Cities win big in leaked agenda for UN Rio+20


A leaked agenda for the United Nations Rio+20 conference places urban sustainability in a major role for UN member nation Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) put forth for ratification this June. The document acknowledges that cities are on par with nations in terms of implementing and measuring sustainability progress over the next 18
years–the-make-or-break period for mitigating and adapting to global
climate change.

The Rio+20 agenda, leaked today in the UK’s The Guardian under the Ogilvy Mather
promoted slogan “The Future We Want,” lays out ten areas for new
Sustainable Development Goals that will be released in Rio; urban sustainability is one of the key goals (other nine major categories include climate change, food security, water, green jobs, oceans, natural disasters, forests and biodiversity, mountains, and chemicals and waste).

The Rio+20 draft agenda states: “We recognize the need to integrate sustainable urban development policy as a key component of national sustainable development policy and, in this regard, to empower local authorities….We recognize that partnerships among cities have emerged as a leading force for action on sustainable development. We commit to support international cooperation among local authorities, including through assistance from international organizations.”

Officially, the
UN Conference on Sustainable Development,follow-up to the historic UN 1992 “Earth Summit,” also held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, isdedicated to marshalling the global Green Economy.

The leaked 19-page agenda calls for major global actions in financing, policy, technology implementation and collaboration in the face of global climate change and economic turmoil, developing-nation poverty and climate-exacerbated natural disasters. Continue reading


Global Mayors Start Acting Upon UN’s Sustainable City Manual


After providing the curriculum for training urban leaders from 12 Southeast and
Central Asian nations a few weeks ago (Manila, Philippines is pictured above), the United Nations is now globally launching the full content of the Shanghai Manual:A Guide for Sustainable Urban Development in the 21st Century.

The free publication features 47 global urban sustainability case studies and dozens of timely policy recommendations, especially when one considers the lack of global climate treaties due to tactics of “delaying nations” at the Durban climate talks, including the US. Instead, the Shanghai Manual is a practical tool intended to help the world’s major and medium-sized cities in developing nationsfurther advance their local green economies. The ”green economy” is also the key theme of the 2012 United Nations Conference on
Sustainable Development, known as Rio+20.

  Continue reading


Death of Sprawl: Past and Future


Seems like my chapter “The Death of Sprawl” from The Post Carbon Reader is taking on a life of its own. Friday, Christopher Leinberger had an Op-ed in the New York Times, titled “Death of the Fringe Suburb,” which built upon concepts I had published (and sent Leinberger last year) namely, that the US mortgage crisis and Recession were set off by upsidedown economics of sprawl speculation in US exurbs or “Boomburbs” and we can’t ever do that again.

The site Adapturbia also recently put together a nifty visual presentation of “The Death of Sprawl” that localized my content to provide context for sprawl issues confronting Sydney, Australia.

What’s important here is that the research and the real estate sales figures are becoming ever clearer: people increasingly prefer to live in mixed-use, transit-oriented walkable and bikeable neighborhoods over drive-everywhere bedroom communities. Those preferences will not change and we will not go back, which is affirmed by the abandoned exurban housing and development that are fast becoming the nation’s newest slums: for the first time in the nation’s history, suburban poverty now outweighs urban poverty.

One need only take a look at the foreclosure heavy areas such as California’s Inland Empire: my chapter provided a case study of Victorville, CA, one of the last gasps of the residential car-centered Boomburb economy of the 1990s and early 2000s.

Leinberger’s piece hit on the changing real estate taste in demographics (retired Boomers and upcoming Millennials) while my thesis examined how cheap energy fueled nearly 100% car-dependent exurban growth. We both concluded that denser, mixed-use metro areas are the wise investments of the future because: more people want to live that way so that is where investment will occur. Developers know that strip malls, sidewalk-less mini-mansions and business parks that cater to cars only are poison in this economy. Continue reading


UN’s Shanghai Manual Launches to Guide Urban Futures

expo carbon.JPG

A powerful triumvirate,
the United Nations, Bureau International Des
and the mayor of Shanghai, released this week the Shanghai Manual:A Guide for Sustainable Urban Development in the 21st Century.This timely (and free!) manual is
aimed at helping leaders of the world’s cities use integrated urban
planning, management, financing and technology to green their
economies and build climate and economic resilience.

“The Shanghai Manual details
the experience and practices of cities across the world in addressing common
challenges and achieving harmonious development…and is therefore of great
theoretical and practical value,” Shanghai Mayor Han Zheng said at
Monday’s launch, according to the Shanghai Daily.

Aimed at a
target readership of mayors and executive leaders of developing nation cities,
the bilingual (English and Chinese) Shanghai
is the basis for capacity building and training being rolled out in Asia next week by the United Nations. City leaders representing 12 Asian nations will attend the United Nations Center for Regional Development in
Nagoya, Japan, where UN officials and I will lead urban sustainability training
for leaders ranging from Colombo, Sri Lanka, to Karachi, Pakistan,
to Makati (Manila), Philippines. In addition smaller cities including Chiang Mai, Thailand are participating.

