October 2010 Archives


This weekend I'm attending the Shanghai Expo Summit Forum as part of a United Nations delegation. The Oct. 31 event, which will be on "Urban Innovation and Sustainable Development," will mark the close of the largest World's Fair in history: more than 70 million have visited the Expo (the Osaka, Japan, World Fair of 1970 attracted 64 million) where a record two hundred countries are exhibiting through Sunday.

The Shanghai Expo has been targeting sustainable cities throughout its six-month run. Developing nations such as China and India will be the focus of not only emerging strategic sustainability frameworks, but also of large-scale financial, technology system and cultural innovation, all of which will constantly intersect with new ways of managing resources and mitigating and adapting to climate change. 

About 2,000 are invited to the fair's closing ceremonies, including heads of state, governors, mayors, Nobel Prize recipients and CEOs: China will be represented by Premier Wen Jiabao, while Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will appear for the UN. The Obama Administration is sending Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council for Environmental Quality, to present on "Green Development and Ecological Cities." Former World Bank economist Nicholas Stern, author of the pivotal 2006, "Economics of Climate Change," (The Stern Review) will also speak.

Stern asserted that with one-percent investment worldwide in climate change mitigating technologies and development, estimated climate change-related damage to the global economy in the 5 to 14 percent range will be avoided.

Other sessions at the Shanghai Expo Summit Forum will include:

  • Knowledge Innovation and Cultural Cities
  • Science and Technology Innovation and Creative Cities
  • Economic Transformation and Sustainable Cities
  • Community Management and Livable Cities
  • Youth Creativity and Future Cities

This year I've been collaborating with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, which has been preparing for the Summit Forum with Premier Wen Jiabao and the National Organizing Committee of Expo 2010 Shanghai China. Together, with the input of other UN agencies and the World Bank, we have been writing the Shanghai Training Manual on Sustainable Urban Development. The publication will come out in May 2011 as one of two "legacies of thematic substance" from the Shanghai Expo, the other being "The Shanghai Declaration," which will be released at the Summit.

The "Shanghai Manual" will be an instrument for knowledge sharing and capacity building for cities around the globe as they struggle to tackle the economic, social and environmental challenges of the 21st century. The largest challenge will be the result of China's expected increase in urban population from nearly 50 percent of its 1.3 billion citizens to about 75 percent of its total population by 2050: that means 400-700 million people will settle into China's cities in the next four decades, mostly from rural areas of China.  

Such unprecedented growth in developing-nation cities prompted the Shanghai Manual to analyze the intersection of sustainability management and urban planning with the emerging green economy, science and technology innovation, management and governance approaches, as well as traditional environmental management sectors, such as transportation and land use planning, solid waste management and wastewater management.

The Shanghai Manual will address topics covered by previous Shanghai Expo urban sustainability forums that have been held in and around Shanghai since its opening in May (which has an overarching theme of "Better City, Better Life,"):

·               Information and communication technologies and urban development

·               Cultural heritage, creative cities and urban regeneration

·               Science and technology innovation and urban futures

·               Low carbon cities: environmental protection and urban responsibilities

·               Low carbon economic transformation

·               Better campus; better living: learning for a sustainable future

·               Economic transformations and urban-rural relationships

·               Environmental change and city responsibility

·               Good urban governance and sustainable lifestyles


Mayors from North America appearing will include Vancouver's Gregor Robertson, who announced a year ago the goal of attempting to make the Canadian city "the greenest in the world."

By 2015, according to the UN, Shanghai will be the seventh largest city in the world, after (in order): Tokyo, Japan; Mumbai, India; Sao Paulo, Brazil; Mexico City, Mexico; New York, New York; and Delhi, India. The Shanghai Energy and Environment Exchange, based in the city's Pudong District, has 300 companies involved in a market-based trading system for pollution credits that may become the basis for a city-based and even national carbon trading platform.

How fitting that China focuses an international expo on sustainable urban planning in a city that is its largest, most dynamic example of how climate change, financial markets and urban planning are merging into an entirely new global socio-economic model.

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current, an internationally active consultancy based in San Anselmo, California. He is a Fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute and co-author of a forthcoming United Nations manual on global sustainable city planning and management.   

Thumbnail image for cover_Post-Carbon-Reader.jpg

The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century's Sustainability Crises from Watershed Media and the University of California Press hit bookstores this week. The compendium of 35 experts explores how previously unimaginable advances in health, wealth, and technology, fed an explosion in population and consumption that came at an incredible cost.

Climate change, peaking oil, freshwater depletion, species extinction, and a host of economic and social problems now challenge us as never before. Writers including Bill McKibben, Richard Heinberg, Sandra Postel, Wes Jackson and others (including myself), explore not only causes in the 523 pages, but lay out detailed "post-carbon" solutions, many which are inter-related.

According to Lester R. Brown, President of the Earth Policy Institute and founder of Worldwatch Institute, "For a comprehensive, integrated overview of the relationship between the human species and its planetary home circa 2010, look no further. The Post Carbon Reader is an invaluable primer, resource, and textbook. This is what you need to know--period."

Most of the authors are Post Carbon Fellows at the Post Carbon Institute (PCI), which is based in Santa Rosa, California, where author and Senior PCI Fellow Richard Heinberg also lives.

PCI "fellowed" me early last year, when I began work on my contribution to the Reader, a chapter titled, "The Death of Sprawl: Designing Urban Resilience for the 21st Century Resource and Climate Crises." (pdf) This chapter takes a look at how cheap oil and the financial industry created an unsustainable explosion of suburban and exurban sprawl, driving the US economy over a cliff with the still ongoing 2007-201? foreclosure crisis.

About 25 of 29 PCI fellows gathered for the first time together or participated electronically in a two-day event held in Berkeley, California earlier this year.

The results of the event included a forthcoming mission statement that was co-authored by nine different subgroups. My group on cities also consisted of Johns Hopkins professor Brian Schwartz, City University of New York professor (and former New York City green building standard originator) Hillary Brown, and transportation expert Anthony Perl, author of Transport Revolutions: Moving People and Freight Without Oil.

We contributed concepts around "bioregionally grounded human communities" based on non-automotive transportation options, human-scaled neighborhoods and regionally produced sustainable food and energy. 

Much like the Club of Rome's 1972 treatise, The Limits to Growth, the work of PCI fellows now presents a publicly available collective analysis of where we are, where we are headed and what our options might be in terms of climate, biodiversity, economies, cities, food, energy, culture, population, health, education, transportation and developing better resilience.

Most importantly, thanks to editors Heinberg and Daniel Lerch, The Post Carbon Reader illustrates inter-relationships among these categories, instead of just providing a laundry list of issues and challenges.

I discovered, for instance, that the chapter I wrote was reinforced by Sandra Postel's chapter on water, "Water, Adapting to a New Normal", (pdf) where we both examined how solar thermal power plants in the desert Southwest require surprising amounts of water. Same with my chapter and chapters by Tom Whipple, "Peak Oil and the Great Recession", David Fridley, "Nine Challenges of Alternative Energy", and Dr. Peter Whybrow's, "Dangerously Addictive: Why We are Biologically ill-suited to the Riches of Modern America."

Kudos to PCI executive director Asher Miller and my old friend, Daniel Imhoff, publisher of Watershed Media, for pulling off what may be a milestone in post-Great Recession sustainability thinking, hopefully spurring others to action in order to bring us back into balance with our beleaguered natural world.

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current, an internationally active consultancy based in San Anselmo, California. He is a Fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute and co-author of a forthcoming United Nations 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 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 October 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

September 2010 is the previous archive.

November 2010 is the next archive.

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