Why Cities Are the Key to Fighting Climate Change 

Two highly respected commentators and influencers in the world of city devolution and governance have come to the fore this week. As the House of Lords finished its work, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Reform, Decentralisation and Devolution (for which the LGA provides the secretariat) launched a ‘far-reaching’ inquiry on devolution and constitutional reform. The inquiry is to be led by Lord Kerslake, the former permanent secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government, who told us: “The work, so far, has been encouraging. We’ve had some very good names come forward to join the panel and a willingness of some quite senior people to give evidence as well.

“The feedback that I have had is that this is a positive step and could help move devolution on really in every form.”

Whilst Lord Kerslake is a formidable negotiator and well versed in the politics of cities there is an altogether more tub-thumping and positive, outcome led call to arms from Mayor Bloomberg.

“‘The world’s first Metropolitan Generation is coming of age, and as a result, the world will be shaped increasingly by metropolitan values: industriousness, creativity, entrepreneurialism, and, most important, liberty and diversity. That is a hopeful development for humanity, and an overpowering counterweight to the forces of repression and intolerance that arise out of religious fanaticism and that now pose a grave threat to the security of democratic nations… As those in the Metropolitan Generation assume leadership positions, cities will become not just more culturally significant but also more politically powerful.” 

In particular, Bloomberg cites the challenge of global warming to which cities, in the absence of national and even State governments, must respond.

Climate change calls on societies to act quickly, and cities tend to be more nimble than national governments, which are more likely to be captured or neutralized by special interest groups and which tend to view problems through an ideological, rather than a pragmatic, lens. 

For mayors, reducing carbon pollution is not an economic cost; it is a competitive necessity. Earlier this year, Beijing announced that it would close its coal-fired power plants because any marginal financial benefit they offered was swamped by their net costs, including those of health care and forgone economic investment. Dirty air is a major liability for a city’s business environment.

Urban leadership on climate change has also led to an unprecedented level of cooperation among cities. The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, for which I serve as president of the board, has brought together more than 75 cities committed to sharing best practices and spreading proven solutions. The evidence is clear that this networking strategy is working, as many carbon-reduction projects have spread to cities across the globe. For instance, only six C40 cities had bike-sharing programs in 2011. By 2013, 36 had them. As London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, said in 2013, “By sharing best practice through C40—and shamelessly appropriating other cities’ best ideas—we can take action on climate change and improve the quality of life for our residents.”

 

Source: Michael Bloomberg | Why Cities Are the Key to Fighting Climate Change | Foreign Affairs

Source: Lord Kerslake: ‘Immense challenge’ to empower local communities and cities

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China Academy of Building Research

Professor Stephen Lau from the National University of Singapore explains the routemap adopted by China towards Green Building development.

The source of the materials presented are attributed to http://www.cabr.com.cn and shows that coastal areas of China, where land values are higher and space is more constrained and economic conditions suit the adoption of green building standards.  


The costs of projects that are ‘greener’ are higher but the additional costs are falling over time as the solutions to the standards are adopted and better understood.

Globally, Europe, China and Australia are seen to be amongst the highest standards in green buildings as shown by the International Energy Efficiency Scorecard 2012. China now 4th overall globally in terms of standards in the 2014 analysis (Germany is 1st).

There is strong emphasis on air quality, particularly PM2.5 in Beijing and the point source with significant contributions coming from outside Beijing itself through coal fired energy generation and construction. This is particularly challenging in the context of growth in China – both in terms of urbanisation and energy demands.

Policies to tackle this set standards in new construction to meet carbon targets and air quality. Consideration of embodied energy in materials is now more prominent and recognising 70% of the impact is in life use.

Collaborative research undertaken between the US and China has consdiered absolute and relative targets against population, GDP and on a spatial basis. Further analysis of CO2 emissions of typical cities has been undertaken. China working to dependency on non fossil fuels which is driving interest in nuclear power in China.


The concept of a ‘Green Campus’ is developing in China. The opportunity to educate students about green building technologies is a primary driver for this with the health and energy efficiency benefits seen as secondary in both schools, colleges and universities. Learning is being taken up in Provinces and a competition to stimulate thinking around sustainable campuses is to be launched later this year led by the China Green Business Council. Active engagement with children in popular science lectures in the Provinces.

How to protect fast-growing cities from failing

Some insightful points made about the rapid urbanisation of our planet in this great Ted Talk by Robert Muggah.

In his talk “How to protect fast-growing cities from failing” he explains how its the speed at which cities grow that is important. Those with a longer period of gestation which mature more slowly are less likely to experience the traumas of rapid growth. He cites cities in the south hemisphere as being vulnerable in the coming decades.

What has open council data ever done for us? | CityMetric

What has open council data ever done for us? 

In a recently published piece, By Marc Ambasna-Jones, writes: It’s been nearly a year since Eric Pickles, the UK’s Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government issued a policy statement  requesting that local councils open up their data to the public.   

Since then, progress has been slow – but there has been progress. A number of cities (Manchester, Leeds, Cambridge, London) have published open data sets. But without a common access point, or a declaration of available data like theOpen Data Census in the US, it’s hard to know how many.

The big question now is: is transparency enough?

Boris Johnson thinks so. In October this year, London’s mayor, a keen advocate of municipal open data, launched London’s second data store. At the time, he said it would provide “a wealth of material that the world’s brightest minds will be able to use to develop new insight and apps that can be used to solve the big city problems”. The inference is that if you open the data the developers will come.

