I've returned from a sobering United Nations-led tour of six tsunami-damaged communities and two radiation-impacted cities in Northern Japan. The obvious conclusion: the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident is forcing Japan to go green, including the launch of a new renewable energy national feed-in tariff that starts in July. Meanwhile the governor of Fukushima, Yuhei Sato, told us that renewables will be the "key factor" in the revival of his devastated prefecture.

Though little planning is in evidence yet as to how this economic and energy transformation will be integrated, our UN tour did witness fragmented signs that Japan can provide a developed-nation resilience role model in the face of cultural, energy system and environmental devastation.

Organized by the Nagoya, Japan-based UN Center for Regional Development (UNCRD), we traveled for a week as part of a fact-finding mission with UNCRD director Chikako Takase and her staff. The mission was called "Reconstruction Towards Sustainable Communities" and my role was to advise Japanese community leaders on green economic development recovery strategies and opportunities. I had met with a range of clean tech energy companies and urban planning and design firms in preparation, as well as the US Department of Commerce.

I was joined by experts from five countries, Japan, Australia, Bangladesh, Thailand and the US. One fellow American represented the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). It seems our contingent was somewhat of a novelty. I was told by the UN and the US Embassy in Tokyo that we were one of the first (if not the first) from outside the three affected prefectures to meet with local leaders on reconstruction and post-disaster management planning.

Ishinomaki group.JPG

UN reconstruction tour group of Japan disaster areas, in Ishinomaki (photos Warren Karlenzig)

The tsunami-scoured coastal cities where some 20,000 died--bodies are still being discovered by white ships trolling the coast and on land by locals--are focused on the future of survivors. We visited temporary housing and just-opened temporary retail developments. These modular constructed units, complete with personal flairs such as lanterns, public benches and landscaping, house locally-owned shops from bars to barbers to fish mongers that were wiped out by the tsunami.

retail Oofunato City.JPG

Ofunato City temporary retail center

With 300,000 in the region driven from their homes by the "tsunami attack," communities submitted reconstruction plans including land use schemes to the national government. Redevelopment plans are in the process of being approved for funding, though actual rebuilding will not begin for years because of many factors: namely, the ground is still unstable or sinking in the coastal cities from the 9.0 subduction earthquake  (one tectonic plate going under another, causing one plate to sink). There were two medium-sized quakes while we in the region, one a 6.0 off the coast. A veteran of the California Loma Prieta quake of 1989, I recognized the tell-tale zig-zag signatures of earthquake damage in many buildings we visited.

Meanwhile, waste management issues, including removal of radiation and salt-contaminated soil and debris (petrochemicals are causing them to spontaneously combust) from the tsunami, also bedevil everyone from small farmers to civil authorities. In one city, they had 106 years worth of waste piled around what used to be the town center. The rest of Japan is disinclined to accept much of this waste because of potential radioactivity.

When and if they are able to build, the plans of two tsunami-ravaged cities stand out for being smart growth models. Ishinomaki was a pre-tsunami city of about 160,000: 4000 were killed by the tsunami, the most deaths of any city in Japan. Its entire port and low-lying downtown areas were virtually annihilated, with the odd building and remnant inexplicably standing, such as a domed cartoon art museum and, most bizarrely, a Statue of Liberty replica formerly housed in a pachinko parlor.

Ishinomaki has a plan to virtually wipe clean its remaining "ghost" downtown to create a mixed-use residential-commercial zone that will be two to three times more dense than before , according to city leaders we met. The city hopes to be more protected from the coast through site elevation, barriers and other features. The more vexing question is how to keep its young people from leaving the area for Tokyo and other big cities to the south: transit-oriented redesign will be one factor making younger citizens less likely to flee.

Another critical planning issue is how male-dominated Japan intends to ensure that all its citizens, including women, the elderly and handicapped in disaster-struck communities are part of the visioning process.

