A shocking report released last week found that just 25 cities around the world are responsible for 52% of urban greenhouse emissions. Now, a new report says that urban heat islands are making summer heat waves worse. Indeed, throughout June and July, western regions of North America have been experiencing intense climate change-induced heat waves that have caused extensive wildfires and hundreds of deaths. Both of these studies have highlighted the role that cities must play in reducing emissions to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement. So, how can we make cities greener?
The North American heat waves have affected regions including Northern California, Idaho, Oregon and Washington in the United States, as well as British Columbia, Alberta and Yukon in Canada. They have resulted in some of the highest temperatures recorded in these areas, including the highest temperature ever measured in Canada at 49.6°C.
The study on the highest carbon emitting cities surveyed 167 cities around the world and found that all but three – Moscow, Istanbul and Tokyo – are located in China, including major cities such as Shanghai and Beijing. Power generation, industry and transportation are the biggest sources of emissions; in one third of the cities, road transportation accounted for more than 30% of emissions, while railways, waterways and aviation accounted for less than 15%. Of these 167 cities, 113 have set emissions-reduction targets, but the study concluded that cities need to do considerably more to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement. In general, cities are responsible for more than 70% of greenhouse gas emissions.
There’s no doubt that cities are chiefly responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, but it also means that they have the biggest opportunity to reduce emissions and make progress in establishing greener cities.
How Can Cities Become Greener?
By 2050, it is estimated that almost 70% of the world’s population will live in cities, making the concept of sustainable communities an efficient (and vital) resolution to the growing urban population. There are a few cities around the world working on innovative projects to reduce their emissions. Here are a few examples:
In Milan, Italy, developers are looking upwards for solutions to the climate crisis. Architects have created a “vertical forest” on two residential tower blocks. Housing 800 trees, 4,500 shrubs and 15,000 plants, the “forest” covers an area equivalent to the size of three and a half football pitches when laid flat. Cities in Switzerland, The Netherlands and China are developing similar projects.
The 15-Minute City
The average citizen in the US and the EU spends more than 200 hours a year commuting. In 2018, passenger vehicles composed 45.1% of transport emissions in the US. The “15-minute city” model aims to promote accessibility to essential urban services, making them less than a 15-minute walk away. This would make cities more sustainable and convenient, improving the mobility and wellbeing of residents. Some cities are working to make this a reality, with Melbourne leading the way – it wants residents to always be within easy reach of things like shops, business services, education or leisure facilities.
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Following decades of urbanisation, overexploitation and pollution, China is now experiencing a serious water shortage and flooding crisis, made worse by climate change. To tackle these water-related issues, several cities in China are turning to “sponge cities,” green spaces that can naturally retain and filter water that aim to control and mitigate flooding, water pollution and water scarcity.
Commuters in places like Dubai, Beijing and Switzerland have brand new public transport systems that they can take to work. People in Istanbul, Mexico City and Los Angeles have been riding buses that have their own lanes. Due to COVID-19, other cities around the world have taken the opportunity to make public transport systems more accessible. In Berlin, for example, 22 km of new bike lanes suddenly appeared, while in Athens, Greece, there are plans to allocate 50,000 square metres of public space for cyclists and pedestrians. More cities need to become more pedestrian and bicycle-friendly to encourage a shift away from greenhouse gas-emitting vehicles.
Creating Green Spaces
Regeneration projects are popping up all around the world in an attempt to make urban spaces more green. For example, in Bangkok, an old elevated railway line has been turned into a city park. Cities can use abandoned buildings to build vertical green spaces, or turn overgrown fields into public parks.
Overall, there are plenty of solutions that cities can implement to green its spaces and mitigate the climate crisis. However, it is vital that these solutions are implemented sooner rather than later to stave off the worst effects of the climate crisis.
Featured image by: Unsplash