Cities: It’s Time to Step Up

We need to create more sustainable urban living areas if we want our planet to survive.

It’s been five years since the Paris Agreement was signed and science tells us that as of 2020 we have only ten years left to halve global emissions to avoid catastrophic climate change. And although the Paris Agreement was a deal struck between nations, in order to meet it much of the changes need to occur at the local levels. Currently half of humanity — 3.5 billion people — lives in cities and 5 billion people are projected to live in cities by 2030. To understand why environmental initiatives need to happen at the local level, consider the following facts from the UN:

  • The world’s cities occupy just 3 percent of the earth’s land, but account for 60–80 percent of energy consumption and 75 percent of carbon emissions.
  • Rapid urbanization is exerting pressure on fresh water supplies, sewage, the living environment, and public health.
  • Cities account for between 60 and 80 percent of energy consumption and generate as much as 70% of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions

To create more sustainable urban living areas, city planners and municipal governments can look at the strategies that more progressive and sustainable cities have followed to combat climate change. Copenhagen has focused on a variety of energy reduction methods and is set to become the world’s first carbon neutral capital by 2025. San Francisco has drastically reduced water consumption in the past few years as it dealt with droughts and has improved energy efficiency in its buildings and transit systems. And Vancouver, on the forefront of the green movement for decades, has committed to getting 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050.

Beyond becoming more green, cities also need to focus on other ESG factors, balancing people, profit, and planet. Although Vancouver is considered one of the world’s most eco-friendly cities, the high cost of living makes it unaffordable to the average Canadian and has led to a high rate of homelessness in the city that has increased over the past decade.

Although a few cities are on the leading edge of mitigation, reduction and sustainability efforts while also balancing people, planet, and profit, most don’t know how they are performing, nor are they rising to the occasion. Cities need to recognize the role they need to play in combating climate change while also recognizing that their city’s needs are unique — there is no one-size-fits-all solution. How each city fares in terms of its contributions to the Paris Agreement and hence, the planet, will significantly depend on the decisions and investments cities make in infrastructure, building code regulations, support for the reuse/ fix-it/ recycle culture and how they obtain and use their energy. Ultimately it will come down to changing citizens’ attitudes around how what we do in our urban spaces will affect the planet in the years to come.

Municipal governments can take advantage of the work of non-profits like CDP, that help cities discover and disclose their environmental impact. And tools like Riddl allow urban planners and municipal government workers to input environmental impact indicators into the Riddl workspace to track and share progress reports with municipal government officials.

The tools for saving the planet do exist. It’s time for cities to step up and use them.

Written for Riddl by Jill Mersereau

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