They are the most significant modern phenomena facing the population today;
Urbanization and our changing climate, and they are comprehensively linked.
Urban environments generate creative thinking, suspect art, innovation, nifty technologiesand social change. Even with such contributions, urbanites are criticized for their inefficient energy consumption; from vehicle use, home utilities, convenience products and affluent lifestyle.
It’s a little staggering; the statistics whichchronicle people’s excessive consumption and inefficient use of energy, themajor contributor to Green House Gases (GHG). We’ve heard it before from thenews and in journals, so I will attempt to frame it differently. Let’s compare (in tCO2e ,tonnes of CO2 equivalent); Seoul emits 4.1 tCO2e per capita while Tokyo emits 4.89 tCO2e. That doesn’t look so bad, a mere 0.79 difference. But that’s probably because a tonne of carbon dioxide is difficult to imagine. When you think in terms of the weight of carbon dioxide, picture a tonne of ice or better yet dry ice—frozen carbon dioxide. Suddenly, 790 kilograms of dry ice, per person, per year, comes across as a significant difference. London’s emissions are a colossal 9.6 tCO3e and higher still are New York City’s at 10.5, illustrations of how Seoul’s and Tokyo’s emissions are benefitted by population density.
According to estimates from the International Energy Agency (IEA) urban areas account for 71% of energy-related carbon emissions. They also expect that number to rise to 76% by 2030. If all production and consumption based emissions that result from an affluent lifestyle and convenience purchasing habits are included, his figure increases to 80%.
Lester R Brown, founder of the Earth Policy Institute, made us aware of the need to change our values from ‘conspicuous consumption’ to ‘conspicuous frugality’. His words in the 1970’s reminded people that we are a vulnerable part of the natural world and subject to the same injury as the rest of the eco-system.
A generation on and there is still a reluctance to accept the need to change. We believe that in order to advance as a species we need to ‘develop’ and develop is synonyms with increase, build and expand. Increase our possessions, build expectations beyond those of our parents and expand our coverage of the globe. With
such a psyche it is difficult to believe that we may need to reduce our energy consumption, or at the very least fully utilize it, to advance with the environment intact.
At a talk at Catawba College Brown said that “unless civilization changes it’s ways … we’re in a race between natural tipping points and political tipping points, – ‘what we need most of all is for the market to tell the environmental truth.’ Brown will speak again at the Gwangju Urban Environmental Accords (UEA), but this time directly to city mayors, spurring them into action. This October the UEA wishes to challenge the common argument that efficiency must come at the expense of the quality of life. What the Mayors of cities around the globe will be doing at the UEA Gwangju Summit is pledging to do their part to tackle environmental problems such as energy depletion, waste disposal, transportation, water demand, greenhouse gasses and environmental pollution.
As decision makers, cities Mayors are in a unique position to respond to the natural ecology and climate change at a visceral level, with immediate and thorough actions catered to the specifics of their city. Implementing action on a smaller scale can bring about immediate meaningful change. They hope to do this without negative economical effects or hindrance to lifestyles. But besides sharing model cases of environmental policies with other Mayors, how will they achieve this?
I poised this question to Professor Kwi-Gon Kim, Chief Commissioner of the summit, to which he replied, ‘The ultimate goal [of the Urban Environmental Accords Summit] is to create a Low-Carbon Green City. Based on two important tools, one is the Urban Environment Evaluation Index and the other one is Urban CDM.’ [Clean Development Mechanism].
The Environmental Evaluation Index will establish a method of criterion for measuring cities success in becoming sustainable. It will also suggest policy changes aimed at assisting cities who suffer from environmental problems. A brief of the Index will be constructed before the meetings in October, so as to encourage practical discussions. The agreed to Index will provide Mayors with a tool to improve the environmental standing of their city. It is expected that this index will become industry standard with the continued support from the United
Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP).
The most ambitious and rewarding proposal will be the construction of a Urban Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) which will allow for the trading of urban carbon credits on the open market, the first of its kind. They will function much the
same as current carbon credits, purchased by those who emit more than their allotment, and sold by the thrifty or industrious. The UNEP together with Gwangju City will develop the CDM to be adopted by United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) which means it will have respectable backing.
But what should city allowances of GHG emissions be? Should it be split evenly between urban environments based upon population, sprawl or size? Some cities are simply in a less fortunate position than others; lacking natural resources, battling harsh climates, grossly dispersed or located in remote regions. These factors cause some cities, such as the elevated La Paz in Bolivia, to emit more than others. These and other questions of measurement, analyses and the geographical definition need to be examined in great detail before the summit commences.
Dr. Achim Steiner, Executive Director of United Nations Environmental Programme
With such extensive collaboration between leading environmental organizations, it’s
appropriate that the keynote speakers include Dr. Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP and co-host of the event; and Dr. Joan Clos, Executive Director of the UN-Habitat speaking for the first time in an international meeting discussing climate change. In fact it is unprecedented that Clos and Stenier speak at the same event. Dr. Lester R. Brown will continue his work in encouraging sustainability by speaking also.
Big name city San Francisco, will co-host the summit, whilst 51 other cities have confirmed their attendance and commitment to the environment. Some attendees to
note are Washington D.C, Freiburg, Germany, a innovator in solar energy, Curitiba, Brazil, recognized as one of the world’s most sustainable cities and known for its model practices in ecological, social and economic sustainability.
As we fast approach a world with 9 billion people, 70% of who are anticipated to live in urban areas by 2050, cities must address the harmful effects of their subsistence; Mainly, Green House Gasses.
I am inclined to agree with Professor Kwi-Gon Kim, who believes that “The urban
environment problem is a global issue, which can only be tackled through co-operation among international cities”.
Carbon Emission values are provided by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI)