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JUN 13, 2024 | Press Release

Perth highest-ranking Australian city in global survey of sustainable cities, as Arcadis report issues warning

  • Arcadis’ Sustainable Cities Index (SCI) 2024 reveals major disparities in sustainability progress, as cities race to meet 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
  • Amsterdam takes top spot as most Sustainable City, thanks to strong economic performance, social equity, and investments in renewable energy; US cities continue to lag
  • Perth leads Australian cities in global ranking (25), followed by Melbourne (32), Sydney (33) and Brisbane (38)

Sydney, 13 June 2024 – Leading global design and consultancy Arcadis has issued a stark warning to cities worldwide, as the publication of its latest Sustainable Cities Index 2024 reveals an urgent need for accelerated action in tackling climate change and other sustainability challenges.

The publication of the Arcadis report comes with nearly 2,000 days until the 2030 deadline for achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The new report reveals some clear disparities between leading sustainable cities such as index-topping Amsterdam (1st), Copenhagen (3rd) and Munich (5th), and those trailing behind - particularly US powerhouses such as New York (48th), Boston (56th) and Washington DC (65th).

The Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index (SCI) ranks 100 global cities across three pillars of sustainability - Planet, People, and Profit. Marking the sixth edition of the report since its inception in 2015, the 2024 index comprises 67 different metrics to highlight evolving understanding of urban sustainability.

Key data points include air pollution, waste management and investment in low carbon infrastructure (including renewable energy and sustainable transport), as well as factors such as economic performance, social equity, and resilience to natural disasters.

For the first time, Arcadis has added a fourth ‘Progress’ pillar to the index, measuring change over time to demonstrate the impact of sustainability interventions made over the last decade. When considered alongside the other pillars, it provides insights into a city’s future trajectory and emphasizes the importance of continuous advancement to achieve the SDGs.

Australian city rankings

Arcadis’ global study suggests that while European cities dominate the Index’s upper rankings Australian cities fare comparatively well by sustainability criteria: Perth came in at 25 in the global rankings, followed by Melbourne at 32, Sydney at 33 and Brisbane, which will host the Olympic Games in eight years, at 38.

Overall People Planet Profit Progress
Perth 25 22 61 23 28
Melbourne 32 17 58 32 35
Sydney 33 16 57 33 37
Brisbane 38 37 47 47 33

Of the Australian cities in the Index:

• Perth’s relatively high ranking is underpinned by strong rankings (compared to Australian peers) in Profit and Progress, though Perth underperformed on criteria related to People and Planet.

• Melbourne’s progressive approach to the People pillar and ranking on Profit and Progress pillars offest its relatively poor performance on the Planet pillar.

• While Brisbane is the lowest-ranked Australian city overall, it ranks seond-highest (among Australian cities) for Progress, suggesting the city is improving rapidly on key mesures as the Olympics approaches.

• Sydney’s overall ranking was underpinned by a strong performance against key criteria in the people pillar.

Commenting on the Australian results, Arcadis’ Cities Director for Sydney, Stephen Taylor said:

“Australians and their city leaders tend to look at the relative performance against their Australian competitor set. But while the four Australian cities in the survey ranked between 25 and 38, the scoring differences between them on key criteria are relatively small – Australian cities are roughly equivalent when looked at globally. The value of this report is to reflect on Australian cities performance against their international competitors as we compete for global talent. The international comparison shows there is room for improvement on many criteria associated with the world’s most sustainable cities.”

Global rankings

All four German cities included in the index – Frankfurt, Munich, Hamburg, and Berlin – claim spots in the top 10, buoyed by achievements in water sanitation and waste management, and low greenhouse gas emissions.

While all four Australian cities ranked lower on the Planet pillar compared with their overall ranking, that was not the case globally, with eight of the highest-ranking cities for Planet also securing positions in the overall top 10. The Planet pillar is comprised of metrics including sustainable energy systems and low-emission transport, suggesting these are powerful tools for urban sustainability and should be focal points for cities looking to effect meaningful change.

According to this year’s index high performance on the Profit metric does not necessarily come at the expense of environmental sustainability. The report emphasizes how a thriving economy should support investment in infrastructure, alternative energy sources, green initiatives, and social programs. Amsterdam, the most sustainable city of 2024, ranks at the top of the Profit pillar, where it excels in income and living standards, employment, and transport infrastructure.

North American cities dominate the Profit pillar: San Francisco, Dallas, Chicago, Houston, New York, and Seattle all appear in the top 10 for Profit, reflecting the ease of doing business, GDP per capita, and employment rates in these cities. However, the low overall rankings of these cities demonstrate how wage levels and living standards are not keeping pace with economic growth. To move higher up, inclusive development strategies will be critical, and the report makes clear that North American and European cities must draw inspiration from each other to continue making sustainable progress across all pillars.

When it comes to progress over the last decade, many European cities have continued to make significant strides – despite their highly sustainable starting points – to cement their position at the top of the index. Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Warsaw, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Munich, Hamburg, and Berlin have all sustained momentum to feature in the top third of the Progress pillar and the top third of the index overall. This is thanks to – in the case of Amsterdam in particular – a commitment to renewable energy production, as well as socio-economic factors such as female labor force participation, and healthcare.

Meanwhile, although appearing low in the overall rankings, the dominance of Asian cities such as Jakarta, Wuhan, and Shanghai at the top of the Progress pillar demonstrate that, in cities with limited prior sustainable infrastructure or practices, early steps can have an enormous impact in generating momentum for further advancements.

John Batten, Arcadis Global Cities Director, said:

“Cities play a critical role in advancing the sustainable development agenda. However, our progress assessment shows that a lot more needs to be done to meet the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. With just 2,000 days to go, the challenge is to keep pushing the boundaries of innovation. Whether that’s by scaling up renewable energy initiatives, integrating climate considerations into infrastructure planning, improving mobility through intelligent traffic management, or supporting the retrofit of existing buildings through planning and investment, there are always areas to improve on. As the 2030 deadline approaches cities must build on their successes, identify areas for progress, and foster collaboration to address challenges with ever greater urgency and determination.”

For more information, the full report can be downloaded here.

Rebecca Hanlan

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Rebecca Hanlan, Head of Marketing and Communications

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