Enabling Future Global Green Cities

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Between 2000 and 2030 the global urban footprint will double, mostly due to growth in developing nation cities. Urban carbon and resource impacts cannot, must not double during this period. What can be done by policymakers, the private sector, civil society and urban leaders to prevent the unthinkable, a global climate and ecosystem incapable of supporting stable species populations and food production?

A botched transition to the coming urban future will ensure stresses far beyond our comprehension.

So, I will be addressing the Global Green Cities Symposium in San Francisco Feb. 24 on "Enabling Future Global Green Cities." In my previous post I described how this event acknowledges a sense of urgency by taking a novel approach to expert and cross-industry collaboration.

Clearly, cities in developing nations are the crux of the matter: 90% of projected urban growth will occur in developing nation metros during the next decades. By 2040, the developing nation urban sector will benefit from an estimated total of more than $300 trillion in expenditures for the built environment and transportation, both in infrastructure and operations. Increasingly these city functions and services will be optimized to address both climate change mitigation and climate change adaptation.

Before getting to the how, let's address the issue of cities on the basic level of benefits and risks.

Pros of increased urbanism:

  • easier provision of lower-cost high-value services (healthcare, education, water, transportation, communications, commerce)
  • enhanced cultural activities and opportunities
  • urban economic innovation in global hubs benefit their surrounding rural regions, and especially national economies

Cons of increased urbanism:

  • increased pollution and concentration of wastes, congestion, urban-heat island effect
  • negative social impacts which can include loss of sense of community, isolation from nature and decreased safety and security, exacerbated by a large-scale lack of affordable housing
  • sprawled urban borders place natural resources (agricultural land, habitat, fisheries, watersheds) at much greater risk

Beyond the pros and cons of urbanization, the populations and economies of all cities are vulnerable to the increasingly severe impacts of global climate change, including rising sea levels, flooding, winter storms, drought and extreme heat events. Besides higher rates of death and disease from climate change-induced environmental conditions, mass population migrations are expected to occur in the not-distant future. From New Orleans to Bangladesh, urban climate-related population diasporas have already begun.

Cities will need to quickly begin shifting their spending from high-carbon intensity infrastructure to green infrastructure that produces very low carbon emissions in production, transport, implementation and maintenance.

Long-term and strategic action plans will be necessary to guide capital toward infrastructure solutions offering attractive returns on investment. Such returns can take many forms--reduced operating costs (including reuse and disposal), low embodied and operating carbon emissions, lower air and water pollution levels, and greater resource efficiency.

Global competitiveness may soon be defined in part by comparative carbon emission rates. Low-carbon urban economies, for instance, will gain a decisive edge over economies (urban, exurban or rural) that remain relatively heavy per-capita carbon emitters. This competitive advantage will be gained not only because of environmental and quality of life factors but also because of the potential merger of international trade rules and carbon emissions regulations.

The OECD Mayors Roundtable in 2010 recommended that urban policy makers pursue integrated policy in three areas: the adjustment of firms to new sustainability related business opportunities and energy volatility; enabling individual consumers or citizens to change their preferences for products and services, and, finally; developing and effectively diffusing green technologies in the marketplace.

Following are other leading strategies and recommendations that will be covered in the United Nations "Shanghai Training Manual for Sustainable Cities".  (In order to be more likely to succeed, multi-sector collaboration and transparency will be required of each):

  •  New integrated, long-term and multi-scale models for structuring, managing, measuring and financing city performance (e.g., World Bank Eco2 Cities program) including life-cycle energy/ carbon, maintenance and capital cost management across budgets, capital planning and large-scale investments. Early examples include Curitiba, Brazil, and a Stockholm industrial district.
  • Mega-region and regional planning approaches, including those with "cascaded" micro-planning, such as Greater London (pdf).
  • Community-based natural disaster management, such as the Dhaka example (pdf)
  • Core ICT Planning and Strategy: With e-planning ICT can help cities avoid high-carbon land use. Digital technology makes it possible for cities to achieve lower carbon emissions from better planning and management of infrastructure, buildings, energy and transportation. ICT can provide valuable public access in communications and governance, such as Mumbai's e-government platform.
  • Public-private partnerships that are well constructed. Early examples include South Korea's Smart Grid 2030, and China's Guangdong Province wastewater projects. Public-private partnership agreements should be part of a transparent public process that is beneficial to all parties, especially citizens.
  • "In situ" slum upgrading, versus indiscriminately tearing down slums. Vulnerabilities must be addressed for those slums that are located in areas particularly at risk to climate change, such as flood plains and land subject to severe storm erosion. The good news, however, is that most urban slums are high density, pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use, made from recycled material, adaptive to changing conditions and can be socially inclusive with strong neighborhood social networks.

Green urbanization has the potential to shape the 21st century as much or more than earlier economic and technological advances. The key difference between this trend and prior economic waves--transportation, communications, energy, advanced materials and industrialization--will be the use of integrated urban system approaches.

Bonafide global green cities will only be fully realized through combined cultural, managerial and technological innovation that is constantly guided by the active participation of the civil and private sectors, academia and government.

Let's all get busy...

("World Metro Map" image credit)

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current. He is a fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute, strategic adviser to the Institute for Strategic Resilience and co-author of a forthcoming United Nations manual on global sustainable city planning and management.  

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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.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Warren Karlenzig published on February 8, 2011 10:33 AM.

Global Green Cities Preview was the previous entry in this blog.

Learning from Japan about Resilience is the next entry in this blog.

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