Developing cities may hold key
BARCELONA: The future that fastgrowing cities in South Asia and Africa choose — cleaner and safer, or dirtier and more dangerous — will be pivotal to efforts to limit global warming to 1.5degC, scientists said in a key United Nations report this week.
Metropolises such as New York and London often grab headlines with their plans to cut air pollution, adopt electric transport, design green buildings or protect residents from floods.
But greater efforts are needed to make similar changes in developingworld cities, particularly as many smaller ones lack the knowledge and financial resources to do it, experts said.
‘‘We know that much of urban growth is going to be in these small and mediumsized cities in the global south,’’ William Solecki, an author of the climate science report and professor at Hunter CollegeCity University of New York, said.
However, ‘‘these are cities that historically have had limited capacity in governance and finance’’, he said.
Around the world, cities consume more than twothirds of the world’s energy and account for about threequarters of carbon dioxide emissions, according to the United Nations.
Whether they can cut those emissions swiftly and protect inhabitants against worsening climate impacts, from flooding to heatwaves, will play a huge role in determining whether the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change are met.
But many cities in poorer nations face significant challenges, including large and growing slum populations that lack basic services and are increasingly at risk from climate disasters, experts said.
‘‘The report highlights that climate change will impact the most vulnerable, that the capacity to respond will be most limited in those locations and among those peoples,’’ Solecki said.
The report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change outlined ways to hold warming to 1.5degC above preindustrial times, and sounded the alarm about the consequences if action to achieve that is not stepped up.
The world’s slum population, for instance, is expected to triple to 3 billion by 2050, placing a significant proportion of people ‘‘beyond the direct reach’’ of formal policies to cut emissions and adapt to wild weather and rising seas, it noted.
How to tackle the conditions that lead to informal urban settlements and fuel the risks to their inhabitants ‘‘is a central question’’, the report said.
Among the problems that need to be addressed, it said, were poverty, weak governance and low levels of investment by local authorities.
On the brighter side, the lack of government services in poorer parts of cities also can spur ‘‘green’’ informal economies, based around things like recycling.
Bringing lowcarbon transitions to slums will require governments teaming up with communities, it said.
But ‘‘there is no guarantee that these partnerships will evolve or cohere into the type of service delivery and climate governance system that could steer the change on a scale required to limit to warming to 1.5degC’’, the report warned.
Still, it acknowledged work by some organisations, such as Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI), to try to make that happen.
Mark Watts, executive director of C40 Cities, which promotes climate action in metropolises, urged cities to stop investing in infrastructure — including roads — that is likely to hike carbon emissions in future.
Instead they should put scarce resources into clean transport, zerocarbon buildings and training people to deliver green infrastructure, he said.
Seven cities that are members of C40 — New York, Barcelona, Copenhagen, London, Oslo, Paris and Stockholm — have already published climate change strategies designed to deliver on the 1.5degC goal, and a further 65 have committed to do so.
But most cities are still developing in an unsustainable way that is adding to carbon emissions, Watts said.
‘‘The cities that don’t change won’t be viable in a few decades’ time,’’ he warned. — Reuters