5 Cities Leading the Charge on Climate Action
For centuries, cities have been at the heart of the arts and culture, thriving businesses and innovative ideas. More than 90 percent of urban areas are coastal, which means that most cities on the planet are extremely vulnerable to the effects of the climate crisis as sea levels rise, polar ice melts and powerful storms sweep across these regions.
The sheer number of people who live in cities now and who are expected to move into them in the coming years is startling. Around two-thirds of the world's population is predicted to live in an urban area by 2050, which means there are also major financial implications when extreme weather like unexpected storms and flooding cause disruptions in businesses and governments.
America's Most Sustainable Town https://t.co/s5OHVrHaOS @ClimateReality @climatehawk1 @ClimateNexus @SierraClub @NRDC— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1489496012.0
The good news is that while cities are particularly at risk from the climate crisis, they are also behind some of the most powerful solutions. That's why we're taking a look at five of our favorite sustainable cities in the world and the steps they've taken to become leaders in clean energy and climate solutions.
1. Copenhagen, Denmark
Copenhagen is often ranked as one of the greenest cities on the planet. Why? For starters, in 2009 the city set a goal to become the world's first carbon neutral capital by 2025 as part of its CPH 2025 Climate Plan. Copenhagen has focused on reducing energy consumption in a variety of ways, including using an energy-efficient district heating system that connects to nearly every household and innovative cooling systems that save around 70 percent of the energy compared to traditional air conditioning.
Copenhagen has also focused on reducing emissions and improving the health of its residents by improving mobility, integrating transport and building what's known as a super cycle highways. Super cycle highways and other bike lanes around the city have led to 45 percent of the city's residents commuting by bike every day.
2. San Francisco, California
It's no secret that San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area are a serious tech-hub and home to some of the most innovative companies in the world, including Salesforce, Airbnb, Uber and Twitter. Innovations in technologies to improve energy efficiency in buildings and enhance its transportation system have helped make San Francisco a leader in sustainability and clean energy. Just look at the city's public transit system: it's not uncommon to see hybrid-electric buses driving down the city's streets and more than half of all MUNI buses and light rails are zero-emission.
The Bay Area has also cut its water consumption drastically in recent years. As California has battled serious droughts, San Franciscans have reduced their water consumption to around 49 gallons of water per day on average (the national average is 80-100 gallons per day). These conservation tactics and other advances in sustainable food, recycling and composting are expected to help San Francisco reach its goal of becoming zero waste by 2020.
3. Vancouver, Canada
Vancouver has been on the forefront of environmental activism for decades. In 1990, it became one of the first North American cities to outwardly address the climate crisis by releasing a report called The Clouds of Change. This was just the beginning of an environmental strategy that Vancouver released years later in 2012, the Greenest City Action Plan, which set 10 goals to achieve by 2020, including increasing green jobs, reducing community-based greenhouse gas emissions and expanding green buildings around the city.
Additionally, Vancouver has committed to getting 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050. This goal is particularly bold given that it targets all forms of energy in the city—including heating, cooling and transport—not just electricity. The city's focus on clean energy and sustainability has led it to have the lowest greenhouse gas emissions per person of any major North American city. Between making sustainable improvements to neighborhoods' energy consumption, striving for zero waste and continuing to develop its successful Greenest City Action Plan, Vancouver has set the stage for businesses and residents to work together to be one of the greenest and most climate change resilient cities on Earth.
4. Stockholm, Sweden
Stockholm is a growing city that seeks to be an attractive home for newcomers and do good for the planet at the same time. Awarded the first "European Green Capital" recognition by the European Commission in 2010, Stockholm aims to be fossil-fuel free by 2050.
How does the city plan to reach this goal? One component is Sweden's shift from oil to "district" heating, which means the nation now uses heat from centralized sources (such as a power station) to more efficiently heat and cool its buildings. District heating alone accounts for more than 80 percent of heating and hot water in apartments today and is one of the key factors in how Sweden has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions in recent years.
Another reason for Stockholm's success with sustainable living is its residents, who pride themselves on being "climate-smart." Eight out of 10 residents feel the city should urge citizens to live more environmentally-friendly and believe being climate-smart should be a natural part of living in a city (we do too!).
With a population of more than five million people, Singapore is often recognized as one of the most forward-thinking green cities in Asia. The city-state has developed a Sustainable Development Blueprint, which outlines sustainability goals leading up to 2030. The targets include improving energy efficiency by 35 percent, ensuring 80 percent of its buildings are certified green and having 80 percent of households be within a 10-minute walk to a train station.
