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.

 
 
 
 

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.