Climate challenge for cities
Lindsay Wood recently spent two hectic months in Germany immersed in an array of environmental activities to inform his work on climate change strategies. This is the first of two articles where Lindsay shares his experiences and lessons on everything from decarbonising a giant container terminal to presenting a paper at the milestone EU ‘‘Cities and Climate’’ conference in Berlin.
serenity of the tasteful interior and soothing music were in stark contrast to the shuddering and shaking as the building rocked to violent wind gusts.
We followed the sauna with a swim and then relaxed for an hour in the quiet room, snoozing, reading and gazing out at the storm-swept sea. Wonderfully rejuvenating.
We had just a day back in Hamburg then caught the express to Berlin for a week in neighbouring Potsdam, the location for my 3-day Cities and Climate Conference.
The greenery of Hamburg had impressed me, but Potsdam was something else again. Dissected by wonderful lakes, and with mighty fingers of wild forest permeating the built-up areas, the city felt balanced with nature to an extent I had rarely experienced in other towns.
By good luck the best way from our apartment to the conference was a delightful 20-minute walk through one of those forests. ‘‘Don’t get lost!’’ our host warned, so I navigated with care, and watched delightful squirrels bound across my path, and traced mole journeys from one molehill to the next. I didn’t see any of the deer, but was amazed to encounter the rooting of wild pigs only metres from apartments.
The forest walk was great mental preparation for day one of the conference, and for delivering my own paper (a case study of Nelson’s struggle to implement significant climate change strategies). The conference capped the six-year EU Ramses research programme on climate change and cities, and I felt privileged to be presenting there, and humbled to be rubbing shoulders with scientific history: we were almost in the shadow of the ‘‘Einstein Tower’’, the observatory built a century ago to validate the great man’s groundbreaking Theory of Relativity.
The 200 or so conference participants ranged from senior politicians to professional researchers, from public servants to university deans, and even included a couple of practitioners (one being me). Unsurprisingly, the climate themes were varied and thought-provoking, such as:
Rethinking urban design to respond to climate change; Innovative strategies for mitigation and adaptation; Climate change data and modelling; The sustainable governance of cities; Heat island effects and urban health. Among many excellent speakers, two standouts for me were Phillip Rode, Executive Director of the Cities Programme at the London School of Economics, and Anne Maassen, specialist in Climate and Municipal Finance at the World Resources Institute (WRI), Washington.
Rode’s central messages were well-founded and unequivocal:
Cities are always in a state of flux. Use this to address climate change. Especially, get infrastructure right, and start now, even if it has to be done progressively. Focus on ‘‘smart growth’’: Medium density and ‘‘TOD’’ (transit oriented development – compact elongated urban development along public transport corridors). Sprawling suburbs (low-density, car-oriented) incur huge long-term financial, health and environmental penalties. Integrate urban governance: avoid councils and departments working in silos; ensure city plans interface with each other and with climate change considerations; broaden ways of community engagement. My own paper came next, arousing more interest than I anticipated. Delegates audibly gasped at the remoteness of Nelson, but nodded agreement at many things they recognised – like the need for better application of existing climate change information; climate policies that never make it into plans; and disengaging climate strategies and funding from partisan politics and electoral cycles
Anne Maassen explored the macroeconomics of climate change, and her perspectives echoed those of Rode:
Cities everywhere underinvest in infrastructure. WRI estimates the global investment needed as US$4 trillion per year until 2050 (some US$1000 annually for every adult on Earth). Maassen contrasted this with the current modest annual investment in climate strategies of $US10 billion ($2/adult). Accelerate and broaden climate change responses. There is a compelling need for much wider innovation and for speeding up the implementation of recognised solutions (e.g. renewable energy; car-, bike- and ride-sharing; municipal building refits; TOD). Use data to set targets for funding climate strategies. Major long term risks merit long-term borrowing, which may need new fiscal models. Address now how we pay for it, and borrow if need be – it only gets harder later. Improve urban efficiency. Especially halt sprawling urban growth and tackle traffic congestion.From the wealth of conference information it is hard to isolate a few key messages for our region, but here are some:
Create highly livable communities through smart growth and TOD, and find the ‘‘sweet spot’’ that balances increased density, livability and efficient transport. For the widest benefits, apply climate information with real commitment, and encourage collaborative engagement. Serious climate change investments now will pay huge dividends long-term (and the real cost of doing little now ends up as truly enormous). Plan infrastructure thoroughly and get started, implementing incrementally if necessary. Gather robust data and use it well. Base it on accepted protocols. Halt lowdensity sprawl, boost public transport, and deter lowoccupancy cars. Promote ‘‘green and blue cities’’ for urban health and beauty, and to mitigate heat island effects and greenhouse gas emissions.After three days of attending the conference, and Doris working in Berlin, we were ready to enjoy Potsdam as tourists. It’s a small, beautiful city and, like most of Germany, is intense with political history.
In the 27 years since German reunification, much of Potsdam has been restored from the neglect of the communist era. As a result some places, like the Alter Market, look like a freshly painted stage set, while nearby linger signs of decay, and around the corner lies artwork that had been communist propaganda.
A visit to friends in Berlin gave more political reminders. Walking to their apartment took us right past Olympiastadion, the site of Hitler’s notorious 1936 Olympic Games; and opposite their apartment were the famous ‘‘Unite´ d’Habitation’’ apartments designed by celebrated modernist architect Le Corbusier, and built as part of Berlin’s post-war reconstruction.
The apartments incorporated Corbusier’s hallmark ‘‘Le Modulor’’ human proportions, and his all-too-prophetic inscription ‘‘RETABLIR LES CONDITIONS DE NATURE’’ – ‘‘restore the conditions of nature’’.
Then it was back to Hamburg for a brief pause, before I was off to Bremen and the ZenTraClim conference. ‘‘ZenTraClim’’ is the climate research programme for the ‘‘Centre (Zentrum) for Transnational activities of Nongovernment Agencies’’ (multinationals, NGOs, communication networks etc.). This might seem esoteric, but is incredibly important: anyone donating to Red Cross, flying, or storing photos on the cloud, is engaging with transnationals.
The conference, the final event of a five-year research programme, focussed on Paris Agreement targets, and presenters ranged from highly pragmatic to seriously theoretical. Although the perspective was quite different to the Ramses conference, there was a strong overlap in core messages:
Max-out acceleration of climate change responses. Standardise emissions-measuring protocols, especially from space. Establish realistic higher pricing for carbon. Strengthen cross-border collaboration, especially local governments. Support the developing world in urbanising with climate safety.
Finally, a day or two to catch my breath, try to digest what I’d encountered so far, and prepare for month two. With a raft of specialist visits and another conference, it was going to be just as hectic as month one.
Lindsay Wood works increasingly as a climate change strategist, a field in which he ‘‘specialises in being a generalist’’, in engaging with climate science, research, and activities, and then making that specialist information accessible to society at large. Building on his extensive experience in architecture, professional education, and value management, Lindsay now focuses on helping the public keep up to date and on informing and advising organisations and businesses who need to come to grips with climate change issues. www.resilienz.co.nz
A cafe´ in the weird coastal nomans-land of St Peter Ording. The approaching storm caused extensive damage.
Airbridge-supplied electricity (orange) and cabin cooling (yellow) save burning fossil fuels while aircraft are parked.