30 March 2011

Urban warfare in the battle against climate change

Despite making up just two per cent of the land, the world’s cities are to blame for up to 70 per cent of harmful emissions, according to a report by UN-HABITAT.

Urban centres are where the battle against climate change will be fought states the report highlighting the “peril” faced if cities’ role in climate change is neglected.

The majority of the world’s population already live in cities and this will increase by 2030.

In developed countries up to 81% of the population could live in urban areas.

But Joan Clos, Executive Director of UN-HABITAT believes this latest report can help fight the problem of “hot cities”.

He said: “Cities are responsible for the majority of our harmful greenhouse gases but they are also places where the greatest efficiencies can be made.”

Clos considers it vital to increase our understanding of urbanisation and apply “better urban planning” and encourage “greater citizen participation” to bring urban emissions down.

The report threw up surprising variation between cities within countries – in the U.S. Washington D.C., despite lacking major industry and having a small population, had greenhouse gas emissions of 19.7 tonnes of CO2e but in the larger city of New York, emissions are much lower at 7.1 tonnes.

New York in comparison to Washington is a big population squeezed into a small area with good public transport, which helps the city keep emissions lower.

But in Europe, where the cities are generally compact, the report says that emissions are lower compared to North American cities.

Car use plays in Europe’s favour because fewer people own cars than in North America and the cars people do own are generally smaller and more fuel-efficient.

This week the European Commission proposed that European cities become devoid of conventionally fuelled cars altogether by 2050, but met criticism in the UK.

Transport Minister Norman Baker said: “It is right that the EU sets high-level targets for carbon reduction, however it is not right for them to get involved in how this is delivered in individual cities.”

Baker defended the Coalition’s green transport policies: “We are committed to decarbonising road transport by, for example, investing more than £400m over the next four years to support electric vehicles and promoting alternatives to car travel like walking and cycling.”

Friends of the Earth (FoE), however, welcomed the proposals but think the emission targets could be even stronger.

Richard Dyer, Transport Campaigner at FoE said: “Phasing out cars that run on fossil fuels from cities is a good way to kick-start action but despite these headline grabbing proposals the emission reduction targets in the plan lack ambition.”


For further information:

Cities and Climate Change: Policy Directions - UN-HABITAT report

Transport 2050 Roadmap - European Commission


Image: Dimitry B | Flickr

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