Rikuzentakata, a city of 22,000 (2,000 died in the tsunami), is making plans to make "new energy" a key part of its redevelopment vision. This city which was reported to have been "wiped off the map," by 65-foot (19.2 meter) waves is today pursuing national government subsidies and private investments to create large-scale distributed generation of renewables, including PV solar, land biomass (wood), marine biomass and offshore wind. Together with other nearby communities, Rikuzentakata is studying how to trade domestic CO2 credits for reduced emissions. The city's quest for zero waste and zero CO2 emissions also has it exploring industrial ecology strategies: i.e., using fish bones, tsunami debris wastes or other byproducts such as waste heat to be used as inputs for new processes.

Rikuzentakata waste.JPG

Rikuzentakata debris

We also toured a small community-supported organic farm in southern Fukushima Prefecture, outside the town of Iwaki. A volunteer non-profit had recruited helpers the previous summer to remove radiated soil--the farmers showed us how subsequent tests for radiation had recently come up negative. Meanwhile the "hot" soil they had dug out and scraped away was still heaped in a pile, because the national government would not remove or receive it, as the farmers had been led to believe they would.

farmer 1.JPG


Thumbnail image for farmer2.JPG

Farmer Ryoji Sato (left) at small community-supported farm outside Iwaki (above) and Soto showing map of reduced radiation levels in farm soil over period 2011 through March 2012 

Lunch found us back in Iwaki eating at a small take-out place in someone's home. Although every item served was organic and local, including mushrooms, for once in my life this type of fare made me lose my appetite. 

organic lunch.JPG

Locally produced organic food lunch in Iwaki

Prior to the Fukushima disaster, Japan relied on nuclear energy for 25-33% of its needs. This summer the last two remaining nuclear plants operating in Japan (out of 54) will be shut down, at least temporarily, and there are many signs throughout the nation that electric power is already in short supply. Although outdoor temperatures were hovering in the 20s and 30s (0 to -4C), we attended multiple meetings circled around one or two kerosene heaters, in buildings using almost no electric light, without the use of central indoor heating. Is this a glimpse into what a business-as-usual energy future looks like in other industrial countries?

kerosene k.JPG

Meeting with Kamaishi city business, fishery and agricultural leaders

One meeting in a luxury high-rise hotel in Minami Sanriku had a planned blackout for two hours while we met with business and community volunteer leaders, along with the hotel's owner, who had sheltered and fed 400 community members after the tsunami (the bottom two stories were damaged but the rest of the building was habitable). Staff handed out heavy winter parkas so we could continue our discussions in relative warmth.

man praying1.JPG

Minami Sanriku shrine (photo Warren Karlenzig)

Besides jackets, Japan has been using technology to cope with its new dilemma. Utility sponsored websites and mobile apps let people know exactly when to conserve the most, which they have been doing by hanging wet clothes to dry in south-facing windows or balconies, and by curtailing use of light, heat or appliances. So far Japanese society has reduced its energy use to meet a 30% power deficit, but the margin between rolling or planned blackouts and power is paper thin, even in Tokyo.

Later this month, our delegation will be working with UNCRD to develop recommendations based upon our visit of the Tohoku Region's three tsunami and radiation-impacted prefectures. My prediction is that Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima will remain in the global consciousness not only for this one-year anniversary of their triple disaster, but for the lessons they underscore for all of us as we make our way into an uncertain future for energy, water, food, and shelter in the wake of disasters, natural or not.

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current. He is a fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute and co-author of the United Nations Shanghai Manual on global sustainable city planning and management.



A leaked agenda for the United Nations Rio+20 conference places urban sustainability in a major role for UN member nation Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) put forth for ratification this June. The document acknowledges that cities are on par with nations in terms of implementing and measuring sustainability progress over the next 18 years--the-make-or-break period for mitigating and adapting to global climate change.

