Cities are uniquely vulnerable to climate change, but likely will be early adapters against that threat.
Two-thirds of the world’s energy is consumed by cities, which then emit three-quarters of global greenhouse gases, explains Bloomberg Green. With the early, strong reactions to urban density that accompanied the coronavirus already easing, they add, the long-term trend is clear: “Humans will continue to flock to cities,” they argue.
Their analysis lays out a four-step plan for cities to use current technology and low-carbon measures to cut emissions 90% by 2050.
The first step is to reconfigure cities into a 15-minute design where residents live close to schools, parks, stores, and jobs, in order to reduce reliance on cars. This tactical approach to urban planning involves expanding pedestrian and bike traffic and boosting public transit. Bloomberg cites Paris for its restriction of cars and success in turning parking lots into green spaces.
Some 250 European cities have introduced low-emission zones that reduce pollution, including particulates, and improve air quality, the news agency adds. Trees absorb CO2 and mitigate the urban heat island effect, while rooftop vegetation reduces the surface temperature of buildings.
The next step is to extend these areas with public transit and bike lanes, then streamline energy from renewable sources, the article states. Buildings account for half of a city’s emissions, and inefficient heating and cooling systems consume half of a building’s energy use. Those findings point to the need for stringent building codes that require all large buildings to reduce carbon emissions and, in turn, create a large market for energy retrofits.
“Increasing efficiency can also mean going beyond individual buildings,” Bloomberg writes, explaining how district heating and cooling can replace millions of space conditioning units. Examples of best practice include a district in Turkey that has used geothermal energy since 1996, producing a 35% reduction in heating costs compared to traditional natural gas and reducing CO2 emissions by 110,000 tonnes per year.
The final step is to protect urban infrastructure, using measures such as storage tanks to absorb rainfall and prevent floods. Seawalls are being built to keep rising sea levels out of Rotterdam, while flood barriers hold back high water from Venice, but these measures are very expensive, Bloomberg notes.
“Trying to stop the forces of nature is a losing battle,” the authors conclude. Last year, the world suffered US$210 billion in weather-related damages, up from $166 billion in 2019, and “those damage figures are only going to rise.”
Urban centres around the world are turning into laboratories by implementing measures to reduce air pollution and move toward zero-carbon energy, and some are “re-imagining the entire urban fabric to be greener, more efficient, and more resilient to the effects of climate change already being felt,” they add. “Because cities are uniquely vulnerable to climate change, they’re also likely to be remade the fastest by the human need to survive and eventually thrive on a warmer planet.”
And “that’s a good thing, because if we want to survive the next, much bigger crisis on the horizon, cities are our best bet,” Bloomberg concludes.