Economists often recommend fuel taxes to curb greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles in cities. But the effectiveness of these taxes depends heavily on other factors, like the availability of public transportation, and the density of a city. In the following podcast interview, I discuss my paper, co-authored with Paolo Avner and Jun Rentschler, and explain why taxes are twice as effective when accompanied by an investment in public transport. Please listen in.
By Gregor Robertson, Mayor of Vancouver, Canada
Around the world, cities are taking the lead on addressing the challenge of climate change. While senior governments stall, urban leaders are responding to the urgent need to make our cities more resilient as climate change impacts intensify.
In Vancouver, we are aggressively pursuing our goal to be the greenest city in the world by 2020. It's a bold goal, but in working toward it, we are protecting our environment and growing our economy. The successful cities of the future will be those making the investments and changes necessary to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Climate change poses a serious risk to global economic and social stability, and resilient cities will prove to be attractive draws for people and capital.
With decisive leadership, the everyday decisions of city governments can prepare our communities for climate change. By considering climate change when we evaluate new development or infrastructure proposals, cities can save lives, create jobs, and improve our streets and neighbourhoods.
A clear price on carbon enables governments, businesses, non-profits and citizens to make smarter decisions that will have real impact. Innovative businesses aren't waiting for governments to act; many are already internally pricing greenhouse gas emissions to gain a competitive edge. The forward-thinking businesses and regions that price carbon today will have more flexibility and capacity to respond to the uncertain conditions tomorrow.
Willie Walsh is the CEO of International Airlines Group, parent company of British Airways and Iberia. Ahead of the UN Secretary-General's Climate Summit, he spoke about support for carbon pricing, innovation in efficiency and alternative fuels, and the airline industry's efforts to reduce emissions.
Questions like these were at the center of discussions at the Fuel Economy Accelerator Symposium held in Paris last week. The event, organized by the Global Fuel Economy Initiative (GFEI), was hosted by the French Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy. I represented the World Bank at this event, which took place on the heels of the UN Secretary General’s upcoming Climate Conference in New York, scheduled for late September. As a result, the topic of the fuel economy and energy efficiency is especially timely and relevant.
Doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency by 2030 is one of the three major objectives of Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL), an initiative led by the UN Secretary-General and the President of the World Bank Group. The other two goals by 2030 are to provide universal access to electricity and modern cooking solutions, and to double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.
Increasing numbers of citizens all over the world are demanding that urban planners and political authorities in their cities “get it right” when designing public urban spaces. People living in cities, both in developed and developing countries are reclaiming streets as public spaces, demanding urban planners to re-design streets to ensure a more equitable distribution of these public spaces, and prioritizing the allocation of streets for people to walk, cycle and socialize. This was the central topic discussed last week at the “Future of Places” conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
How do we contribute to a more equitable society by building more equitable cities? In an increasingly urbanized world, urban mobility is central to citizens’ social and economic wellbeing. However, current urban transportation systems – based primarily on the movement of private motorized vehicles – have prioritized road space and operational design of streets for automobiles over other modes of transport, which has caused many social, environmental and economic consequences, therefore reducing urban livability and equitable access.
The values of urbanity and mobility are being rethought all over the world, and Latin American cities are no exception to this questioning of how cities are to be developed today. One of the answers to sustainability issues lies in the concept of proximity, which combines different dimensions of the urban proposals that the 21st century requires. These dimensions include public health – particularly the fight against sedentary habits – as well as density, compactness, closeness, resilience, and livability of the public space. These all point to a new urban paradigm that all creative cities wish to adopt in order to attract the knowledge economy and guarantee social cohesion.
A dangerously warming planet is not just an environmental challenge – it is a fundamental threat to efforts to end poverty, and it threatens to put prosperity out of the reach of millions of people. Read the recent Fifth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change if you need further evidence.
If we agree it is an economic problem, what do we do about it? There is general agreement among economists that a robust price on carbon is a key part of effective strategies to avert dangerous climate change. A strong price signal directs finance away from fossil fuels and toward a suite of cleaner, more efficient alternatives.
This logic is not lost on governments and companies. Momentum is building around the globe to put a price on carbon. Consider these facts:
While public-private partnership (PPP) transport investment has been initially driven by countries (such as Poland, Croatia and Hungary) that implemented reforms to join the EU, most of them have not been able to close on transport PPP transactions in the past five years. Now Russia and Turkey are the leaders in the region, as explained below.
What can explain this situation?
A focus on off-balance sheet accounting of PPP projects has dominated transport PPP in EU-member ECA countries in recent years. Off-balance sheet accounting means PPP projects are structured in a way that only annual government payments are accounted for, instead of the total commitment (the assets and liabilities associated with the project). This means that PPP projects end up being large and greenfield (multi-billion dollar investment, typically in new highways), and tend to follow a separate path than for budget-financed projects, based on the assumption that the associated liabilities won’t be accounted for.
Risk allocation between the public and private sectors is driven by accounting treatment. This also results in limited support from governments and very rigid negotiations. It also means that projects are often not able to close or, as a former Minister of Transport said, “We do PPP to build off-balance sheet assets but, in order to reach financial close, assets has to be on our books.”
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Corruption 'impoverishes and kills millions'
An estimated $1tn (£600bn) a year is being taken out of poor countries and millions of lives are lost because of corruption, according to campaigners. A report by the anti-poverty organisation One says much of the progress made over the past two decades in tackling extreme poverty has been put at risk by corruption and crime. Corrupt activities include the use of phantom firms and money laundering. The report blames corruption for 3.6 million deaths every year. If action were taken to end secrecy that allows corruption to thrive - and if the recovered revenues were invested in health - the group calculates that many deaths could be prevented in low-income countries.
The Best and Worst Places to Build More Roads
Roads are taking over the planet. By the middle of this century, so many new roadways are expected to appear that their combined length would circle Earth more than 600 times. To build critical connections while preserving biodiversity, we need a global road map, scientists argue today in the journal Nature. And as a first step, the international team has identified areas where new roads would be most useful and those where such development would likely be in conflict with nature.