The Rio+20 agenda, leaked today in the UK's The Guardian under the Ogilvy Mather promoted slogan "The Future We Want," lays out ten areas for new Sustainable Development Goals that will be released in Rio; urban sustainability is one of the key goals (other nine major categories include climate change, food security, water, green jobs, oceans, natural disasters, forests and biodiversity, mountains, and chemicals and waste).

The Rio+20 draft agenda states: "We recognize the need to integrate sustainable urban development policy as a key component of national sustainable development policy and, in this regard, to empower local authorities....We recognize that partnerships among cities have emerged as a leading force for action on sustainable development. We commit to support international cooperation among local authorities, including through assistance from international organizations."

Officially, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, follow-up to the historic UN 1992 "Earth Summit," also held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is dedicated to marshalling the global Green Economy.

The leaked 19-page agenda calls for major global actions in financing, policy, technology implementation and collaboration in the face of global climate change and economic turmoil, developing-nation poverty and climate-exacerbated natural disasters.

Elaborating on the importance of cities as part of the Sustainable Development Goals agenda, the document includes the following recommendations:

  • "We commit to promote an integrated and holistic approach to planning and building sustainable cities through support to local authorities, efficient transportation and communication networks, greener buildings and an efficient human settlements and service delivery system, improved air and water quality, reduced waste, improved disaster preparedness and response, and increased climate resilience."
  • "...members of civil society to be actively engaged in sustainable development by incorporating their specific knowledge and practice know-how into national and local policy making."
  • "...the essential role of local governments and the need to fully integrate them into all levels of decision-making on sustainable development."
  • need for "...a toolbox of good practices in applying green economy policies at regional, national and local levels."
  • "...creation of Centers of Excellence as nodal points for Green technology R&D"
  •  " for strengthening of regional and sub-regional mechanism, including the regional commissions, in promoting sustainable development through capacity building."
The Sustainable Development Goals will be obtained through a three-part process over an 18-year period, staring this year with the Rio+20 event:
    • 2012-2015: establishment of indicators
    • 2015-2030: implementation and periodic assessment of progress
    • 2030: comprehensive assessment of progress

On the road to Rio, the UN's "Shanghai Manual for Sustainable Cities" was released by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs in December as a playbook for mayors of global cities so they can deploy triple bottom line strategies (I co-authored the manual with the UN). Non-governmental organization Ecocity Builders began last fall high-level discussions with the UN and NGOs ICLEI and C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, on potential Rio+20 standards for ecocities including the International Ecocity Framework and Standards (IEFS).

Out of the 1992 Earth Summit, with 110 heads of state and thousands of non-governmental leaders, emerged pivotal treaties and frameworks for decades to come, including the Kyoto Protocol and Agenda 21. Other products of the first Earth Summit include the Global Environmental Facility at the World Bank, and national sustainability agendas in 86 countries based off Agenda 21, according to Jacob Scherr, director of global strategy and advocacy for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Scherr is coordinating a Ford Foundation-sponsored effort called "Sustainable + Just Cities" to make cities a top priority of Rio+20 agreements.

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current. He is a fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute, author of How Green is Your City? and co-author of the UN's Shanghai Manual on global sustainable city planning and management.


After providing the curriculum for training urban leaders from 12 Southeast and Central Asian nations a few weeks ago (Manila, Philippines is pictured above), the United Nations is now globally launching the full content of the Shanghai Manual: A Guide for Sustainable Urban Development in the 21st Century.


The free publication features 47 global urban sustainability case studies and dozens of timely policy recommendations, especially when one considers the lack of global climate treaties due to tactics of "delaying nations" at the Durban climate talks, including the US. Instead, the Shanghai Manual is a practical tool intended to help the world's major and medium-sized cities in developing nations further advance their local green economies. The "green economy" is also the key theme of the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, known as Rio+20.


Using integrated sustainability planning (across management, financing and technology), one of the main functions of the manual will be to provide a basis for capacity building through the UN's Center for Regional Development, with support from UN agencies or departments including UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, UN Habitat and UN Conference on Trade and Development Office and global consultancies.


