World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg weighed in January 18 on what it will take to shape the future of cities — and cut pollution, road deaths, commute times, and poverty.
A large part of the answer: greener, more efficient and cost-effective urban transportation that is designed to move people, not cars.
“We have to start looking at other ways to move people. Traffic does hurt your economy,” Mayor Bloomberg said at the 10th Annual Transforming Transportation conference in Washington, D.C., hosted by the World Bank and EMBARQ.
With 90 percent of city air pollution caused by vehicles, finding transportation solutions also will help confront emissions that drive climate change, Dr. Kim added.
The number of vehicles on the world’s roads is on pace to double to about 1.7 billion by 2035. Pair that with a rapidly urbanizing population – six in 10 of us are likely to live in cities by 2030 – and the world’s cities have a transport problem in the making.
It’s also an opportunity, one that cities, particularly the fast-growing urban centers in developing countries, must take now.
Those that build efficient, inclusive urban transport systems can connect their people with jobs, health care, and education. They can reduce congestion, and they can limit carbon emissions that are contributing to climate change.
This week in Doha, the marble corridors of the Qatar National Convention Center resonate with voices from around the world. Over half way through the UN Climate Change Conference, as ministers arrive and the political stakes pick up, a sense of greater urgency in the formal negotiations is almost palpable. But in the corridors, negotiations are already leading to deals and dreams and action on the ground.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened the discussions by saying we need optimism, because without optimism there are no results. He reminded us all that Superstorm Sandy was a tragic awakening. He reiterated the call for a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, a global agreement and 100 billion in climate finance by 2020.
Pakistan’s population of nearly 181 million is growing at 2% per year; this population explosion has resulted in the country meeting the international definition of water stress—water availability in Pakistan has plummeted from about 5,000 cubic meters per capita in the early 1950s to less than 1,100 m3 per capita in 2011.
This ominous, mounting water paucity impairs the lives of Pakistan’s rural women, who bear the arduous responsibility of collecting and providing water for their households. The absence of a safe water supply at or near their homes—and the resulting need to walk up to 4 km or more to get water each day—has aggravated the burden of women’s duties in many ways, making them vulnerable in terms of both their health and personal safety.
Rural women are the worst victims of water scarcity; however, in some communities, evidence indicates that women are emerging as a “herald of change.”
All climate negotiations have been based on staying below 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures. Yet it looks increasingly unlikely that that will be possible. A new report, Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided, suggests that there is a 40 percent chance that we will reach 4°C by 2100 even if we stick to the agreed emission reduction commitments.
What does water look like in a 4°C world?
Put simply: it's complex. Water is a complicated system and one of the major impacts of climate change is the effect on the hydrological (water) cycle. These impacts will coincide with an unprecedented increase in demand for water because of population and economic growth.
For a number of years, a majority of South Asians have been painfully aware that climate change is real and, if left unfettered, has the potential to reverse the significant gains the region has made on poverty reduction and other Millennium Development Goals.
Nepal’s government held a Cabinet meeting at the base of Mount Everest – at an altitude of 5,242 meters above sea level – to stress that 1.3 billion Asians depend on the seven major rivers with headwaters originating from the vulnerable Himalayan glaciers for their livelihoods.
Deep inside the ICRISAT campus just outside Hyderabad, there are two sub-zero rooms that house the seeds of 120,000 plants from over 100 countries and 120,000 chances to change poor farmers' lives. The rows of plastic containers and freeze-dried metallic packages resemble a huge and very cold medicine cabinet.
These seed banks, or genebanks, hold the keys to growing more productive, hardier, healthier food crops that could help feed the 9 billion people who will be living on Earth by 2050. Scientists use the collection to map characteristics that enable individual plants to withstand water shortages, pests, and disease, or increase yields and nutrient levels. Over 800 improved crop varieties have been developed from this seed bank and now grow in 79 countries.
ICRISAT is the international crop research institute for the semi-arid tropics and one of 15 CGIAR research centers. Scientist here work on sorghum, millet, chickpeas, pigeon peas, and ground nuts - the food crops that smallholder farmers from the driest parts of the world depend on for their survival.
A walk through the campus reveals the power and potential of international research.
As our sturdy Land Cruiser inched its way down a precipitous dirt track, trying to descend from a high ridge into the Rift Valley, I wondered what might happen if we had an accident here in the heart of Kenya’s remote Samburu County. Mobile signals had faded soon after we left the town of Maralal several hours before. We could have tried to walk back, but would have been very unlikely to make it before nightfall. Luckily, after a few mishaps and some serious jolting, we arrived at our destination in the valley—lonely Suyan manyata, whose distant circular outline we had seen from the ridge.
Talking to some of the women in the manyata, I realized that the ground that we had covered to get to them was nothing. We had done it in good health in a vehicle built for difficult terrain. As they told us what life was like in their village, my heart quailed at the thought of enduring a bumpy ride in a run-down van if one were pregnant or in labor with complications—if at all transport could be obtained. Just a few days ago, a child had died here of malaria, the women said. How did they usually get help, I asked. “We send our fastest runner 18 kilometers to the nearest dispensary,” said Ma Toraeli, a grandmother in the village. “From there someone comes to help us”. Health workers also visited the village from time to time, she said, to immunize babies and perform other routine checks.
Immunization seemed high on people’s minds in Samburu. Later that day, we visited Barsaloi, a larger village with its own government dispensary and another run by Catholic nuns. The two stood side by side, with a well-worn path between them. There I met another grandmother, Agnes, who had brought an infant girl, Salini, to be immunized, although her record showed that she was early and didn’t need this service yet. But while Stephen, the clinical officer at the government dispensary, was examining the baby and we were on the subject of immunization, the district head nurse showed us how vaccines were stored at the required temperature in the two-room government dispensary without power supply.
Sometimes, international convention meetings can be heart-breakingly slow-moving. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) – one of the three conventions born after Rio in 1992 to drive sustainable development – which has been meeting in Hyderabad in India this week, is no exception. I’ve seen tough negotiators from all corners of the Earth emerge from conference rooms wearing pained expressions.
It’s outside the negotiating rooms – where the major topic of the moment is how to mobilize the financial resources needed to meet the CBD’s ambitious Aichi Targets – where things are a lot brighter.