Cities: part of the problem - and the solution
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), cities accounted for 32% of global final energy use and 19% of all greenhouse gas emissions in 2010. This makes cities a big part of the problem – but also a potentially vital part of the solution.
“Cities are home to the more than half of all people on the planet, and account for 70% of global CO2 emissions, so it is impossible to tackle climate change without changing the way that cities function,” says Mark Watts, Executive Director for C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, a network of the world’s megacities taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“The best city leaders have seen that the things that cut emissions also improve quality of life. For example: compact, dense city design where people can live near to the major amenities rather than suburban sprawl; making it easier, cheaper and safer to walk, cycle and take public transport rather than drive; more parks and green spaces; reducing waste, or providing better insulated buildings,” he explains.
More energy-efficient technologies, system infrastructure efficiency and better use of renewable energy could help to stabilise or even reduce energy use in buildings by 2050, according to the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) from 2013.
In the wake of the AR5 report, next year’s climate summit, the COP21 in Paris, is currently generating more optimistic buzz than previous summits. The UN member countries are signalling that COP21 could be the birthplace of a genuinely binding international climate agreement.
The good vibrations are reinforced by the fact that many of the world’s major cities already seem to be stepping up to the challenge, clearly demonstrating that cities could be the main drivers behind the green transition.
“Cities often actually seem to have more drive than nation states. The City of Copenhagen collaborates with a number of other cities around the world, and we frequently see them setting more ambitious climate goals than their nation states do. This is important, because we really consider these cities as drivers for change,” says Lykke Leonardsen, Head of Climate Unit in Copenhagen, the European Green Capital 2014 and a member of the prestigious climate club Delta Cities.
Mobilising joint effort
City networks like Delta Cities and the C40 network are examples of urban alliances created to fight climate
Another is the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities challenge, an initiative launched in 2013 to enable 100 chosen cities around the globe to better address the increasing “shocks and stresses of the 21st century.”
Cities like Bristol in the UK, Bangkok in Thailand and New Orleans in the US are among the urban areas enlisted for first-round participation.
On the local city level, New York City recently announced a USD 20-billion plan to better prepare the megacity for rising sea levels and hotter summers.