As co-author of the Shanghai Manual, I engaged in thematic sessions with the 12 Asian nation mayors and city leaders at the United Nations Center for Regional Development (UNCRD) in Nagoya, Japan. What became clear during sessions--which were based off the ten chapters in the Shanghai Manual--was the urgent need to cover a gamut of sustainability issues confronting Asia's local leaders.

Participants at the UNCRD capacity building included James Chan Khay Syn, the charismatic mayor of Kuching, Malaysia (population 2.5 million),  the youthful Mayor Jejomar Erwin S. Binay Jr., representing Makati, Manila's downtown district, and the urbane Executive District Officer, Muhammad Maswood Alam, who administers to Karachi's 17 million citizens. Meanwhile, China will be using the Shanghai Manual as a compendium sponsored by the national government to train its city leadership at the China Executive Leadership Academy in Shanghai.


While something like the lack of green ordinances may, at this point in time, appear egregious to those in the United States or Europe, developing nations face a range of problems that render basic governance and provision of services much more challenging. For instance, in addition to pressing social-economic challenges, participants at the UN's Japan training center cited warfare, security and sensitive political issues as impediments in addressing sustainability. 


After an opening session by UN Habitat on strategies for working with "informal" communities (more than half of land in Asian cities has title in dispute or is unregistered), participants offered ideas for helping their own city's slum dwellers, who may number in the thousands or hundreds of thousands. One approach suggested by the participating mayors was to perceive slums not as informal but as "aspirational" communities. Such a consideration requires enabling a differing range of educational and social services, options by which the more ambitious could integrate into formal society. To better provide the most targeted city services, data gathering from slum dwellers--peoples' sex, age and special needs--was offered as an important first step for cities so they could plan essential services and outreach tactics based on surveys. City visits to community gatherings (i.e., clubs, mosques, temples, churches) was suggested by one city official as a key method for communicating sustainability policies. 


The training offered some surprises. During the Q & A following a presentation on green building principles and case studies, participants related that none of their cities had implemented large-scale green building measures, as these programs were thought to be too costly. At the end of the week's training, however, mindsets apparently shifted. A third of city participants said that they would soon start green municipal building ordinances and projects, as clear economic and operational benefits should result from combining energy efficiency audits and modeling better behavior (turning off unused lights and air conditioning in government offices). From such practical beginnings, green building ordinances and green building codes could provide an economic impetus. One mayor remarked how a municipal green building program seemed like a good way to help jumpstart the nascent Southeast Asian commercial green products and services market. 


Participants--both the cities and the officials running sessions--left with some answers but more importantly they gained new networks and strategic insights that they can share with their colleagues back home and around the world.


Global urban capacity building based off the Shanghai Manual, called a "living document" by the UN, is expected to continue. UN sustainable city sessions in other continents are in the planning stages. The ultimate goal? Addressing the evolving global landscape for financing, implementing and managing cities in rapidly developing nations to help mitigate and adapt to climate change and peaking resources. 

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current. He is a fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute, author of How Green is Your City? and co-author of the United Nations Shanghai Manual on global sustainable city planning and management.


Seems like my chapter "The Death of Sprawl" from The Post Carbon Reader is taking on a life of its own. Friday, Christopher Leinberger had an Op-ed in the New York Times, titled "Death of the Fringe Suburb," which built upon concepts I had published (and sent Leinberger last year) namely, that the US mortgage crisis and Recession were set off by upsidedown economics of sprawl speculation in US exurbs or "Boomburbs" and we can't ever do that again.

The site Adapturbia also recently put together a nifty visual presentation of "The Death of Sprawl" that localized my content to provide context for sprawl issues confronting Sydney, Australia.

