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Ecosystem service deficits of European cities

CSS Publication Number
Full Publication Date
May 12, 2022

Climate change and biodiversity loss are two pressing global environmental challenges that are tightly coupled to urban processes. Cities emit greenhouse gases through the consumption of materials and energy. Urban expansion encroaches on local habitats, while urban land teleconnections simultaneously degrade distant ecosystems. These processes decrease the supply of and increase the demand for ecosystem services inside and outside urban areas. Most cities are in a state of ecosystem services deficit, whereby demand exceeds local supply of ecosystem services. Methods to quantify this deficit by capturing multi-scale and multi-level ecological exchanges are incipient, leaving scholars with a partial understanding of the environmental impacts of cities. This paper deploys a novel method to simulate future urban supplies and demands of two key ecosystem services needed to combat climate change and biodiversity loss – global climate regulation and global habitat maintenance. Applying our model to eight representative European cities, we project growing ecosystems deficits (demand exceeds supply) between 8% and 214% in global climate regulation and 11% and 431% in global habitat maintenance between 2020 and 2050. Variation between cities stems from differing dietary patterns and electricity mixes, which have large implications for ecosystems outside the city. To combat these losses, urban sustainability strategies should complement local restoration with changes to local consumption alongside promoting remote ecological restoration to tackle the multi-level environmental impacts of cities.

Thomas Elliot
Erik Gómez-Baggethun
Vânia Proença
Benedetto Rugani
Research Areas
Urban Systems and Built Environment

Ecosystem service deficit

Climate change


Habitat loss

Sustainable urban planning

Ecosystem services

Urban metabolism

Life cycle assessment

Urban land teleconnections

Publication Type
Journal Article
Digital Object Identifier
Full Citation

Thomas Elliot, Benjamin Goldstein, Erik Gómez-Baggethun, Vânia Proença, Benedetto Rugani, Ecosystem service deficits of European cities, Science of The Total Environment, Volume 837, 2022. CSS22-40