Urbanization, economic development, and environmental changes in transitional economies in the global south: a case of Yangon

Abstract

Background Transitional economies in Southeast Asia-a distinct group of developing countries-have experienced rapid urbanization in the past several decades due to the economic transition that fundamentally changed the function of their economies, societies and the environment. Myanmar, one of the least developed transitional economies in Southeast Asia, increased urbanization substantially from 25% in 1990 to 31% in 2019. However, major knowledge gaps exist in understanding the changes in urban land use and land cover and environment and their drivers in its cities. Methods We studied Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar, for the urbanization, environmental changes, and the underlying driving forces in a radically transitioned economy in the developing world. Based on satellite imagery and historic land use maps, we quantified the expansion of urban built-up land and constructed the land conversion matrix from 1990 through 2020. We also used three air pollutants to illustrate the changes in environmental conditions. We analyzed the coupled dynamics among urbanization, economic development, and environmental changes. Through conducting a workshop with 20 local experts, we further analyzed the influence of human systems and natural systems on Yangon's urbanization and sustainability. Results The city of Yangon expanded urban built-up land rapidly from 1990 to 2000, slowed down from 2000 to 2010, but gained momentum again from 2010 to 2020, with most newly added urban built-up land appearing to be converted from farmland and green land in both 1990-2000 and 2010-2020. Furthermore, the air pollutant concentration of CO decreased, but that of NO2 and PM2.5 increased in recent years. A positive correlation exists between population and economic development and the concentration of PM2.5 is highly associated with population, the economy, and the number of vehicles. Finally, the expert panel also identified other potential drivers for urbanization, including the extreme climate event of Cyclone Nargis, capital relocation, and globalization. Conclusions Our research highlights the dramatic expansion of urban land and degradation of urban environment measured by air pollutants and interdependent changes between urbanization, economic development, and environmental changes.

Description
Keywords
Urbanization, Economic development, Environmental change, Transitional economy, Globalization, Extreme climate event, Capital relocation, Myanmar, URBAN GREEN SPACE, Ecology, Environmental Sciences
Citation
Fan, P., Chen, J., Fung, C., Naing, Z., Ouyang, Z., Nyunt, K. M., Myint, Z. N., Qi, J., Messina, J. P., Myint, S. W., & Peter, B. G. (2022). Urbanization, economic development, and environmental changes in transitional economies in the global south: a case of Yangon. In Ecological Processes (Vol. 11, Issue 1). Springer Science and Business Media LLC. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13717-022-00409-6