We examined over 800 European cities’ plans to tackle climate change. Here’s what we found

Seen better days: a Norwegian glacier. Image: Getty.

Around the world, cities endeavour to cut greenhouse gas emissions, while adapting to the threats – and opportunities – presented by climate change. It’s no easy task, but the first step is to make a plan outlining how to meet the targets set out in the Paris Agreement, and help limit the world’s mean temperature rise to less than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

About 74 per cent of Europe’s population lives in cities, and urban settlements account for 60-80 per cent of carbon emissions – so it makes sense to plan at an urban level. Working to meet carbon reduction targets can also reduce local pollution and increase energy efficiency – which benefits both businesses and residents.

But it’s just as important for cities to adapt to climate change – even if the human race were to cut emissions entirely, we would still be facing the extreme effects of climate change for decades to come, because of the increased carbon input that has already taken place since the industrial revolution.

In the most comprehensive survey to date, we collaborated with 30 researchers across Europe to investigate the availability and content of local climate plans for 885 European cities, across all 28 EU member states. The inventory provides a big-picture overview of where EU cities stand, in terms of mitigating and adapting to climate change.

Map of cities with local climate plans (LPCs). The countries in dark orange make it compulsory to have local climate plans. Image: author provided.

The leaderboard

The good news is that 66 per cent of EU cities have a mitigation or adaptation plan in place. The top countries were Poland – where 97 per cent of cities have mitigation plans – Germany (81%), Ireland (80 per cent), Finland (78 per cent) and Sweden (77 per cent). In Finland, 78 per cent of cities also had a plan for adapting to climate change.

But only a minority of EU countries – including Denmark, France, Slovakia and the UK – have made it compulsory for cities to develop local climate plans. In these countries, cities are nearly twice as likely to have a mitigation plan and five times as likely to have an adaptation plan. Throughout the rest of the EU, it is mainly large cities that have local climate plans.

There were some shortcomings worth noting: 33 per cent of EU cities (that’s 288 cities) have no standalone climate plans whatsoever – including Athens (Greece), Salzburg (Austria), and Palma de Mallorca (Spain). And not one city in Bulgaria or Hungary has a standalone climate plan. Only 16 per cent of cities – that’s a total of 144 – have joined-up mitigation and adaptation plans, and most of these were in France and the UK – though cities such as Brussels (Belgium), Helsinki (Finland) and Bonn (Germany) had joined-up plans as well.

Some cities have made climate initiatives a common feature in planning activities, often aiming for broader environmental goals, such as resilience and sustainability. Some of these forward-looking cities – Rotterdam and Gouda in the Netherlands, for example – may not have standalone climate change mitigation or adaptation plans, per se. Instead, climate issues are integrated into broader development strategies, as also seen in Norwich, Swansea, Plymouth and Doncaster in the UK.


Mitigation, adaptation – or both?

Plans for mitigating the effects of climate change are generally straightforward: they look at ways to increase efficiency, transition to clean energy and improve heating, insulation and transport. In doing so, they are likely to result in financial savings or health benefits for the municipality, and the public. For example, more low-emission vehicles on the road doesn’t just mean less carbon emissions – it also means better air quality for the city’s residents.

Adapting to climate change is not always so simple. Each area will need to adapt in different ways. Some adaptations – such as flood defences – can require huge investment to build, and only rarely prove their effectiveness. Yet there are plans and measures that cities can take, to both mitigate the threats from climate change and adapt to the changes that are already coming.

One way for cities to become more resilient to climate change is to integrate infrastructures for energy, transport, water and food, and allow them to combine their resources. A sensors become more commonplace across European cities, it’s easier to monitor the impacts of local plans to reduce emissions and stay on top of extreme weather. The University of Newcastle in the UK is home to the Urban Observatory, which provides one of the largest open-source digital urban sensing networks in the world.

Spot the sensor. Image: author provided.

Across the board, cities need to improve the way they manage water at the surface and below ground. Installing more green features in city centres or strategic locations can help urban areas adapt to heatwaves, extreme rainfall and droughts all at once. To find out what works and what doesn’t, it’s essential for cities to network and share knowledge, to create and improve on their local climate plans.

There is simply too much at stake for the world’s cities to go their separate ways when it comes to climate change. We have found that international climate networks make a big difference to countries and cities, as they develop and implement their climate plans. For instance, 333 EU cities of our sample are signatories of the Covenant of Mayors and through that are given support and encouragement as they engage in climate change planning and action.


Our study shows that cities are taking climate change threats seriously, but there is clearly more work to be done. It is a near certainty that if cities do not plan and act now to address climate change, they could find themselves in a far more precarious position in the future.

The ConversationWhile there is plenty that cities can do, national governments must still take the lead – providing legal and regulatory frameworks and guidance. Our study has demonstrated that this is one of the most effective ways to make sure that cities – and their citizens – are well prepared for the threats and opportunities that climate change will bring.

Oliver Heidrich, Senior Researcher in Urban Resource Modelling, Newcastle University and Diana Reckien, Associate Professor for Climate Change and Urban Inequalities, University of Twente.

