August 2009 Archives

Hotel Chin Shuai in Taiwan folds into the Pacific during Typhoon Morakot flooding

Last week's Global Environment Forum, organized by the city of Incheon, South Korea, featured United Nations Secretary Ban Ki-moon. He exhorted the gathering's 1,000 global government, academic, business and civil society organization leaders that they must gain political support for the United Nations COP15 Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, this December.

The consequence of not getting politcal support?: global devastation beyond calculation, which the Secretary General detailed.

While Secretary General Ban's message and that of some other speakers were loaded with the impending risks posed by global climate change--stonger typhoons, hurricanes, floods, severe drought, massive human health problems, species depletion--the theme of the conference was in "Low-Carbon High Growth" solutions.

Ironically, as Ban spoke, the remnants of Typhone Morakot deluged the streets outside the convention center. The intensity of this tropical Pacific storm, which claimed more than 500 lives in Taiwan a few days earlier, is being attributed to global climate change by Taiwanese leadership after it dumped more than six feet of rain in two days in a mountainous region.

I was attending the Forum as a representative of Common Current, addressing the conference as part of a panel on Climate Change and Urban Sustainability. My presentation, along with those of many others, focused on sustainable urban solutions.

The upshot of my message was that both existing and new cities will need to scale up profitable ways to plan, measure, manage (using best management practices and the latest IT), finance, build and retrofit sustainability. My case studies focused on LEED-ND, Portland's Brewery Blocks, low carbon or carbon neutral developments, Green and Connected Cities, and large-scaled technological and financial "development ecosystems" such as Masdar City, United Arab Emirates..

Other solutions presented ranged from "low-carbon cities" to preservation or restoration of ecosystem services such as coastal mangrove buffer zones in the face of climate change impacts.

Besides Secretary General Ban, speakers included Ashok Khosla, President of the International Union for Conservation of Nature; Yann Athus-Betrand, Charman of; environmental or energy/climate ministers from South Korea, the UK, Japan and Tanzania; the head of the European Commission Delegation to Korea; representatives from corporations (Cisco, Philips) and an executive from the development firm that is building the new Korean "Green City" in which the conference was located, Songdo.

Songdo is being built as a section of Incheon that is designed as the world's first ubiquitious IT city. It is also demonstrating significant sustainability attributes (see previous post).

Secretary General Ban praised Songdo as a model for global planning and development: "If we combat climate change with a sustainable, low-emissions approach, just like we see around us in Songdo, we can change the way countries develop," he said. 

The bottom line on Copenhagen: developing nations will need to provide financing and technical assistance to developing nations, particularly China and India. I showed a slide demonstrating that in 1975 there were a handful of "Megacites" cities over 10 million in population: by 2030 that number will inrease to almost 500, with most expected to be in China and India.

As Secretary General Ban said, "(Songdo-like development)" will allow developing countries to pursue their mitigation efforts as part of their sustainable green growth strategies and to adapt to accelerating climate impacts. Significant resources will be needed from both public and private sources. Developing countries, especially the most vulnerable, will collectively need billions of dollars in public financing for (climate change) adaptation."

Or, as Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) director Lorents Lorentson put it at the Global Environment Forum, "Copenhagen won't go through unless there's cash on the table for China and India."

And that means there must be new ways of simultaneously planning and financing the new cities of China and India.


New Songdo City, Incheon, South Korea

Back from Incheon, South Korea, where the partially contructed New Songdo City district is rising up as an acclaimed example of the world's first ubiquitious technology city, and the first Korean "new city" planned with green features. Ground was broken for Songdo in 2004.
Completion is scheduled for 2014, when about 65,000 residents are expected to live locally and 300,000 workers are anticipated.

Having benchmarked the sustainability of the largest 50 US cities in my book How Green is Your City? The SustainLane US City Rankings, I was curious to investigate Songdo's qualities.

I was representing Common Current in New Songdo by addressing the Global Environment Forum on the topic of climate change and urban sustainable development. The conference, on "Low-Carbon, Green Growth" was hosted by the city of Incheon's Free Economic Zone and the United Nations.

About 1,000 people from the UN (including Secretary General Ban Ki-moon), national governments, businesses, international non-governmental organizations and academia met in New Songdo's ConvensiA to collectively forge the path toward a low-carbon future.

Songdo is quickly taking shape as a city of the future because it will be digitally wired and controlled in terms of systems management, which includes everything from waste to energy use. In my five-star Sheraton Hotel room, for instance (opened August 1), not only did my room entry card activate and de-activate all lights and appliances when I entered or left--a feature common in European hotels and woefully absent from the antiquated US hospitality industry--it also turned on or shut off the room's cooling system.

Songdo's Central Park (foreground), Songdo Sheraton (center) and ConvensiA (right)

The system was so efficient it was able to quickly cool the room when I re-entered, and when I left the room for short periods of time to workout or go to breakfast, it was so well insulated that it remained comfortable without active cooling.

Integrated smart building features will save massive amounts of energy. How many unoccupied rooms in hotels or offices across the world have lights burning and air conditioners blasting at this very moment? Probably enough to supply most of the energy for the spaces that are being used. Other digital features enabling greener operations will be bicycles and electric cars available through electronic smart cards, similar to the highly successful Velib bicycle share program in Paris.

All buildings including the smoker-free Sheraton are accredited by the US Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environment (LEED) ratings. The New Urbanist-inspired master plan for New Songdo was designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox, with some buildings designed by Daniel Lebeskind and HOK. The entire development is a LEED for Neighborhood Development pilot project, the only one in Korea, and one of 239 worldwide.

