have urbanized until now is unsustainable.

We believe cities are cathedrals to human ingenuity. Cities are where we’ve developed our heritage and where we’ll dictate our future. And yet, we must accept the paradox of cities:

Cities are good for humans

  • Urban residents are better educated: 1/4 of urban residents have a university degree versus 1/10th in non-urban environments (StatCan)
  • Urban residents are healthier: 62% of primary care access shortage in the US is found in rural areas (RHIHub)
  • Urban residents are wealthier: Urban residents have a 30% higher income (USDA)
  • Urban residents are more economically productive: 80% of the world GDP is produced in cities (World Bank)

But cities are bad for humanity

  • To build our cities we need concrete (7% of global CO2 emissions — IEA) and steel (10% — IEA)
  • By 2050, global steel demand could rise by ~33–50% (BNEF)
  • Buildings account for 40% of our energy consumption (PNAS) and cooling our buildings alone represents 7% of global greenhouse gas emissions (IEA)
  • Urban heat islands can increase daytime temperatures by up to 4 degrees (IPCC)
  • 99% of the world’s population lives in areas that exceed WHO guideline limits (PNAS)
  • 75% of the world’s final energy is consumed by cities (WHO)

Over this decades to come, this paradox of cities will be most acutely felt in developing economies. As shown below, the tipping point from majority rural to majority urban will primarily impact the Global South.

Source: Our World in Data

Over a third of the urban growth by 2050 will be driven by three countries: China, India and Nigeria. Even before then, by 2035, the ten fastest growing cities will have been Delhi, Shanghai, Dhaka, Kinshasa, Chongqing, Lahore, Bangalore, Lagos, Cairo and Beijing (Investment Monitor) supporting 265m inhabitants across them. In 13 years, the world will count 43 megacities (with a population over 10m) from 10 in 1990. A recent Bloomberg article highlighted which cities will see the most growth in the coming decades:

And to support these megacities, over the coming decades, humanity will build, and we will build a lot of square meters.

Source: Statista

Building under “business as usual” is clearly UNSUSTAINABLE. The opportunity is clear and urgent that we must pursue new materials, processes and tools that ensure the 233 billion square meters we will build by 2030 make our cities, and our planet, one that we will be able to continue to inhabit.

That is our focus, our mission and our ambition at 2150…


2150 is a venture capital firm investing in technology companies that seek to sustainably reimagine and reshape the urban environment. 2150’s investment thesis focuses on major unsolved problems across what it calls the ‘Urban Stack’, which comprises every element of the built environment, from the way our cities are designed, constructed and powered, to the way people live, work and are cared for. Find out more at




2150 is a venture capital firm investing in technology companies that seek to sustainably reimagine and reshape the urban environment.