Singapore has also improved its sustainability by making drastic changes in transportation. The city-state limits car ownership among its residents and has built effective public transportation systems, which has helped reduce pollution and crowding on streets and highways. Singapore's public transit system helps residents navigate the city, along with biking and walking.
Learn More About Other Green Cities
These are just five examples of cities that have become leaders in clean energy and sustainable development. To learn more about additional sustainable cities and how they're working toward solutions to the climate crisis, download the Cities100 guide. The Cities100 guide shares 100 solutions from 61 cities in 10 different sectors, ranging from clean energy to transportation to social equity and more.
By Dana M Bergstrom, Euan Ritchie, Lesley Hughes and Michael Depledge
In 1992, 1,700 scientists warned that human beings and the natural world were "on a collision course." Seventeen years later, scientists described planetary boundaries within which humans and other life could have a "safe space to operate." These are environmental thresholds, such as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and changes in land use.
The Good and Bad News<p><span>Ecosystems consist of living and non-living components, and their interactions. They work like a super-complex engine: when some components are removed or stop working, knock-on consequences can lead to system failure.</span></p><p>Our study is based on measured data and observations, not modeling or predictions for the future. Encouragingly, not all ecosystems we examined have collapsed across their entire range. We still have, for instance, some intact reefs on the Great Barrier Reef, especially in deeper waters. And northern Australia has some of the most intact and least-modified stretches of savanna woodlands on Earth.</p><p><span>Still, collapses are happening, including in regions critical for growing food. This includes the </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/importance-murray-darling-basin/where-basin" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Murray-Darling Basin</a><span>, which covers around 14% of Australia's landmass. Its rivers and other freshwater systems support more than </span><a href="https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/latestproducts/94F2007584736094CA2574A50014B1B6?opendocument" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30% of Australia's food</a><span> production.</span></p><p><span></span><span>The effects of floods, fires, heatwaves and storms do not stop at farm gates; they're felt equally in agricultural areas and natural ecosystems. We shouldn't forget how towns ran out of </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/issues-murray-darling-basin/drought#effects" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">drinking water</a><span> during the recent drought.</span></p><p><span></span><span>Drinking water is also at risk when ecosystems collapse in our water catchments. In Victoria, for example, the degradation of giant </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/logging-must-stop-in-melbournes-biggest-water-supply-catchment-106922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mountain Ash forests</a><span> greatly reduces the amount of water flowing through the Thompson catchment, threatening nearly five million people's drinking water in Melbourne.</span></p><p>This is a dire <em data-redactor-tag="em">wake-up</em> call — not just a <em data-redactor-tag="em">warning</em>. Put bluntly, current changes across the continent, and their potential outcomes, pose an existential threat to our survival, and other life we share environments with.</p><p><span>In investigating patterns of collapse, we found most ecosystems experience multiple, concurrent pressures from both global climate change and regional human impacts (such as land clearing). Pressures are often </span><a href="https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1365-2664.13427" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">additive and extreme</a><span>.</span></p><p>Take the last 11 years in Western Australia as an example.</p><p>In the summer of 2010 and 2011, a <a href="https://theconversation.com/marine-heatwaves-are-getting-hotter-lasting-longer-and-doing-more-damage-95637" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">heatwave</a> spanning more than 300,000 square kilometers ravaged both marine and land ecosystems. The extreme heat devastated forests and woodlands, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs. This catastrophe was followed by two cyclones.</p><p>A record-breaking, marine heatwave in late 2019 dealt a further blow. And another marine heatwave is predicted for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/24/wa-coastline-facing-marine-heatwave-in-early-2021-csiro-predicts" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">this April</a>.</p>
What to Do About It?<p><span>Our brains trust comprises 38 experts from 21 universities, CSIRO and the federal Department of Agriculture Water and Environment. Beyond quantifying and reporting more doom and gloom, we asked the question: what can be done?</span></p><p>We devised a simple but tractable scheme called the 3As:</p><ul><li>Awareness of what is important</li><li>Anticipation of what is coming down the line</li><li>Action to stop the pressures or deal with impacts.</li></ul><p>In our paper, we identify positive actions to help protect or restore ecosystems. Many are already happening. In some cases, ecosystems might be better left to recover by themselves, such as coral after a cyclone.</p><p>In other cases, active human intervention will be required – for example, placing artificial nesting boxes for Carnaby's black cockatoos in areas where old trees have been <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/factsheet-carnabys-black-cockatoo-calyptorhynchus-latirostris" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">removed</a>.