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Vancouver, Canada, is trying to become the greenest city on Earth. In 2011, it adopted a Greenest City Action Plan that has made it a prominent pioneer in urban greening, including efforts to transform raw sewage and food waste into energy, and to coax residents to use less water and leave their cars to walk, bike, or ride public transport. And it isn't the only metropolis setting formidable targets. Around the world, urban leaders are embarking on an array of efforts to reduce the strain that cities place on the environment. Although cities are often seen as a source of environmental problems, many analysts argue they are also key to solving them; large urban populations, for instance, can use far less energy per capita than rural or suburban residents—if the right policies and infrastructure are in place. But time is short: Experts say how cities handle rapid urbanization in coming decades will be critical to protecting biodiversity and human health, as well as combatting climate change. Vancouver has taken the urgency to heart. Despite some successes, however, researchers say the city's experience illustrates the sobering limits that cities face in acting on their own to reduce environmental impacts, given the complexities of national politics and a globalized economy.
↵* in Vancouver, Canada