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Towards Alternative Cities, the Green-Friendly Way

BANGKOK - Alarmed by the pace at which consumer-driven lifestyles are destroying the planet's resources, a leading environmental body has set its sights on creating a green-friendly haven replete with houses, restaurants, shops and hotels.

Portugal will serve as the launching pad for these planned ''eco-cities,'' said officials from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) as they revealed the blueprint for the 'One Planet Living' initiative here Wednesday, at a major conservation conference.

The 4,340 hectares of land south of the Portuguese capital Lisbon, identified for this first phase in an ambitious global drive towards alternative living, will have by its completion 6,000 houses, apartments, shops and hotels. The estimated cost, according to the WWF, will be over one billion euros (1.3 billion U.S. dollars).

''We aim to build a series of flagship communities for people to live sustainably, and which are affordable and comfortable,'' Eduardo Goncalves, coordinator of the 'One Planet Living' initiative, said during a meeting at the 3rd World Conservation Congress, in the Thai capital, organized by the World Conservation Union or IUCN.

''The quality of modern life will not be sacrificed in these communities,'' added Claude Martin, director general of WWF. ''They will be family friendly.''

The global congress has brought together 81 states, 114 government agencies, 800 plus non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and some 10,000 scientists and experts from 181 countries. It has been billed as the one of biggest environmental meetings in history.

While the push for such green-friendly living has given rise to new models of architecture over the past two decades, what sets this new initiative apart from its predecessors is the scale at which the planned communities will embrace environmental values.

''The purpose is to integrate many different aspects of life into a housing concept, including the use of building material, energy, food, transport,'' Martin told IPS. ''It will be more holistic than the energy houses that had solar panels in the 1980s.''

That is reflected in the picture painted by Pelicano S.A, a Portuguese property developer that is a key partner in this WWF program. It covers the commitment to use sustainable materials, reduce carbon and waste output, promote renewable energy and, among others, to turn to local resources for food.

With regard to the use of sustainable materials, the pioneer project in Portugal aims to use more than 50 percent of it, such as cement, to construct the buildings in addition to eliminating more than 90 percent of toxic materials for the planned structures.

To cut down on carbon emissions, the property developer pledges to ensure that 25 percent of the waste is recycled. And to ensure energy efficiency, the future community will move away from fossil fuels to having ''photovoltaics in its architectural design, including solar thermals, small-scale biomass heating and water ponds for a space cooled system.''

A British environmental group BioRegional is being credited for laying the foundations for this novel way of living. It pioneered the ''BedZed'' community in south London, where houses, for instance, were built to meet new environment-friendly standards, including the complete use of renewable energy for power and heating.

In addition to Portugal, other areas in Europe, Australia, Britain, the United States and South Africa have been identified to create these communities as part of the pioneering effort.

''Even the authorities in China are interested in building a 'One Planet Living' community,'' Goncalves told IPS. ''The details are to be decided but we are talking of a city in effect.''

Once the first phase is achieved, WWF will launch the broader and more global second phase by 2007, SAID Goncalves. ''In phase two, we hope to get countries in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America interested.''

Such communities will be pivotal to ''undo the damage we have done to the planet,'' he added. ''We need to find solutions to avoid the crisis emerging from the current unsustainable lifestyles.''

The revolution in living that the WWF hopes to unleash through this plan stems from the disturbing reports it has compiled of the earth's resources being destroyed by the modern style of life.

In its 'Living Planet Report 2004,' released weeks ahead of the Bangkok conference, WWF revealed that humanity's demand on the resources had exceeded the earth's supply capacity since the mid-1980s, with North America and Europe leading the assault on the planet's limited resources.

The average U.S. citizen requires 10 hectares of the planet to support his or her lifestyle, while the average European requires over five hectares, the report noted. By contrast, the average citizen in Africa draws on about one hectare of the earth's resources to live.

The differences in these ecological footprints - which are caused by high consumption patterns in the developed world - are starker when seen in another light. According to the report, the average footprint of a person today is nearly 2.2 hectares, which is in excess of the 1.8 hectares of land for natural resources available for each resident of the planet.

At this rate, ''we need 1.2 planets to sustain our collective lifestyles,'' said Marten. ''Sustainable housing is one response to it, but you cannot have one blueprint for the whole world. We must work with local communities, local architects.''

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