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

 
 
 
 

The Adam Smith Institute thinks size doesn’t matter when housing young professionals. It’s wrong

A microhome, of sorts. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

The Adam Smith Institute has just published ‘Size Doesn’t Matter’, a report by Vera Kichanova, which argues that eliminating minimum space requirements for flats would help to solve the London housing crisis. The creation of so-called ‘micro-housing’ would allow those young professionals who value location over size to live inside the most economically-active areas of London, the report argues argues.

But the report’s premises are often mistaken – and its solutions sketchy and questionable.

To its credit, it does currently diagnose the roots of the housing crisis: London’s growing population isn’t matched by a growing housing stock. Kichanova is self-evidently right in stating that “those who manage to find accomodation [sic] in the UK capital have to compromise significantly on their living standards”, and that planning restrictions and the misnamed Green Belt are contributing to this growing crisis.

But the problems start on page 6, when Kichanova states that “the land in central, more densely populated areas, is also used in a highly inefficient way”, justifying this reasoning through an assertion that half of Londoners live in buildings up to two floors high. In doing so, she incorrectly equates high-rise with density: Kichanova, formerly a Libertarian Party councillor in Moscow, an extraordinarily spread-out city with more than its fair share of tall buildings, should know better.

Worse, the original source for this assertion refers to London as a whole: that means it includes the low-rise areas of outer London, rather than just the very centrally located Central Activities Zone (CAZ) – the City, West End, South Bank and so forth – with which the ASI report is concerned. A leisurely bike ride from Knightsbridge to Aldgate would reveal that single or two-storey buildings are almost completely absent from those parts of London that make up the CAZ.

Kichanova also argues that a young professional would find it difficult to rent a flat in the CAZ. This is correct, as the CAZ covers extremely upmarket areas like Mayfair, Westminster, and Kensington Gardens (!), as well as slightly more affordable parts of north London, such as King’s Cross.

Yet the report leaps from that quite uncontroversial assertion to stating that living outside the CAZ means a commute of an hour or more per day. This is a strawman: it’s perfectly possible to keep your commuting time down, even living far outside of the CAZ. I live in Archway and cycle to Bloomsbury in about twenty minutes; if you lived within walking distance of Seven Sisters and worked in Victoria, you would spend much less than an hour a day on the Tube.

Kichanova supports her case by apparently misstating research by some Swiss economists, according to whom a person with an hour commute to work has to earn 40 per cent more money to be as satisfied as someone who walks. An hour commute to work means two hours travelling per day – by any measure a different ballpark, which as a London commuter would mean living virtually out in the Home Counties.

Having misidentified the issue, the ASI’s solution is to allow the construction of so-called micro-homes, which in the UK refers to homes with less than the nationally-mandated minimum 37m2 of floor space. Anticipating criticism, the report disparages “emotionally charged epithets like ‘rabbit holes’ and ‘shoeboxes,” in the very same paragraph which describes commuting as “spending two hours a day in a packed train with barely enough air to breath”.


The report suggests browsing Dezeen’s examples of designer micro-flats in order to rid oneself of the preconception that tiny flats need mean horrible rabbit hutches. It uses weasel words – “it largely depends on design whether a flat looks like a decent place to live in” – to escape the obvious criticism that, nice-looking or not, tiny flats are few people’s ideal of decent living. An essay in the New York Times by a dweller of a micro-flat describes the tyranny of the humble laundry basket, which looms much larger than life because of its relative enormity in the author’s tiny flat; the smell of onion which lingers for weeks after cooking a single dish.

Labour London Assembly member Tom Copley has described being “appalled” after viewing a much-publicised scheme by development company U+I. In Hong Kong, already accustomed to some of the smallest micro-flats in the world, living spaces are shrinking further, leading Alice Wu to plead in an opinion column last year for the Hong Kong government to “regulate flat sizes for the sake of our mental health”.

Amusingly, the Dezeen page the ASI report urges a look at includes several examples directly contradicting its own argument. One micro-flat is 35 m2, barely under minimum space standards as they stand; another is named the Shoe Box, a title described by Dezeen as “apt”. So much for eliminating emotionally-charged epithets.

The ASI report readily admits that micro-housing is suitable only for a narrow segment of Londoners; it states that micro-housing will not become a mass phenomenon. But quite how the knock-on effects of a change in planning rules allowing for smaller flats will be managed, the report never makes clear. It is perfectly foreseeable that, rather than a niche phenomenon confined to Zone 1, these glorified student halls would become common for early-career professionals, as they have in Hong Kong, even well outside the CAZ.

There will always be a market for cheap flats, and many underpaid professionals would leap at the chance to save money on their rent, even if that doesn’t actually mean living more centrally. The reasoning implicit to the report is that young professionals would be willing to pay similar rents to normal-sized flats in Zones 2-4 in order to live in a smaller flat in Zone 1.

But the danger is that developers’ response is simply to build smaller flats outside Zone 1, with rent levels which are lower per flat but higher per square metre than under existing rules. As any private renter in London knows, it’s hardly uncommon for landlords to bend the rules in order to squeeze as much profit as possible out of their renters.

The ASI should be commended for correctly diagnosing the issues facing young professionals in London, even if the solution of living in a room not much bigger than a bed is no solution. A race to the bottom is not a desirable outcome. But to its credit, I did learn something from the report: I never knew the S in ASI stood for “Slum”.