Cli­mate chal­lenge for cities

Nelson Mail - - INSIGHT -

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.­

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.

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