What's important here is that the research and the real estate sales figures are becoming ever clearer: people increasingly prefer to live in mixed-use, transit-oriented walkable and bikeable neighborhoods over drive-everywhere bedroom communities. Those preferences will not change and we will not go back, which is affirmed by the abandoned exurban housing and development that are fast becoming the nation's newest slums: for the first time in the nation's history, suburban poverty now outweighs urban poverty

One need only take a look at the foreclosure heavy areas such as California's Inland Empire: my chapter provided a case study of Victorville, CA, one of the last gasps of the residential car-centered Boomburb economy of the 1990s and early 2000s.

Leinberger's piece hit on the changing real estate taste in demographics (retired Boomers and upcoming Millennials) while my thesis examined how cheap energy fueled nearly 100% car-dependent exurban growth. We both concluded that denser, mixed-use metro areas are the wise investments of the future because: more people want to live that way so that is where investment will occur. Developers know that strip malls, sidewalk-less mini-mansions and business parks that cater to cars only are poison in this economy.

To get where this is going, one need only look at the three cities out of 20 that have had positive real estate sales in the past quarter: Portland (free public transit, leading US city bicycle transit rate), New York (leading US public transit rate, active bikeway development) and Washington, DC (one of highest transit rates behind New York and high walkability).

The national foreclosure capitals, on the other hand, are testimonials to sprawled, exurban, car-dominant development: Las Vegas, Phoenix and California's Inland Empire (San Bernardino and Riverside counties, including Victorville). See map of 2011 US foreclosures below:
Thumbnail image for US foreclosures 2011.jpg

Sprawled communities, exurbs, fringe suburbs, whatever you call them, are underwater in terms of money invested and will remain so. Some of these communities will make themselves more resilient with car-free transport, local food production, water and wildlife conservation and other acitviites that restore local resources, jobs and social interaction.

But many will become abandoned slums and will need to be torn down, just as Victorville did with some of its "high-end" residential neighborhoods. Other monuments of sprawl, particularly in desert communities, will remain as stark monuments to the follies of our distant past.
Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current. He is a fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute, author of How Green is Your City? and co-author of the United Nations Shanghai Manual on global sustainable city planning and management.



expo carbon.JPG

A powerful triumvirate, the United Nations, Bureau International Des Expositions and the mayor of Shanghai, released this week the Shanghai Manual: A Guide for Sustainable Urban Development in the 21st Century. This timely (and free!) manual is aimed at helping leaders of the world's cities use integrated urban planning, management, financing and technology to green their economies and build climate and economic resilience.

"The Shanghai Manual details the experience and practices of cities across the world in addressing common challenges and achieving harmonious development...and is therefore of great theoretical and practical value," Shanghai Mayor Han Zheng said at Monday's launch, according to the Shanghai Daily.

Aimed at a target readership of mayors and executive leaders of developing nation cities, the bilingual (English and Chinese) Shanghai Manual is the basis for capacity building and training being rolled out in Asia next week by the United Nations. City leaders representing 12 Asian nations will attend the United Nations Center for Regional Development in Nagoya, Japan, where UN officials and I will lead urban sustainability training for leaders ranging from Colombo, Sri Lanka, to Karachi, Pakistan, to Makati (Manila), Philippines. In addition smaller cities including Chiang Mai, Thailand are participating.

Shanghai, China's largest city (17 million+ in the city proper), earned the street cred of being the manual's namesake by hosting the 2010 World Expo (photo above), so its mayor was honored with the manual's unveiling. Also attending the launch was Sha Zukang, United Nations Undersecretary-General as well as Secretary-General of the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development known as Rio+20. The Shanghai Manual is credited by the UN as an important contribution to the Rio+20 agenda.

The Shanghai Manual, which I co-authored with colleagues at the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, emerged from the 2010 Shanghai Expo, the largest world's fair in history. Devoted to the theme of "Better City, Better Life," the expo was the first global event of its kind to recognize climate change, and was dedicated to sustainability education. The expo featured demonstrations on resource efficiency and new approaches in transportation, water and material use, biological restoration, industrial ecology and low-carbon, low-impact development.

