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Effects of Urbanization on the Environment

Urbanization has a tremendous impact on the environment and the links between the two are severely complex (Sanchez-Rodriguez et al., 2005). Urban areas are the primary source of carbon dioxide in the air due to augmented burning of fossil fuels for heating and cooling purposes and from industrial processes. Research confirms that a majority of the carbon emissions are released in urban cities (Svirejeva-Hopkins et al., 2004) and the clearing of land and forests and for building, developing and expansion of cities remains one of the major contributors in the augmentation of carbon levels in the environment. Additionally, transportation in urban areas, for people as well as goods and services contributes substantially to the rise in carbon dioxide in the air.
The local effect of urbanization on the environment has been confirmed by studies, which indicate that the construction of cities with the numerous processes involved including the building of roads, buildings, railways and other infrastructure development processes profoundly impact and alter the exchanges of energy, water and flow of air (Landsberg, 1981). The direct emissions of heat, pollution and carbon dioxide negatively impact the climate of urban areas (Landsberg, 1981).

One of the most common impacts of urbanization is urban warming which is apparent by the temperatures of cities which is always higher that the surrounding rural areas temperatures in urban areas is confirmed to be higher by one to three degrees as compared to neighboring rural areas (Oke, 1973). Urbanization leads to an increase in activities and the development processes contribute to the temperature and environmental changes which occur, for instance, china has a rapid growth in urban population which directly results in the construction of tall buildings (Whitehand and Gu, 2006).

Once the process of urbanization has been initiated, the range of activities in urban cities contributes substantially to the environmental changes begin to occur at the micro level as well as the local level (Grimmond, 2007). At the local levels, urbanization impacts the health and well-being of its residents, especially the vulnerable urban population including the elderly and the poorer people who are directly impacted by the changes in heat levels which occur; for instance, the heat waves which occurred in India in the year 1998 and in France and Spain in the year 2003 (Grimmond, 2007). The maximum temperatures rise substantially in summers resulting in extreme conditions of temperatures and climate. As temperatures increase and cities get warmer, the demand for air-conditioning rises which in turn will additional heat and contribute to the existing high levels of carbon sink in the environment. The use of air conditioners also results in augmented levels of greenhouse gases and in increased levels of electricity use and generation. Thus, the energy demands rise phenomenally which has a debilitating effect on the environment, resulting in a vicious circle created sue to climate change, demand and supply for energy (Grimmond, 2007).


Akbari H, Pomerantz M and Taha H (2001). Cool surfaces and shade trees to reduce energy use and improve air quality in urban areas Solar Energy 70 295-310

Grimmond, Sue. (2007) Urbanization and global environmental change: local effects of urban warming. (Urbanization and global environmental change: 21st century challenges). The Geographical Journal 173.1: 83(6). 

IEA (2006) Summary report of the IEA programme on district heating and cooling, including the integration of combined heat and power: annex V11 2002-2005 Compiled by Senter-Noverm (

Landsberg H. E. (1981) The urban climate Academic Press, New York and London
Oke T. R. (1973) City size and the urban heat island Atmospheric Environment 7 769-79

Sanchez-Rodriguez R, Seto K, Simon D, Solecki W, Kraas F and Laumann G (2005). Science plan: urbanization and global environmental change IHDP Report 15 International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change, Bonn ( and

Svirejeva-Hopkins A, Schellnhuber H J and Pomaz V L (2004). Urbanised territories as a specific component of the global carbon cycle Ecological Modelling 173 295-312

Whitehand J W R and Kai Gu (2006). Research on Chinese urban form: retrospect and prospect Progress in Human Geography 30 3 337-55