In truth, the expectation that Town Halls, many of which are facing huge funding cuts – particularly in those northern cities where the opportunity to exploit open data is so great, really haven’t embraced this fully. A few notable examples of cities that have taken this on have largely been backed by the belief that it will really stimulate local economies or they have been effectively subsidised by initiatives such as the Future Cities programme.

Now, as the need for innovation, efficiency and economic stimulus is at its most acute our Town Halls are, arguably, at their most cash-strapped. Overcoming this hurdle is key. It’s not enough to require, as Eric Pickles did, Town Halls to open up their data. Support, stimulus and subsidy to generate a significantly bigger pool of leaders in this field is needed. That way our municipalities, local enterprise partnerships and local authorities will be left behind.

 

Parag Khanna: Mapping the future of countries | Talk Video | TED.com

Parag Khanna: Mapping the future of countries | Talk Video | TED.com.

Many people think the lines on the map no longer matter, but Parag Khanna (@paragkhanna ) says they do. Using maps of the past and present, he explains the root causes of border conflicts worldwide and proposes simple yet cunning solutions for each.

This is taking political and economic geograpahy to a new level – you can see examples to illustrate @paragkhanna ‘s talk everyday. Having just spent two weeks in Greece, even there you can see how the German ‘lifeline’ has seen a growth in German cars on the highways of Hellas and a flood of Russian tourists lifting the economy. Between them, Russia and Germany, are running Greece.

I’d highly recommend you watch this excellent Ted.com talk – it will change your view on political boundaries and solutions to conflicts.

Driving growth – Labour and electric cars > Article :: IPPR

Driving growth – Labour and electric cars > Article :: IPPR.

Last week, the government updated its electric car strategy. There is good news in it – especially the announcement of £500m to be made available over the next parliament to support electric cars. However, there are clear problems with this strategy so Labour has an opportunity to set out its own, more radical, agenda.

IPPR research has shown that in other countries innovative local policies drives sales. In Amsterdam, electric cars don’t pay the €5 an hour charge and are put to the top of the five-year waiting list for a permit. In the global capital for electric cars, Oslo, drivers can use the bus lanes. In China, electric cars are exempt from Beijing’s licence plate lottery which limits the days on which drivers can use their cars.

Sustainable Cities Need to be Climate Resilient

John Metcalfe of the excellent The Atlantic Cities site wrote today that ‘unprecedented high temperatures pushed the planet to one of the top-10 warmest years on record; in the United States, it was the hottest year known to humankind, with a particularly brutal heat wave punishing citizens in the summer. Dozens of people died, highways buckled, and farmers kicked at barren fields during the worst drought in 50 years.’

We are seeing what some have referred to as ‘global weirding’ – with abnormally high (or low), dry (or wet) seasons across the globe. Significant rainfall, falling in extreme bursts that our landuse patterns and drainage systems simply cannot cope with, has caused massive damage in the Indian Sub-Continent, China, Australia, the USA and Europe in the last couple of years. Close to home, here in the UK, we have seen a warmer summer for the first time since 2006. But that has come at a cost.

An estimated 650 people may have died prematurely due to the current heatwave in England, according to research by Professor Ben Armstrong.

Figures produced by Prof Armstrong for the Times looked at the number of premature deaths attributable to heat in England for 6 -14 July 2013. The estimate was calculated using a model published in 2011 research from Prof Armstrong and colleagues that used region specific estimates of risk due to heat for the period 1993-2006*.

– See more at: http://blogs.lshtm.ac.uk/news/2013/07/18/premature-deaths-from-heatwave-in-england/#sthash.w54yv2Tp.dpuf

And whilst heat has been a problem, along side that we have seen flash flooding on a scale that has seen people lose their homes, their livelihoods and their possessions. In upland hill towns in Calderdale, England the effect has been devastating: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leeds-22960628
What does this mean for cities? Climate change puts a magnifying glass on all the issues of social, economic and environmental inequality. Increased temperatures, storminess and rainfall will only widen those inequalities. Those who cannot afford to keep their properties dry, cool (and warm) and protected from structural damage will suffer more. It is these communities that should be given priority, particularly where there is evidence of poor health that compounds these issues.
Here in Sheffield, the ‘State of Sheffield 2013‘ report says ‘There is clear evidence that the climate is already changing, and the years ahead will be about adapting Sheffield to a different environmental future, and mitigating the impacts of global ecological change. Many of the significant factors that contribute to a sustainable environment remain largely invisible – the quality of the air, the release of carbon into the atmosphere, the use of energy. ‘
Direct effects of climate change on cities and citizens are, without doubt,  beginning to be clear and policy makers must take that into account. You cannot, and should not, plan for yesterday’s climate. You have to consider the evidence and the projections of climate change 20, 30, 50 years hence. Observations in 2013 largely mirror the projections put forward by scientists in recent years – so let’s start to implement the measures we need to protect our citizens and the infrastructure of our cities. That will mean new strategies for managing water, with city authorities having a greater say in the capture, storage, movement, treatment, use and disposal of water – with an emphasis on efficiency, reduction and re-use. We certainly cannot continue to treat all water to drinking standards for flushing toilets or watering lawns.
Urban areas need to be un-sealed so that hard surfacing is replaced with exposed soils, green spaces and water: green and blue spaces for leisure, recreation and urban cooling and flood mitigation.
Of course, lessons can be learnt from other cities where, over time, cultures, expectations, lifestyles, housing, diet, education, clothing and fashion, take into account climate.
It is time to learn those lessons – and fast.