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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Here’s how Henry Ford and IKEA could provide the key to solving the housing crisis

A flatpack house designed by architectural firm Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, on display at the Royal Academy, London, in 2013. Image: Getty.

For many people, the housing market is not a welcoming place. The rungs of the property ladder seem to get further and further out of reach. There are loud calls to build hundreds of thousands of new homes (and equally loud demands that they’re not built in anyone’s back yard).

If there was ever a time to introduce mass-produced affordable housing, surely that time is now.

The benefits of mass production have been well known since Henry Ford’s car factories made the Model T back in 1908. It was only made in one colour, black, for economic reasons. Not because it was the cheapest colour of paint, but because it was the colour that dried the quickest.

This allowed the production line to operate at faster, more cost effective, speeds. And ultimately, it meant the product could be sold at a more attractive cost to the customer.

This approach, where processes are tested to achieve increasingly efficient production costs, is yet to filter properly into the construction of houses. This makes sense in a way, as not everybody wants exactly the same type of house.

Historically, affordable mass-produced housing removed a large amount of customisations, to ensure final costs were controlled. But there is another way. Builders and architects have the ability to create housing that allows a level of flexibility and customisation, yet also achieves the goal of affordability.


Back in 2006, the “BoKlok” approach to affordable housing was launched to great acclaim in the UK. Literally translated from Swedish, the term means “live smart”. Originally created from a collaboration between flat-pack favourite IKEA and Swedish construction giant Skanska, the BoKlok housing approach was to allow for selected customisation to maximise individuality and choice for the customers. But at the same time, it ensured that larger house building components were duplicated or mass-produced, to bring down the overall costs.

Standard elements – wall panels, doors, windows – were made in large numbers to bring the elemental costs down. This approach ensured the costs were controlled from the initial sketch ideas through to the final design choices offered to the customers. The kitchens and bathrooms were designed to be flexible in terms of adding additional units. Draw and cupboard fronts interchangeable. Small options that provided flexibility, but did not impact on overall affordability.

It’s a simple approach that has worked very well. More than 10,000 BoKlok houses have now been built, mainly in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, with a small number in the UK.

But it is only part of the architectural equation. The affordable housing market is vital, but the cost of making these homes more adaptable is rarely considered.

Flexibility is key. The needs of a house’s inhabitants change. Families can grow (and shrink) and require more room, so the costs of moving house reappear. One clever response to this, in BoKlok homes, has been to allow “built in” flexibility.

Loft living

This flexibility could include a loft space that already has flooring and a built in cupboard on a lower floor which can be simply dismantled and replaced with a “flat-pack style” staircase that can be purchased and installed with minimal disruption to the existing fabric.

Weeks of builders removing walls, plastering and upheaval are replaced by a trip to the IKEA store to purchase the staircase and the booking of a subcontractor to fit it. The original design accounted for this “future option” and is built into the core of the house.

The best approach to new affordable housing should consider combinations of factors that look at design, materials and processes that have yet to be widely used in the affordable housing market.

And the construction sector needs to look over its shoulder at other market places – especially the one that Henry Ford dominated over a century ago. Today’s car manufacturers offer customised options in everything from colour to wheel size, interior gadgets to different kinds of headlamp. These options have all been accounted for in the construction and costing of each model.

The ConversationThey share a similar design “platform”, and by doing so, considerably reduce the overall cost of the base model. The benefit is quicker production with the added benefit of a cost model that allows for customisation to be included. It is a method the construction sector should adopt to produce housing where quality and affordability live happily together.

David Morton, Associate Professor in Architecture and Built Environment, Northumbria University, Newcastle.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.