Vicente Loscertales, secretary general of the World Expo Bureau called the Shanghai Manual, "The most precious legacy of the Expo Shanghai."

China now recognizes that its future is bound up in seriously grappling with sustainability issues: the country accounted for half the entire world's construction activities in 2010. Over the next 30 years, China's massive planned urbanization is adding hundreds of millions more people, so it must continually innovate low-carbon and resource-efficient urban planning and development.

The integrated sustainability approaches highlighted in the Shanghai Manual include the use of activities such as participatory budgeting and in-situ slum revitalization, while other planning investigates non-motorized transport, transit-oriented development, dedicated cycling tracks, as well as congestion and demand management of transportation.

Management strategies include coordination of the formal and informal sectors (i.e., the  rag-pickers of Pune, India), city-scale rainwater harvesting and zero-waste applications.

Social-cultural issues covered include the use of social networks, micro-finance and mobile communications, and bridging the digital divide with e-governance and e-learning. Technological investigations focus on distributed renewable energy, smart city applications including remote sensing and smart grids, along with analytical tools such as carbon-footprinting, eco-mapping and city sustainability dashboards.

Based on 47 case studies from a range of cities, the Shanghai Manual highlights successful integrated long-term urban planning, economic development, program and project implementation and multi-stakeholder participation.


Thematically divided into ten chapters it covers (case studies are listed for each):

·         Towards a Harmonious City: Sustainable Sydney 2030; Nairobi Metro 2030

·         Delivering Effective Urban Management:  New York City's Integrated Sustainability Planning and Management; Slum Upgrading in Phnom Penh, Cambodia; Mexico City's Plan Verde; Porto Allegre, Brazil's Participatory Budgeting

·         Economic Transformation: Baoding, China's Clean Energy Economy; Bilbao, Spain's Ria 2000; South Korea's Smart Grid 2030 Roadmap; San Jose, United States' Green Vision; Germany's Feed-in Tariff for Renewable Energy

·         Transport: Guangzhou, China's Bus Rapid Transit System; Bogotá, Colombia and Copenhagen, Denmark's Planning for Cycling; Goteborg, Sweden's Planning for Multi-Mobility; Singapore's Traffic Congestion Management;  Berlin's Low-Emission Zone

·         Waste Management: Pune, India's Rag-picker Cooperative; Bogotá, Colombia's Contracting of Formal and Informal Sectors; Extended Producer Responsibility in Mauritius; Dhaka, Bangladesh's Community-based Composting to Convert Organic Waste to Resource and Generate Carbon Credits

·         Green Buildings: Madrid's Bamboo Ecobuilding; Hamburg, Germany's Haften City;  US Green Building Council's LEED Program; Masdar City, United Arab Emirates' Hot Climate Appropriate Design; Washington, DC's George Washington University's Landscape and Building Water Management

·         Science & Technology: Sophia Antipolis, France's Science & Technology Park Development;  San Diego, United States' Biotech Cluster Development; Mexico City's Biometropolis Medical Park; Singapore's Media 21 Global Media City; China's Torch Program Development; Gautang, South Africa's Innovation Hub 

·         Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) for Smart Cities: Singapore's Digital Master Plan 2015; Mumbai, India's e-Governance; Leeds, United Kingdom's e-Learning Vision; Bridging the Digital Divide in Zambia, Africa; Dhaka, Bangladesh's Monitoring of Land Use and Land Cover Change Using Remote Sensing; Eco-Maps in Amsterdam and San Francisco

·         Culture and Sustainable Cities: Quito, Ecuador's Historic Preservation; Frankfurt, Germany's Office of Multicultural Affairs; Development of a Bengali-British Identity in Spitalfields, United Kingdom; London and Toronto's Creative Spaces Project;  Johannesburg, South Africa's Creative Industries

