Carbon neutral by 2030: How does Oslo's ambitious carbon budget work?

Storms over Norway. Image: Getty.

Oslo’s city government has issued an ambitious “climate budget” with the intent of halving its carbon emissions from 1990 levels by 2020, and becoming completely carbon neutral by 2030. To achieve this goal, the city plans to limit access for cars with new tolls and fewer parking spaces; to power the bus fleet with renewable energy; to increase cycle use; and to eliminate heating with fossil fuels in homes and offices.

The move comes at a time when cities are taking on a more important role in addressing the issue of climate change. Globally, cities are thought to be responsible for roughly 75 per cent of human-sourced carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions, because urban populations still depend largely on fossil fuels to generate energy. Since CO₂ is the chief greenhouse gas, cities are considered to be key drivers of global climate change.

Yet cities are also uniquely well-placed to address this issue. Most cities have their own planning systems, which can be used to manage the local economy and the urban landscape (that is, land-cover and land-use), in order to regulate energy use.

Until relatively recently, policies to measure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions were administered at a national level, to ensure compliance with international agreements, such as the Paris Agreement. But over the last decade, cities have started to play a bigger role in global efforts to tackle climate change.

A new protocol

This is evident in initiatives such as the Global Compact of Mayors, of which Oslo is a member. The compact – founded by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2014 – is a coalition of cities and local governments that are voluntarily taking action to combat climate change and move toward a more resilient, low-carbon society.

To come up with effective policies for reducing emissions, cities first need a way to inventory their energy use. To that end, the compact has created a protocol that classifies energy use into six main sectors: stationary (for example, building construction and use); transportation; waste; industrial processes and product use; agriculture, forestry, and other land use and any other emissions occurring outside the boundary as a result of city activities.

These categories account for the greenhouse gas emissions associated with burning coal, gas, oil and so on. But they also take stock of the gases that are taken out of the atmosphere by plantations and forests, for example.

Get planting. Image: Dreamhamar/Flickr/creative commons.

Completing a greenhouse gas inventory using the protocol can guide urban policies to reflect the character of a city. For example, cities in cold climates use more gas and electricity to heat buildings in winter, while low-density cities generally dedicate more energy to transportation, and cities with a strong industrial base expend energy on manufacturing.

Becoming carbon neutral means reducing or even eliminating fossil fuel use, reducing landfill waste and offsetting any remaining emissions. Typically, the strategies involve incorporating aspects of technology (such as renewable energy generation), design (for instance, making cities more compact) and behaviour (for example, shifting commuters from private to public modes of transport).


Healthy competition

In the case of Oslo, its population of about 650,000 people emits roughly 1.34m tonnes of CO₂ per year, with much of this energy expended to meet building and transportation needs. While the plan to reduce emissions to zero is very ambitious, it’s worth keeping in mind that Norway already generates the majority of its electricity using hydropower.

This gives Oslo options that other cities may not have. For example, adding to the electric car fleet is a common policy in many cities concerned about air quality and greenhouse emissions. But if the electricity is produced by fossil fuels, then electric cars simply shift the creation of greenhouse gases from moving transport to stationary charging points.

Likewise, most of Oslo’s homes are heated with electricity generated from hydropower, and by burning wood pellets, which are also considered to be a renewable fuel. Here, the challenge is to make homes more efficient, and to ensure that more fuel for direct and indirect heating comes from renewable sources.

There is much to be learned from Oslo’s progress; in particular, it highlights the need for tailored policies and plans, to address the unique emission profile of each city. Yet the city will still need to overcome significant barriers, to become carbon neutral by 2030. In particular, it will need to offset any residual emissions through forestation, or by actively capturing carbon at the source.

Yet Oslo’s carbon budget raises the stakes for other cities which are working to combat climate change. The greenhouse gas protocol provides a consistent, transparent and internationally recognised approach for cities to measure and report emissions, allowing for credible comparison – and a little healthy competition – between urban areas across the globe.The Conversation

Gerald Mills is senior lecturer in geography at University College Dublin.

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

 
 
 
 

How US planners experimented with “the iron hand of power” over colonial Manila

Manila in ruins, 1945. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

In 1904, Manila must have appeared to its new overlords a despairing prospect. Racked with poverty and disease, it was still recovering from years of war, epidemic and a fire that had left 8,000 homeless.

For architect Daniel Burnham, it was an opportunity to put to work the radical ideas he had dreamed of in America.

