Posted by Olive Heffernan on behalf of Paty Romero-Lankao
Cities play key and diverse roles in the climate change arena. Regarding mitigation, a high proportion of energy, industrial and transportation emissions is generated by urban areas. Although most of the electricity and fuels are produced outside cities, they are aimed at satisfying cities’ “thirst” of energy. Therefore, urban areas place a huge burden not only on the absorptive capacity of the local environment; they also influence wide patterns of energy and land use in the surrounding and more distant areas, in the livelihoods and quality of life of people living outside cities’ boundaries.
As of vulnerability and adaptation, urban centers concentrate a large proportion of coastal and other populations most at risk from the effects of climate change (IPCC Summary for Policy Makers). The need for urban and local authorities and civil groups to develop actions to reduce greenhouse gases is part of the agenda of several cities in United States, Europe, Asia and Latin America (www.iclei.org). Yet, the need to act to increase cities’ capacity to adapt to climate change and to understand the mechanisms to increase their resilience is not so well established, especially in developing countries. The irony here is that many of the urban areas more vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change are those with almost negligible contributions to the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. For instance, each citizen of Los Angeles emits an average of 15.6 tons CO2 e. These amounts are huge when compared to amounts in Mexico City, where each inhabitant releases four times less than in Los Angeles (3.6 tons CO2 e). If we multiply the per capita numbers by the total population, then Los Angeles and Mexico City emit 234 and 64.8 million Tons per year respectively (See footnote 1).
At the same time, cities are centers of diverse kinds of innovations (including technological innovation) that may contribute to de-carbonizing our societies and making them more sustainable and resilient. Only through the transformation of the infrastructure, especially transport, and the use of power in cities’ buildings, in the behavior, and in the production and consumption patterns of their residents, will it be possible to reduce greenhouse gases. Furthermore, urban centers might cope with the impacts of climate related events by introducing changes in the availability of water and other natural resources, in environmental conditions, and in buildings characteristics. There are examples of well governed cities, which have introduced actions to ensure the provision of infrastructure and services, and urban planning and management that reduces the vulnerability of people, industries and infrastructures. Yet, those cases are exceptional, and adaptation practices which increase cities’ resilience are taking place on a very limited basis (IPCC Summary for Policy Makers).
Romero Lankao, P. 2007: “Are we missing the point? Particularities of urbanization, sustainability and carbon emissions in Latin American cities”, Environment and Urbanization Volume 19, No. 1, pp.159-175
Hunt, J. (2004), “How can cities mitigate and adapt to climate change?, Building, research and information 32(1), p.55