·         Mega Events: 2010 Shanghai Expo's Global Platform for Future Urban Development; Ningbo, China's Leveraging Shanghai Expo 2010 to Boost Urban Transformation;  Aichi, Japan's World's First Eco-Expo; Beijing, China's 2008 Olympics; Torino, Italy's Managing Multilevel Partnerships; Lille, France's 2004 Olympics; Rio De Janeiro's Preparation for UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20)

(Photo: Shanghai Expo 2010, copyright Warren Karlenzig)

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current. He is a fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute, author of How Green is Your City? and co-author of the Shanghai Manual on global sustainable city planning and management.


As Rio+20 takes shape (officially, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, follow-up to the historic UN 1992 "Earth Summit," held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), the issue of sustainable cities appears to be taking center stage in planning for the June 2012 event dedicated to marshalling the global Green Economy.

"Cities provide a great framework to galvanize public opinion and citizen participation," said Jared Blumenfeld, Administrator of Region 9 of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). "Cities also have a lot in common: New York and Beijing have more in common in terms of challenges they face than do the US and China."

On the road to Rio, the UN's "Shanghai Manual for Sustainable Cities" will be released by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs on Nov. 7 as a playbook for mayors of global cities so they can deploy triple bottom line strategies (I co-authored the manual with the UN). Blumenfeld, who spoke last week at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, said that the US Department of State and EPA are preparing by next week a Rio+20 submittal that is "cities focused." (Previously, the United States and Brazil recently announced the US-Brazil Joint Venture on Urban Sustainability.) Meanwhile, non-governmental organization Ecocity Builders has begun high-level discussions with the UN and NGOs ICLEI and C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, on potential Rio+20 standards for ecocities including the International Ecocity Framework and Standards (IEFS).

Out of the 1992 Earth Summit, with 110 heads of state and thousands of non-governmental leaders, emerged pivotal treaties and frameworks for decades to come, including the Kyoto Protocol and Agenda 21. Other products of the first Earth Summit include the Global Environmental Facility at the World Bank, and national sustainability agendas in 86 countries based off Agenda 21, according to Jacob Scherr, director of global strategy and advocacy for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Scherr, who also spoke with the EPA's Blumenfeld, cited UN Secretary General Ban Ki-
moon's declaration that, "We are running out of time," in reference to global environmental species and habitat destruction, combined with human-caused climate change. Scherr pointed out that in 1950 there were only 50,000 cars on earth--soon there will be 1 billion. Illustrating the trend toward species extinction and habitat loss, he noted that one-third fewer animals inhabit the planet than there were only 40 years ago.  

Such unchecked developments combined with fast-growing global urban populations--not to mention increasing difficulty in forging successful national-level sustainability agreements--make cities the best means of addressing global sustainability, Blumenfeld said. 

Blumenfeld, the former director of San Francisco's Department of Environment, said that the most effective strategies for Rio+20 may rest upon enabling local actions such as significantly increased city recycling goals (including zero waste) and banning plastic bags. "In ten days you can get the word out in cities and you can make a difference," he said, "which is very different than getting people to focus on international agreements."

Scherr implored those in their twenties or younger to take an interest in the UN Rio+20 proceedings and participate in whatever way possible, since it will be so vital to shaping a planet's future that will be decidedly urban (75% by 2050): "It shouldn't be called Rio+20. It should be called Rio for Twenty Somethings."

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current. He is a fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute, and co-author of the forthcoming United Nations Shanghai Manual on global sustainable city planning and management.


2010 Shanghai Expo Closing Summit

We all need to reinvent urban planning for the 21st century.

Never has the need been greater for integration across urban management, systems, experts, policies and technologies. The world is rapidly becoming more urban, especially in Asia, where hundreds of millions have begun moving to cities. This massive migration, largest in human history, will produce colossal impacts--including innovation--in energy use, transportation, housing, water and resource use. Economies will be impacted at every scale, especially beyond burgeoning metro areas in national and global markets.

