Here are 16 cities tackling inequality through climate action schemes

The solar cooperative, Suwon, South Korea. Image: Sustainia.

The impacts of climate change fall heaviest on the poor. Just take the island of Puerto Rico which was particularly badly hit by hurricane Maria last week – and where 44 per cent of people already live below the poverty line. Even on the US mainland, those living in lower-income communities are more likely to live in unsafe homes in flood-prone areas, or closer to noxious industrial facilities.

This makes a global reduction of CO2 emissions essential. But some places are also taking the opportunity to extend social justice even further: a new Cities100 report shows how some cities are marrying their climate change response with support for their most vulnerable communities.

Some 91 different cities submitted 174 applications to the campaign. Then a team from the international think tank Sustainia whittled them down into a top 100 list of city-based solutions to climate change.

Here are just 16 examples, chosen to highlight the wider good tackling climate change can also achieve.

Emissions and equality

Washington D.C now has a law requiring all energy suppliers to source 50 per cent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2032 – including 5 per cent from local solar energy. All non-conforming suppliers must pay a fee, which then helps provide solar energy benefits to low and moderate income residents.

In Suwon in South Korea, the Sharing Solar Power Project is a grassroots cooperative that invests in solar energy and then ploughs 50 per cent profits back into social welfare or additional solar projects. As of February 2017 the city has seen $200,000 in profits.

In London, mayor Sadiq Khan has introduced schemes to replace and repair inefficient gas boilers in homes. The Boiler Cashback scheme has provided around 4,000 homeowners and landlords with cashback to replace boilers operating at less than 70 per cent efficiency. A second Better Boilers scheme also focuses on reducing fuel poverty among the most vulnerable communities in London.

Los Angeles has installed 1,000 publically available electric chargers, more than half of the city’s own light-duty fleet is now electric, and they’ve piloted an EV car-sharing scheme to encourage equitable access in low and middle income areas. An Electric Vehicle Request for Information initiative has also bundled together EV demand from several cities in order to drive down prices: in March 2017, the order stood at 114,000 vehicles at a value of $10bn.

Adaptation for all

New Orleans is investing in an emergency account program. This matches financial savings for low and moderate income earners to create emergency funds for disaster response. A workforce development program for environmental projects is also hoping to help tackle the city’s employment problems.

Mexico City is harvesting its rainwater in order to reduce pressure on its over-stretched groundwater systems. And it is training women who have suffered domestic violence to install and monitor the new technology.

Gladsaxe in Denmark has turned a 142-hectar water catchment area into a massive site for recreation and sports. “Paddle tennis” courts, skateboarding areas and climate frames all double as rainwater reservoirs. And the Park includes a non-profit social housing association with its own rainwater distribution system.

In Taoyuan in Taiwan, the city has built a water monitoring system and app that allows people to access disaster information in real time – and to help report on floods themselves. 20,000 people have downloaded the app so far.

Green jobs

San Francisco now requires large commercial buildings to audit their energy saving opportunities. Over four years, 468 municipal buildings have cut carbon emissions by more than 30 per cent. In the private sector, audits have led to a 10 per cent reduction in electricity use in upgraded buildings. The reporting requirements have also already created 200 new jobs.

Johannesburg has waste buy-back centres, which encourage entrepreneurialism by buying recyclable paper, plastic, cans and glass from informal waste pickers and selling it on to recyclers. This gives the waste-pickers greater job security and more predictable demand.

In Cape Town a new industrial program called WISP (Western Cape Industrial Symbiosis Programme) is linking up companies who can benefit from eachothers waste. Workshops have identified more than 4,000 such relationships between 486 different companies in the network. It has also developed a carbon calculator so it can measure how much CO2 these swaps will save. “WISP has diverted 4,950 metric tons of waste from landfill – saving CO2 equivalent to 15,000 trees growing over 30 years.” the report says.


Garden cities

T.Park in Hong Kong is the world’s largest wastewater sludge incineration plant, converting 2,000 tons of daily sludge into less polluting ash and renewable energy. There is also an environmental education centre complete with spa, wetland garden and bird sanctuary.

Barcelona plans to minimise the urban heat island effect by increasing its number of trees from 5 per cent canopy coverage to 30 per cent by 2037. As well as providing shade, the extra trees will help remove more than 305 metric tons of pollution from the atmosphere.

