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Monday After Climate Week

Rachel Kyte's picture

 Connect4Climate


Sitting on the train heading back from New York to Washington D.C., gazing out of the window at stressed watersheds, I had some time to reflect on a very special Climate Week. What does it all add up to? Where does it leave us as a global community needing speed and scale in our climate action?

Much is being written. Let me add a perspective. Here are three thoughts amid my swirl of memories, moments and impressions.

Climate osmosis – the street reaches the hallowed halls

It was difficult to stand in the canyon that is 6th Avenue, with a sea of people stretching in both directions – environmental activists, nurses, pensioners, business people, every possible faith community, moms, a sprinkling of celebrity and a dash of statesmen – and not be moved. On the Sunday before the Summit, more than half a million people took to the streets in People’s Climate Marches in New York and more than 160 countries across the globe. The marchers demanded climate action from their leaders, suggesting that the politics of climate action, once considered too hard to handle, might no longer be as difficult as leaders think.

The reverberations continued for 48 hours and became a point of reference in almost every speech at the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Leadership Summit. More than 120 heads of state and government came to hint and in some cases pledge action on climate change. New coalitions of governments, businesses, investors, multilateral development banks and civil society groups announced plans to mobilize over $200 billion for low-carbon, climate-resilient development. Forests and cities were big winners, landing pledges of around $450 million for forests and bringing together more than 2,000 cities in a new Compact of Mayors to help improve accounting of urban greenhouse gas emissions and the actions cities are taking to reduce them.

Tokyo, an Urban Carbon Cap-and-Trade Pioneer, Supports Putting a Price on Carbon

Yoichi Masuzoe's picture
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By Yoichi Masuzoe, Governor of Tokyo
 
The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report firmly centered on the reality of human-driven climate change. If we don’t take immediate and tangible steps to reduce the consequences of these actions, we will face an environmental crisis that will have a major impact on mankind’s existence. Here in Tokyo, we are extremely concerned about this danger, as it poses a huge threat to our goal of becoming a sustainable and environmentally-friendly city.
 
In the year 2030, it is estimated that the number of people living in urban areas will exceed 60 percent of the world’s population, and measures at the city level are now crucial. The effects of climate change are already becoming apparent in a range of forms, and Tokyo is no exception. Tokyo has undertaken several measures to mitigate these effects, including launching the world’s first urban cap-and-trade program. In addition, Tokyo is implementing a number of pioneering initiatives, such as measures to counteract storm surges and floods, as well as major earthquakes, and advancing urban planning to realize a more resilient city.

Transforming Transportation in Our Polluted, Congested Cities

Karin Rives's picture

 Kim Eun Yeul / World Bank

Cities are the world’s engines of economic growth, but they also account for 70 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and many metropolitan areas struggle with traffic congestion, lost productivity, public health problems and traffic deaths due to inadequate public transportation.

How can we make our cities livable, inclusive, prosperous and green?

Increasing Flood Risks Create Major Challenges for World's Coastal Cities

Stéphane Hallegatte's picture

 NOAA via Wikimedia
The flooding of New Orleans, caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, illustrates the vulnerability of cities that are highly dependent on coastal defenses. Photo: NOAA [http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Katrina-new-orleans-flooding3-2005.jpg]

Increasing flood risks create a major political and institutional challenge for the world’s coastal cities, as ambitious and proactive action at the local level over the next decades will be needed to avoid large-scale flood disasters. However, the implementation of flood risk management policies meets many obstacles.

In a recent study written with colleagues Colin Green, Robert Nicholls and Jan Corfee-Morlot as part of an OECD project on urban vulnerability, we estimate how flood risks could change in the future in 136 coastal cities, in response to increasing population and wealth, local environmental change, and climate change. We find that because current flood defenses and urbanization patterns have been designed for past environmental conditions, even a moderate change in sea level is sufficient to make them inadequate, thus magnifying flood losses to catastrophic levels. If no action is taken to reduce flood vulnerability, most coastal cities would become inhospitable and dangerous places to live, with annual losses in excess of US$1 trillion dollars.

What can be done?

Our analysis suggests that upgrading defenses could mitigate these losses and the impacts of rising sea levels. However, these upgrades need to include a package of risk management policies. First, coastal defenses should make use of the protection the environment can offer for free: Marshes, seagrass beds, coastal and kelp forests, and coral reefs provide natural buffers that absorb the energy from waves and storms, making it easier and cheaper to protect urban development. In addition artificial constructions are also required to provide full protection. We are not only talking about dykes: a city surrounded by dykes will need pumping systems to drain rainfall water, and a harbor will need moving barriers to let ships in and out of the port.

Be afraid. Be very afraid

Dan Hoornweg's picture

Earlier this week, I read an article in Scientific American that had an ominous warning ‘global warming is close to becoming irreversible’. In typical cautionary climate-speak there’s a hope stated that “we can cap temperature rise to two degrees”. This is followed by a more subtle message, “we are on the cusp of some big changes”.

‘On the cusp of changes’ is an understatement. There are a half-dozen possible tipping points, crossing any of which gets us into scary unchartered territory. Ocean acidity and coral die-off; drying the Amazon rainforest; run away growing fossil fuel use; loss of ice sheets; large scale melting of permafrost: and the biggest tipping point of all – our amazing inability to come anywhere near an agreement limiting global GHG emissions and warming.

The article argues that unless we seriously curb the rate of growth of GHG emissions within the next 10 years, we will cross tipping points that lead to significant and irreversible global warming. And yet, all that was agreed at COP17 in Durban last year is for countries to reach an agreement by 2015 for action that will not start until 2020. Too little too late, according to the science.

The world will likely only see 450 ppm CO2 concentrations from our rear-view mirror as we hurtle down the express lane to at least 550 ppm CO2 and a 5 degree warming. What the article doesn’t say is that we will need to figure out how to geo-engineer some sort of amelioration. Good luck with that. We can’t agree on the much easier aspects of limiting GHG emissions; how will we ever agree on something as complicated as managing the planet’s climate?

Should cities wait for a global climate deal?

John Roome's picture

We all know that the quality of the air we breathe has an immense impact on the health of the people and the economies of developing countries. Poor air quality can also threaten the economic competiveness of cities. Increasingly global companies consciously chose to locate in livable cities. We’re already seeing that in Asia.  A 2006 survey by the Hong Kong’s Chambers of Commerce showed that worsening air quality was beginning to affect investment decisions of corporations.

 

I spent two days last week at the Suntec Center in Singapore attending the Better Air Quality conference. This year’s theme was Air Quality in a Changing Climate. The link between the two – improved air quality and reducing climate change is sometimes not so apparent and I am glad the conference was making the link clearer. Climate change impacts all countries but the World Development Report 2010 estimates that some 75-80 percent of the damages caused by a changing climate will be borne by developing countries. If we are to limit global warming to about 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level, we will all need to invest massively in energy efficiency, renewable energy sources, and more efficient transportation.

 

Combating air pollution is one area where it is possible to capture important co-benefits with respect to climate change. By taking specific measures, we can simultaneously achieve local health and welfare benefits (including related to air quality) while also reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. While it is important to strive for a global deal on climate change, there are a number of things that cities can do in the interim to simultaneously reduce local environmental impacts and reduce carbon emissions. And by demonstrating on the ground some things that can work in this regard, cities can position themselves to access any global carbon financing that might become available as part of a global deal.