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The current course provides a specific overview of the urban metabolism approach and its relevance for policy makers. More than half of global population is now living in cities and urban areas are responsible for three quarters of global energy use greenhouse gases emissions. As such, cities are nodes of production and consumption activities that are essential actors to mitigate our environmental impact. Urban metabolism helps to understand the resources needs and pollution emissions of cities in a systemic way in order to propose comprehensive policies and avoiding potential trade-offs and rebound effects.

Targeted audience

This specific course of Urban Metabolism provides up-to-date information for policy makers in obtaining a general understanding of the metabolism of cities, as well as provide the necessary elements to propose systemic urban environmental policies.

While this course is specifically meant for policy makers it can also be of interest for the following audiences:

  • Local authorities responsible for developing and implementing urban environmental policies, programmes or projects;
  • Researchers and university students;
  • Urban planners

Content and Learning objectives

This MOOC aims at analysing and assessing the sustainability of urban systems using urban metabolism as a guiding approach.

Module 0: Welcome to the course

Module 1: Introduction

  • Global urban environmental challenges
  • What is urban metabolism ?
  • Why urban metabolism is relevant for policy makers ?

Module 2: Accounting methodologies and indicators

  • Different accounting approaches
  • Accounting methodologies
  • Standards, Indicators, Indexes

Module 3: Case studies

  • Publication and Data databases
  • Brussels
  • Cape Town

Module 4: Online material flow analysis tool (OMAT)

  • Introduction
  • Data quality indicators and scaling
  • Contacts and sources
  • OMAT output

Module 5: Urban metabolism policies

  • Circular Economy policies
  • Climate action policies
  • Resilience policies

Module 6: Final Quiz

By the end of the MOOC, the participant should be able to:

  1. understand the functioning of urban systems through the urban metabolism lens
  2. analyse the interaction between urban systems and resource/waste flows using state-of-the-art methods, indexes and tools
  3. understand how to develop strategies and policies to improve the urban sustainability in terms of urban design, resource and waste management from a metabolic perspective


A small quiz will be proposed at the end of each Module to ensure that participants have acquired key learnings. Participants can choose to watch again parts or the entire Module before moving on to new material. At the end of the course participants will be asked to take a multiple choice test. All participants that have followed all course modules as well as succeeded to their multiple choice test (with a grade higher than 70% - the test can be taken maximum three times) will receive a course certificate from Metabolism of Cities, League of Cities of the Philippines and UN Environment.


This is the first MOOC provided by the GI-REC (Global Initiative for Resource Efficient Cities). The GI-REC is a cooperation platform offered by UN Environment to connect different institutions that are using systems approach (and specifically urban metabolism) towards building low-carbon, resilient and resource efficient cities. This course has been developed and run by Metabolism of Cities, with the help and expertise of UN Environment and the League of Cities of the Philippines. 

Unless otherwise specified this course is Copyright of UN Environment and are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Technical Requirements

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Key references

Musango, J. K., P. Currie, and B. Robinson. 2017. Urban metabolism for resource efficient cities: from theory to implementation. Paris: UN Environment. 

UNEP (2013) City-Level Decoupling: Urban resource flows and the governance of infrastructure transitions. A Report of the Working Group on Cities of the International Resource Panel. Swilling M., Robinson B., Marvin S. and Hodson M.

BARLES, S. 2009. Urban metabolism of Paris and its region. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 13, 898-913.

CASTÁN CASTÁN BROTO, V., ALLEN, A. & RAPOPORT, E. 2012. Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Urban Metabolism. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 16, 851-861.

PINCETL, S., BUNJE, P. & HOLMES, T. 2012. An expanded urban metabolism method: Toward a systems approach for assessing urban energy processes and causes. Landscape and Urban Planning, 107, 193-202.

REES, W. & WACKERNAGEL, M. 1996. Urban ecological footprints: Why cities cannot be sustainable--And why they are a key to sustainability. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 16, 223-248.

ZHANG, Y. 2013. Urban metabolism: A review of research methodologies. Environmental Pollution, 178, 463-473.

ZHANG, Y., YANG, Z. & YU, X. 2015. Urban Metabolism: A Review of Current Knowledge and Directions for Future Study. Environmental science & technology, 49, 11247-11263.