He was among those asking how America’s unprecedented wealth at the turn of the century could be reconciled with the lives of the country’s poorest. Like many, he admired the ideas of harmonised city-planning articulated in Edward Bellamy’s bestselling science-fiction Looking Backward (1888).

At the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Burnham constructed the “White City”. Built across 686 acres of parkland, boulevards, gardens and neoclassical structures rendered a spray-painted plaster vision of the future – all laid out to one comprehensive plan.

It was impressive – but implementing grand designs where people actually lived meant laborious negotiations with citizens, businessmen and politicians.

Instead, opportunity lay in America’s new overseas territories. As Daniel Immerwahr describes in How to Hide an Empire: A Short History of the Greater United States, “They functioned as laboratories, spaces for bold experimentation where ideas could be tried with practically no resistance, oversight, or consequences.”

An architect’s dream

The US had gone to war with Spain in 1898, taking advantage of an empire-wide insurrection. It ended up controlling the entire Philippines, along with Guam and Puerto Rico.

As a “territory”, the Philippines existed outside the protections of the constitution. Congress could impose any law, proclaimed the attorney general in 1901, “without asking the consent of the inhabitants, even against their consent and against their protest, as it has frequently done.”

Which is how Burnham, upon invitation by the Philippine’s new rulers, came to wield what the Architectural Record called “the iron hand of power” over Manila.

 Burnham’s plan for Manila. Click to expand.

Where Burnham’s Chicago plan was complex, took years and entailed collaboration with hundreds of citizens, Burnham spent six months on the Manila plan, and just six weeks in the Philippines. And with no voters to persuade, there seemed little reason to register Filipino input in his designs.

In 1905 Burnham submitted his Report on Improvement of Manila. It described filling the toxic moat of the Spanish fortress Intramuros and developing a rectangular street system modelled on Washington D.C., with diagonal arteries which even Chicago lacked.


Central to his plan was the city’s beautification through monumental buildings, waterfront improvements, and parks – “wholesome resorts” to “give proper means of recreation to every quarter of the city”

Burnham charged William E. Parsons as the omnipotent “Consultant Architect” to interpret his plan, who relished its authority over all public building as an “architect’s dream”. When concerned with the extent of his purview, he also chose to standardise a number of public buildings.

“I doubt if this method would bear fruit in our own city improvement plans, in which everything depends on slow moving legislative bodies,” reported the Architectural Record’s correspondent.

Despite Burnham’s colonial sentiments his biographer concluded his plan was “remarkable in its simplicity and its cognizance of Philippine conditions and traditions.”

His plans did not shy from asserting the colonial government’s authority, however. The Luneta, a favourite park, was to become the nuclei of government. The city’s avenues would converge there, for “every section of the Capitol City should look with deference toward the symbol of the Nation’s power.”

Unusual monumental possibilities

Burnham also worked on a summer palace for US administrators at Baguio, 150 miles north in the mountains. On land inhabited by Igorot people, Burnham saw an opening “to formulate my plans untrammelled by any but natural conditions”.

Baguio’s “unusual monumental possibilities” were facilitated by a road whose construction employed thousands, risking death from disease and falling off cliffs. Civic buildings would “dominate everything in sight” and a golf course would rival those of Scotland.

“Stingy towards the people and lavish towards itself,” griped La Vanguardia, the government “has no scruples nor remorse about wasting money which is not its own.”

As enthusiasm for US empire soured in the States, local power was relinquished to Filipinos. Parsons resigned in protest in 1914. He was replaced by Manila-born Juan Arellano, whose rebuke to imperialists was the mighty, neoclassical Legislative Building which hosted the elected Philippine Legislature. Arellano upheld Burnham’s plan, producing a beautified city bearing resemblance to Burnham’s White City.

But the Legislative Building, along with Burnham’s great edifices and almost everything else in Manila, was levelled as US troops recaptured it in 1945, this time ousting the Japanese in a brutal battle. “Block after bloody block was slowly mashed into an unrecognizable pulp”, recorded the 37th Infantry Division as they exercised their own “iron hand” over Manila.

American artillery had transformed Manila into ruins. “It was by far the most destructive event ever to take place on US soil,” writes Immerwahr, even if few soldiers realised they were liberating US nationals at the time. Burnham’s expansive vision was lost in the debris, and though some buildings were rebuilt a majority were replaced. Today, Manila’s pre-war architecture is remembered with fondness and nostalgia.