LEED-ND attempts certify that the not only are buildings green, but that their neighborhood is resource efficient in terms of offering public transportation, cycling and pedestrian options. New Songdo is served by a new subway line and will feature dozens of miles of cycling paths and pedestrian friendly urban planning, including wide sidewalks with generous landscaping, and frequent crosswalks.

New Songdo's more traditional "green" features include 30 percent open space, highlighted by a carefully planned and executed Central Park with running and biking trails, and waterway for both transportation and recreation.

Entryway to New Songdo's Central Park, Sheraton Hotel in background

When I jogged through New Songdo's car-free 100-acre Central Park (note to designers - a more direct pedestrian pathway from the hotel entrance to the park's crosswalk is needed), I was taken first by how established its many plant, grass and tree species were, despite construction still in progress. Most developments landscape as an afterthought, which means plants and trees do not get established before they are subjected to foot traffic and other human stresses.

The park's seven rain cisterns, holding 5,253,000 liters, capture rainwater for use in the park's irrigation, and they were plenty full after remnants from Typhoon Morakot deluged the area this past week.

In New Songdo, the care given to having natural systems interact with the built environment was testafied to by the noise of insects, including droning cicadas and thousands of graceful dragonflies zipping about the trees.

The New York City-based developers Gale International, have worked with fomer EPA Administrator Christine Whitman's Whitman Strategy Group in planning integrated sustainability throughout the $35 billion mixed-use (40 percent office; 35 percent residential; 10 percent retail; 10 percent civic space and 5 pecent hotel space) Songdo City.

New Songdo is in partnership with Cisco and its Connected Urban Development initiative, which is aiming at reducing greenhouse gas emissions through the use of technology in buildings, transportation and communications.

Whitman told me her four-year process on providing sustainability input is entering its final phase: the group's role now is to ensure that construction firms don't cut corners, such as making sure that pedestrian paths and bike trails aren't compromised with narrower layouts.

Gale International founder Stan Gale said a challenge for New Songdo has been in harmonizing green building standard between the USGBC's LEED and emerging Korean standards, which are set to go into effect for all private building construction by 2011. Many countries are hesitant to adopt LEED standards wholescale, as these were designed for the US developers in terms of zoning, material and operating system requirements.

New Songdo is a living example of new green cities that will be springing up throughout the world, particularly in Asia, over the next 20 years. The excitement that comes with these endeavors is palpable, in that politicians and planners at events like the Global Environment Forum are recognizing that cities produce about 80 percent of the world's greenhouse gasses, and that if we can't get cities right, we will have little chance to mitigate the most destructive impacts of global change.

And as New Songdo demonstrates, you can fight global climate change not only with more sustainable economic development, but that you can do it with natural systems, applied technology and style.


bankimoonstanding5.JPGUnited Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the Global Environment Forum in Incheon, Korea on Tuesday

Day One of the Global Environment Forum, where UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon addressed the conference on the need for a climate change deal in Copenhagen, while remnants from Typhoon Morakot ravaged the streets of Incheon outside with torrential rain.

"We must seal the deal in Copenhagen for the fate of humanity," he told the 1,000 Korean and global sustainability leaders. "We must push, pull and conjure national leaders in acting in our common interest.

I addressed the conference on the topic of Climate Change and Urban Sustainability, after I met Ban following his speech. 

Ban compared the conference to the 1950 Incheon landing of General Douglass MacArthur with UN troops to save South Korea from invading forces from the north ("a daring operation--against all odds"), only this time the common global foe is lack of committed leadership.  

He announced two summit events in the US he will lead: one in New York on September 22, the other in Pittsburgh on September 24, to rally Copenhagen support with international leaders.

Secretary General Ban said developing nations in Copenhagen must be prepared to support developing nations (India and China) with technical support and significant public-private funding: "billions of dollars in financial support--not repackaged development money." 

Put more bluntly by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Director Mr. Lorents Lorentsen, "Copenhagen won't go through unless there's cash on the table for China and India."



WEF Logo.jpg
This weekend I head to South Korea for the Global Environment Forum to present on "Climate Change and Urban Sustainable Development."

My presentation and panel is on Tuesday, August 11, after keynotes by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and International Union for Conservation of Nature's president, Ashok Khosla. The IUCN was the first international environmental organization and is focused on conservation, biodiversity and combating climate change.

Both South Korea and the United Nations have been strongly supporting low-carbon high financial growth models, Korea with a "Low-Carbon Green Growth" financial stimulus funding program and the UN with a recently announced similar initiative framework.

I will be joined in Session 2, which begins at 4:15 p.m., by Christie Whitman, the former US EPA Administrator, as moderator, along with the director of the Incheon Free Economic Zone (where the conference is taking place, in South Korea's only LEED for Neighborhood Development-accredited project, which is called New Songdo City) and by the Minister and Deputy Head of Sweden's Seoul Embassy.

Hopefully I can post and Tweet to bring any newsworthy items from the event, which will also be on August 12.


About the Author

    Warren Karlenzig
Warren Karlenzig, Common Current founder and president, has worked with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (lead co-author United Nations Shanghai Manual: A Guide to Sustainable Urban Development in the 21st Century, 2011); United Nations Center for Regional Development (training of mayors from 13 Asian nations on city sustainable economic development and technology); 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 policy, strategy, financing and critical operational capacities for 20 years.

Present and recent clients include the Guangzhou Planning Agency; the Global Forum on Human Settlements; the Shanghai 2010 World Expo Bureau; the US Department of State; the Asian Institute for Energy, Environment and Sustainability; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; the non-governmental organization Ecocity Builders; a major mixed-use real estate development corporation; an educational sustainability non-profit; and global corporations. Read more here.

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This page is an archive of entries from August 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

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