Add climate change and adaptation issues to the development of Asian cities, where more than 50 percent of global greenhouse gas emission increases are expected to occur over the next 15 years, and we are faced with the urgency--and opportunity--to reinvent urban planning. Planning for the future of cities needs to now embody a process combining sustainability strategies with information and communications technologies (ICT), supported by the sciences (natural + social) in concert with engaged participation: from the slum to the boardroom to the ivory tower.

Considering such needs, the United Nations is announcing capacity building for sustainable urbanization, with an initial focus on Asia. On Nov. 7, the UN will release its "Shanghai Manual for Sustainable Urbanization" (where else but in China's largest city, Shanghai?). The Shanghai Manual, developed in conjunction with the Shanghai Expo 2010 (photo above), represents not only the knowledge legacy of dozens of symposia held throughout the Expo, but also new research, case studies and policy recommendations targeted for mayors and other urban executive leaders.

The Shanghai Manual and its subsequent planned UN sustainability capacity building for mayors represents a thematic lead-in to the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, which will be held June 2012 in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Rio+20 marks the anniversary of the historic 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development ("The Earth Summit") and will draw upon the broad themes of The Green Economy and Sustainable Development. In Rio, the UN 193 Member States, along with groups such as business and NGO representatives, will evaluate global progress made and setbacks encountered in achieving sustainable development, and will try to define ways to create a more sustainable future for all.

My contributions as co-author of the Shanghai Manual include chapters on "Delivering Effective Urban Management", "Economic Transformation", and "ICT for Smart Cities". Other chapters are devoted to:

  • Towards a Harmonious City
  • Transport
  • Waste Management
  • Green Buildings
  • Science & Technology
  • Culture and Sustainable Cities
  • Mega Events

Release of the Shanghai Manual will be rapidly followed by training for mayors of 20 cities from 15 Asian nations. Invited to this training are Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Viet Nam: they will meet at the UN Centre For Regional Development in Nagoya, Japan, where I, along with other experts from the UN, will lead instructional sessions in November. The United Nations expects the training in Nagoya will influence:

  •   "Enhanced awareness of participants about feasible and attractive policy options for a green economy for rapidly growing cities of Asia
  •   Increased exchanges between local and national levels of government in the participating countries, thus contributing favorably to the preparation for the (Rio+20) Conference by Member States themselves
  • Enhanced national capacity to identify common challenges and opportunities associated with a green economy and sustainable urban development" (photo by Warren Karlenzig) 
Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current. He is a fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute, and co-author of the forthcoming United Nations Shanghai Manual on global sustainable city planning and management.  

About the Author

    Warren Karlenzig
Warren Karlenzig, Common Current founder and president, has worked with the United Nations (lead co-author United Nations Shanghai Manual: A Guide to Sustainable Urban Development in the 21st Century, 2011); the provinces of Guizhou and Guangdong, China (urban sustainability master planning and green city standards); the United States White House and Environmental Protection Agency (Eco-Industrial Park planning and Industrial Ecology primer); the nation of South Korea ("New Cities Green Metrics"); The European Union ("Green and Connected Cities Initiative"); the State of California ("Comprehensive Recycling Communities" and "Sustainable Community Plans"); major cities; and the world's largest corporations developing sustainability policy, strategy, financing and critical operational capacities for 20 years. Read more here.

Follow Green Flow on Twitter

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Recent Assets

  • organic lunch.JPG
  • Rikuzentakata waste.JPG
  • man praying1.JPG
  • retail Oofunato City.JPG
  • kerosene k.JPG
  • farmer2.JPG
  • farmer 1.JPG
  • Ishinomaki group.JPG
  • inundationsign.JPG
  • Rio20Logo2.png


Add to Technorati Favorites
Technorati search

» Blogs that link here

Locations of visitors to this page
Powered by Movable Type 4.1