Here are three ways cities are leading the fight against climate change

Climate protesters in Berlin in June 2017. Image: Getty.

The global population is predicted to rise to 10bn by 2050, and the majority of those people will live in cities. Given that cities already account for 75 per cent of the world’s energy use and 76 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions, there’s a growing focus on how urban planning and design can reduce emissions and help humanity to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

In November, representatives of the world’s global powers gathered in Bonn to attend the 23rd Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change – more pithily known as COP 23.

Working together to affect large-scale change has been the key message of the conference. There was a groundswell of urban innovation on show, largely driven by the mayors and governors of cities and regions, as well as industry leaders and universities interested in promoting opportunities for greener growth.

These bodies have formed alliances and networks to develop ideas and strategies around smart mobility, renewable energy, living infrastructure and sustainable urban design. This was the good news story of COP 23. The conference has given nation states a unique opportunity to work more closely with cities, to plan for climate change.

So, in my role as an urban and regional planner (in practice and academia) I spent some time in Bonn finding out about the exciting ways that cities are leading the fight against climate change.

1. Low-carbon precincts

One aim is for current and future cities to be powered by 100 per cent renewable electricity. This can be achieved with a combination of renewable energy sources such as wind, solar or hydro, with battery storage and microgrids integrating with national grids as needed.

Location, location, location. Image: Marcin Wichary/Flickr/creative commons.

Cities will have integrated transport systems with electric-powered light rail and personal vehicles, while promoting active travel such as walking and cycling. Designing for integrated green precincts will bring greater benefits for local communities than one green building at a time. For example, community recycling and solar programs are more feasible on a larger precinct scale.

Of course, there are challenges to overcome. Finding appropriate locations for renewable energy farms that are also acceptable to the local people requires careful consideration of design guidelines and community engagement in the decision-making process.

The ICLEI 100% Renewable Cities Network is a prime example of the work being done to achieve this, by connecting cities to share knowledge and support each other. The network includes cities such as Canberra, the Australian capital, which is on track to achieve its target of 100 per cent renewable electricity by 2020.

2. Living infrastructure

Cities across the world are increasingly incorporating living infrastructure, to deliver social, environmental and economic services to urban communities. This is done by integrating trees, shrubs, grass and open spaces (green infrastructure); rainscapes and waterways (blue infrastructure); and soils, surface and man-made structures (grey infrastructure) into the fabric of the city.

In China’s “sponge cities”, rooftop gardens help to capture storm water and regulate the temperature of the building. Copenhagen’s cloudburst plan rethinks the way water flows through the city by installing channels above and beneath the surface to prevent flooding. And water sensitive urban design is being put to use in drier cities, to make efficient use of everything from rainwater to waste water.

Living infrastructure also offers nature-based solutions for coastal cities under increasing threat from rising sea levels and more extreme coastal storms. For instance, replanting mangroves and coastal vegetation provides softer barriers between land and sea, while restoring natural waterways by removing dams and man-made canal systems can reduce the urban heat island effect and mitigate its negative impacts on human health.

3. Urban networks

Urban networks make use of digital connectivity and the internet of things to help cities far and wide work toward global goals: think everything from integrated green transport systems, to big data for improving resource efficiency, to innovative platforms for exchanging knowledge and practices between cities, towns and villages.

Organisations such as the C40, ICLEI and the Global Covenant of Mayors are already helping to coordinate action between city leaders – and at COP 23 the Climate Summit of Local and Regional Leaders adopted the Bonn Fiji Commitment to deliver the Paris Agreement at all levels. Built environment professionals from around the world are also joining the groundswell of urban action, launching the Planners for Climate Action group at COP 23.

It’s also critical that the people making decisions in cities can connect with researchers who are gathering evidence in this area. Two global examples I am actively involved with are the Urban Climate Change Research Network led by Columbia University, and the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network led by Professor Jeffrey Sachs.

Making it happen

Sustainable solutions such as these need green financing mechanisms and support from national governments if they are to deliver real outcomes on the ground. At COP 23, the World Bank unveiled a new programme designed to provide cities with a vehicle to raise necessary funding and investment, in partnership with private enterprise.

In one of the conference’s key finance sessions, the former leader of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, stressed that green finance will be the key to urban change, with a current industry target of $1trn, and more in green bonds by 2020.

Nation states now have a responsibility to enable this wave of urban innovation to move forward. Despite the growing power of city and regional governments, national urban policies still play a central role in carrying out international agendas such as the New Urban Agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement.

The ConversationWhile a few states may choose to ignore international agreements, this groundswell of collaborative action across businesses, governments and communities is sending a strong message that national governments would be wise to heed. Embracing and investing in urban transformation that improves the health of people and the planet is clearly a winning strategy.

Barbara Norman, Chair of Urban & Regional Planning and Director of Canberra Urban & Regional Futures, University of Canberra, Visiting Professor, University of Warwick.

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


Why doesn’t London build an RER network, like Paris did?

A commuter walking by a map of the RER B line at the Chatelet-Les Halles station in Paris. Image: Getty.