</p><p><span>"Future-ready" actions are also vital. This includes reinstating </span><a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/a-burning-question-fire/12395700" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultural burning practices</a><span>, which have </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/australia-you-have-unfinished-business-its-time-to-let-our-fire-people-care-for-this-land-135196" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">multiple values and benefits for Aboriginal communities</a><span> and can help minimize the risk and strength of bushfires.</span></p><p>It might also include replanting banks along the Murray River with species better suited to <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/my-garden-path---matt-hansen/12322978" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">warmer conditions</a>.</p><p>Some actions may be small and localized, but have substantial positive benefits.</p><p>For example, billions of migrating Bogong moths, the main summer food for critically endangered mountain pygmy possums, have not arrived in their typical numbers in Australian alpine regions in recent years. This was further exacerbated by the <a href="https://theconversation.com/six-million-hectares-of-threatened-species-habitat-up-in-smoke-129438" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019-20</a> fires. Brilliantly, <a href="https://www.zoo.org.au/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Zoos Victoria</a> anticipated this pressure and developed supplementary food — <a href="https://theconversation.com/looks-like-an-anzac-biscuit-tastes-like-a-protein-bar-bogong-bikkies-help-mountain-pygmy-possums-after-fire-131045" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bogong bikkies</a>.</p><p><span>Other more challenging, global or large-scale actions must address the </span><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iICpI9H0GkU&t=34s" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">root cause of environmental threats</a><span>, such as </span><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-018-0504-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">human population growth and per-capita consumption</a><span> of environmental resources.</span><br></p><p>We must rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero, remove or suppress invasive species such as <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/mam.12080" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">feral cats</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-buffel-kerfuffle-how-one-species-quietly-destroys-native-wildlife-and-cultural-sites-in-arid-australia-149456" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">buffel grass</a>, and stop widespread <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-reduce-fire-risk-and-meet-climate-targets-over-300-scientists-call-for-stronger-land-clearing-laws-113172" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">land clearing</a> and other forms of habitat destruction.</p>
Our Lives Depend On It<p>The multiple ecosystem collapses we have documented in Australia are a harbinger for <a href="https://www.iucn.org/news/protected-areas/202102/natures-future-our-future-world-speaks" target="_blank">environments globally</a>.</p><p>The simplicity of the 3As is to show people <em>can</em> do something positive, either at the local level of a landcare group, or at the level of government departments and conservation agencies.</p><p>Our lives and those of our <a href="https://theconversation.com/children-are-our-future-and-the-planets-heres-how-you-can-teach-them-to-take-care-of-it-113759" target="_blank">children</a>, as well as our <a href="https://theconversation.com/taking-care-of-business-the-private-sector-is-waking-up-to-natures-value-153786" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">economies</a>, societies and <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-address-the-ecological-crisis-aboriginal-peoples-must-be-restored-as-custodians-of-country-108594" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultures</a>, depend on it.</p><p>We simply cannot afford any further delay.</p><p><em><a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/dana-m-bergstrom-1008495" target="_blank" style="">Dana M Bergstrom</a> is a principal research scientist at the University of Wollongong. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/euan-ritchie-735" target="_blank" style="">Euan Ritchie</a> is a professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences at Deakin University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/lesley-hughes-5823" target="_blank">Lesley Hughes</a> is a professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/michael-depledge-114659" target="_blank">Michael Depledge</a> is a professor and chair, Environment and Human Health, at the University of Exeter. </em></p><p><em>Disclosure statements: Dana Bergstrom works for the Australian Antarctic Division and is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Wollongong. Her research including fieldwork on Macquarie Island and in Antarctica was supported by the Australian Antarctic Division.</em></p><p><em>Euan Ritchie receives funding from the Australian Research Council, The Australia and Pacific Science Foundation, Australian Geographic, Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. Euan Ritchie is a Director (Media Working Group) of the Ecological Society of Australia, and a member of the Australian Mammal Society.</em></p><p><em>Lesley Hughes receives funding from the Australian Research Council. She is a Councillor with the Climate Council of Australia, a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists and a Director of WWF-Australia.</em></p><p><em>Michael Depledge does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/existential-threat-to-our-survival-see-the-19-australian-ecosystems-already-collapsing-154077" target="_blank" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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