Wuhan in China has abandoned its previous flood defence strategy of giant dikes that lined the river banks, and has instead created a new, 7km long Beach Park. The venue is set to become the largest urban riverfront park in the world at 10m m2: 45,000 trees, 350,000m2 of shrubs and 387,000m2 of grass fill its banks, while football courts, non-motorised roads, and seven swimming pools will draw people to the area.

A sharing economy

New Taipei City in China is encouraging people to recycle with service stations where you can exchange waste for garbage bags and green products. Some of these also include “happiness stations”, where working home goods can be donated to low-income communities.

Mexico City has introduced green bonds for climate action. $50m worth of bonds have been issued to finance the city’s green transition, including a new bus rapid transit lines and LED street lighting. The program also seeks to reduce the inequality gap between men and women caused by the impacts of climate change.

India Bourke is editorial assistant and environment correspondent at the New Statesman. 

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Covid-19 is highlighting cities' unequal access to green space

In the UK, Londoners are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

As coronavirus lockdowns ease, people are flooding back to parks – but not everyone has easy access to green space in their city.

Statistics from Google show that park attendance in countries across the globe has shot up as people have been allowed to move around their cities again.

This is especially true in urban areas, where densely populated neighbourhoods limit the size of private green space – meaning residents have to go to the park to get in touch with nature. Readers from England can use our interactive tool below to find out how much green space people have access to in their area, and how it compares to the rest of the country.

 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement Monday that people are allowed to mingle in parks and gardens with groups of up to six people was partially following what people were doing already.

Data from mobile phones show people have been returning to parks across the UK, and also across Europe, as weather improves and lockdown eases.

People have been returning to parks across the world

Stay-at-home requirements were eased in Italy on 4 May, which led to a flood of people returning to parks.

France eased restrictions on 1 May, and the UK eased up slightly on 13 May, allowing people to sit down in public places so long as they remain socially distanced.

Other countries have seen park attendance rise without major easing of lockdown – including Canada, Spain, and the US (although states there have individual rules and some have eased restrictions).

In some countries, people never really stopped going to parks.

Authorities in the Netherlands and Germany were not as strict as other countries about their citizens visiting local parks during lockdown, while Sweden has famously been avoiding placing many restrictions on people’s daily lives.


There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that access to green space has major benefits for public health.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Exeter found that spending time in the garden is linked to similar benefits for health and wellbeing as living in wealthy areas.

People with access to a private garden also had higher psychological wellbeing, and those with an outdoor space such as a yard were more likely to meet physical activity guidelines than those without access to outdoor space. 

Separate UK research has found that living with a regular view of a green space provides health benefits worth £300 per person per year.

Access is not shared equally, however, which has important implications for equality under lockdown, and the spread of disease.

Statistics from the UK show that one in eight households has no garden, making access to parks more important.

There is a geographic inequality here. Londoners, who have the least access to private gardens, are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. 

However the high population in the capital means that on the whole, green space per person is lower – an issue for people living in densely populated cities everywhere.

There is also an occupational inequality.

Those on low pay – including in what are statistically classed as “semi-skilled” and “unskilled” manual occupations, casual workers and those who are unemployed – are almost three times as likely as those in managerial, administrative, professional occupations to be without a garden, meaning they rely more heavily on their local park.

Britain’s parks and fields are also at significant risk of development, according to new research by the Fields in Trust charity, which shows the number of people living further than a 10-minute walk from a public park rising by 5% over the next five years. That loss of green spaces is likely to impact disadvantaged communities the most, the researchers say.

This is borne out by looking at the parts of the country that have private gardens.

The least deprived areas have the largest gardens

Though the relationship is not crystal clear, it shows at the top end: Those living in the least deprived areas have the largest private green space.

Although the risk of catching coronavirus is lower outdoors, spending time in parks among other people is undoubtedly more risky when it comes to transmitting or catching the virus than spending time in your own outdoor space. 

Access to green space is therefore another example – along with the ability to work from home and death rates – of how the burden of the pandemic has not been equally shouldered by all.

Michael Goodier is a data reporter at New Statesman Media Group, and Josh Rayman is a graphics and data visualisation developer at New Statesman Media Group.