I’ve heard many people make many different complaints about the Parisian transport system. That it does a bad job of linking a rich, white city with its poorer, more diverse suburbs. That, even as subway systems go, it’s a hostile environment for women. That the whole thing smells distractingly of urine.

I’m familiar with all of these complaints – I’ve often smelt the urine. And I’m aware that, in many ways, London’s is the superior transport network.

And yet I can’t help be jealous of Paris – In large part, because of the RER.

Central Paris. The Metro lines are thinner, and in pastel shades; the RER lines are thicker, and in brighter colours. Image: RATP.

Paris, you see, has not one but two underground railway systems. The more famous one is the original Paris Metro, opened in 1900: that’s the one with those fancy green portals with the word “metropolitain” written above them in a vaguely kooky font.

The Metro, though, mostly serves Paris Intra-muros: the official city, inside the Boulevard Périphérique ring road, site of the city’s last set of walls. As a result, it’s of very little use in most of the city’s suburbs. Its stations are very close together, which places a limit on how fast its trains can cross town. It was also, by the mid 20th century, becoming annoyingly overcrowded.

So starting in the 1960s, the city transport authorities began planning a second underground railway network. The Réseau Express Régional – Regional Express Network – would link suburban lines on either side of Paris, through new heavy rail tunnels beneath the city. Its stations would be much further apart than those of the metro – roughly one every 3km, rather than every 600m – so its trains can run faster.

And fifty years and five lines later, it means that 224 stations in the suburbs of Paris are served by trains which, rather than terminating on the edge of the city, now continue directly through tunnels to its centre.

The RER network today. Image: RATP.

London is, belatedly, doing something similar. The Elizabeth Line, due to open in stages from later this year, will offer express-tube style services linking the suburban lines which run west from Paddington to those which run east from Liverpool Street. And Thameslink has offered cross-town services for 30 years now (albeit not at tube-level frequencies). That, too, is going to add more routes to its network over the next few years, meaning direct trains from the southern suburbs to north London and vice versa.

Yet the vast majority of suburban National Rail services in London still terminate at big mainline stations, most of which are on the edge of the centre. For many journeys, especially from the south of the city, you still need to change to the London Underground.

So, could London ape Paris – and make Thameslink and Crossrail the first element of its own RER network?

In a limited way, of course, it’s doing just that. The next big project after Crossrail is likely to be (original name, this) Crossrail 2. If that gets funding, it’ll be a new south-west to north-east route, connecting some of the suburban lines into Waterloo to those in the Lea Valley.

The proposed route of Crossrail 2. Click to expand.

But it’s not immediately obvious where you could go next – what Crossails 3, 4 or 5 should cover.

That’s because there’s an imbalance in the distribution of the remaining mainline rail services in London. Anyone who’s even remotely familiar with the geography of the city will know that there are far more tube lines to its north. But the corollary of that is that there are far more mainlines to the south.

To usefully absorb some of those, Crossrail 3 would probably need to run south to south in some way. There is actually an obvious way of doing this: build a new tunnel from roughly Battersea to roughly Bermondsey, and take over the Richmond lines in the west and North Kent lines in the east, as a sort of London equivalent of RER C:

Our suggestion for Crossrail 3. Image: Google Maps/CityMetric.

But that still leaves a whole load of lines in south and south east London with nowhere to send them beyond their current terminal stations.

In fact, there are reasons for thinking that the whole RER concept doesn’t really fit the British capital. It was designed, remember, for a city in which the Metro only served the centre (roughly equivalent of London’s zones 1 & 2).

But London Underground wasn’t like that. From very early in its history, it served outer London too: it was not just a way of getting people around the centre, but for getting them there from their suburban homes too.

This is turn is at least in part a function of the economic geography of the two cities. Rich Parisians have generally wanted to live in the centre, pushing poorer people out to the banlieues. In London, though, the suburbs were where the good life was to be found.

To that end, the original operators of some lines weren’t just railway companies, but housing developers, too. The Metropolitan Railway effectively built large chunks of north west London (“Metroland”), partly to guarantee the market for its trains, but partly too because, well, housing is profitable.

In other parts of town, existing main line railways were simply added to the new underground lines. The Central line swallowed routes originally built by the Great Western Railway and London & North Eastern Railway. The District line absorbed part of the London, Tilbury & Southend Railway.

At any rate: the Tube was playing the same role as the RER as early as the 1930s. London could still benefit from some RER-type services, so hopefully the Elizbaeth Line won’t be the last. But it doesn’t need an entire second metro network in the way 1960s Paris did.

There is another idea we could more profitably steal from Paris. Those suburban railways which aren’t connected to the RER are still run by the national rail operator, SNCF. But it uses the Transilien brand name, to mark them out as a part of the Parisian transport network, and – as with the RER – each route has its own letter and its own colour.

The Transilien & RER networks in Paris. Image: Maximilian Dörrbecker/Wikimedia Commons.

This would not have the transformative effect on London that building another half a dozen Crossrails would. But it would make the network much easier to navigate, and would be almost infinitely cheaper. Perhaps we should be starting there.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites

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