Greener cities are largest factor in preventing global warming
Greener cities are the most important element in the fight against climate change and sticking to temperature rises agreed upon in the Paris Agreement, according to climate experts.
Signed at the end of 2015 and ratified last year, the deal intends to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
“Whether we win or lose, or (will) be able to really achieve that goal of 1.5°C – that battle will be waged at the city level,” said Milag San Jose-Ballesteros, director for Southeast Asia and Oceania with C40, a network of over 80 cities representing some 600 million people.
World temperatures hit a record high for the third year in a row in 2016, at around 1.1°C higher than before the Industrial Revolution ushered in wide use of fossil fuels. They will likely rise by 3°C or more by 2100 if trends continue, many projections show.
Keeping global warming below 2°C would limit the worst effects of sea-level rise, melting of Arctic sea ice, damage to coral reefs and acidification of oceans, according to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Cities are vital to that effort because of the sheer number of people living in them now, and those who will move there in coming decades, experts told a conference in northern Thailand on making East Asian cities safe, green and inclusive.
Around two-thirds of people on the planet are predicted to be city-dwellers by 2050, with developing countries in particular poised to see their urban populations soar.
“Cities are (being) reinvented, re-imagined, redesigned. I think that’s where the future will be defined. It’s the seed of innovation and economic activity,” said San Jose-Ballesteros.
With the election of US President Donald Trump, who has installed many climate change sceptics in his administration, scientists and environmentalists have expressed fears the US government may exit the global climate action stage.
Myron Ebell, who was appointed by Trump to head his transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said last month that the President could pull out of the Paris Agreement at any time by using an executive order.
San Jose-Ballesteros, however, believes cities will forge ahead with their own path.
Individual US states and cities have said they will continue with efforts to combat climate change, with California releasing new measures within minutes of Trump being sworn in.
In a possible snub towards Trump, former democrat US President Jimmy Carter recently transformed his farmland into a field of solar panels to help power his tiny rural hometown, nearly four decades after he first had panels installed on the roof of the White House.
Arif Dermawan, project coordinator at the environment agency in Malang, a large city in Indonesia’s East Java, said local governments are “very important” in the fight against climate change.
“We live there, the city belongs to us. It’s our community,” he said.
Many cities are already testing and promoting both high-tech and low-tech measures in response to pressures caused by rising temperatures, urbanisation and shifting demographics.
China is building infrastructure, including pavements and green roofs, that absorb water like a sponge, and is using permeable bricks. South Korea has electric buses and smart bus stops with their own solar panels to power LED lights and information monitors.
One Japanese city hit by the 2011 tsunami created an “eco-town” housing estate, whose micro-grid can provide power for up to a week after a natural disaster.
Meanwhile, wind energy has surpassed hydropower as the biggest source of renewable electricity in the US following the sector’s second-biggest quarter ever for new installations.
Wind installations totalled 82,183 megawatts at the end of 2016, enough to power 24 million homes, according to the American Wind Energy Association in its fourth-quarter market report.