Continue reading


UN Rio+20 Agenda Galvanizes to Sustainable Cities


As Rio+20 takes shape (officially, the United Nations
Conference on Sustainable Development,follow-up to the historic UN 1992 “Earth Summit,”held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil),the issue of sustainable cities appears to be
taking center stage in planning for the June 2012 event dedicated to marshalling the global Green Economy.

“Cities provide a great framework to galvanize public
opinion and citizen participation,” said Jared Blumenfeld, Administrator of
Region 9 of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “Cities also have a
lot in common: New York and Beijing have more in common in terms of challenges
they face than do the US and China.”

On the road to Rio, the UN’s “Shanghai Manual for Sustainable Cities”will be released by the UN Department of
Economic and Social Affairs on Nov. 7 as a playbook for mayors of global cities
so they can deploy triple bottom line strategies (I co-authored the manual with
the UN). Blumenfeld, who spoke last week at the Commonwealth Club in San
Francisco, said that the US Department of State and EPA are preparing by next week a Rio+20 submittal that is “cities focused.” (Previously, the United States and Brazil
recently announced the US-Brazil Joint Venture on Urban Sustainability.) Meanwhile, non-governmental organization Ecocity Builders has begun high-level discussions with the UN
and NGOs ICLEI and C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group,
on potential Rio+20 standards for ecocities including the International Ecocity
Framework and Standards

Out of the 1992 Earth Summit,with 110 heads of state and thousands of
non-governmental leaders, emerged pivotal treaties and frameworks for decades to
come, including the Kyoto Protocol
and Agenda 21.
Other products of the first Earth Summit include the Global Environmental
at the World Bank,
and national sustainability agendas in 86 countries based off Agenda 21,
according to Jacob Scherr, director of global strategy and advocacy for the
Natural Resources Defense Council. Continue reading


UN’s New Sustainable City Effort Starts With Asia


2010 Shanghai Expo Closing Summit

We all need to reinvent urban planning for the 21st

Never has the need been greater for integration across urban management,
systems, experts, policies and technologies.The world is rapidly becoming more urban,
especially in Asia, where hundreds of millions have begun moving to cities.This massive migration, largest
in human history, will produce colossal impacts–including innovation–in energy use, transportation,
housing, water and resource use. Economies will be impacted at every scale, especially beyond burgeoning metro areas in national and global markets.

Add climate change and adaptation issues to the development
of Asian cities, where more than 50 percent of global greenhouse gas emission
increases are expected to occur over the next 15 years,
and we are faced with the urgency–and opportunity–to reinvent urban planning. Planning for the
future of cities needs to now embody a process combining sustainability
strategies with information and communications technologies (ICT), supported by the
sciences (natural + social) in concert with engaged participation: from the
slum to the boardroom to the ivory tower.

Continue reading


Cities and Smart Grids: latest from US and China

smart grid3.jpg

The internet, distributed renewable energy, electric
vehicles and energy management are ready to coalesce: the impact on cities and
our lives will be profound. The US-China
Green Energy Conference (sponsored by the US-China Green Energy Council) held Friday in the Silicon Valley took a deep bi-national dive
into what smart grids are and what they will mean for so-called smart cities,
their wired citizenry and the future of global carbon emissions.

Smart grid specifics are finally starting to emerge from
the marketing haze. They will rely heavily on smart buildings, and are a
critical solution in making renewable energy more scalable through more
efficient energy transmission systems. Cities
like Dubuque, Iowa are working with 1,000 residents to test smart grid
applications and have reportedly lowered their water use by 6% in early trials
with IBM

Elsewhere, China is testing a four-square kilometer smart
grid pilot area in its national urban eco showcase, Tianjin Eco-City. The smart
grid includes a 30kw PV solar microgrid on the roof of the Tianjin “Eco-City Business Hall,”
where residents will be able to charge their electric vehicles while they view
virtual reality demonstrations of how the smart grid works, including its
“self-healing” capabilities within the Eco-City’s network.

In terms of renewable energy, smart grids will be a killer
app. Right now, when the wind completely dies in larger areas of wind power
generation, such as the West Texas plains, the transmission system supplying
electricity to cities, including Austin and Dallas, suffers a “mad scramble,”
according to Liang Min, of the US Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). In fact, according
to Chuck Wells from OSISoft, such power hiccups are currently so disruptive, that 45% more fossil fuel is
needed to back up regional energy grids having large-scale wind and solar
generation versus regional grids that rely only on fossil fuels.

On the home or business side, people are responsible for
about 30% of a typical building’s energy system performance, said John Skinner,
Managing Director of Intel’s Open Energy initiative. The more reliable information people have,
the more likely they can make smart decisions about energy use, and the more
likely they can pay less for energy than they do with analog meters (the ones
with the wheels turning inside them).

Energy transactions will become more transparent through
next-generation smart grid transaction languages, such as TeMIX which was
presented to the US-China energy conference by Edward Cazalet, CEO of TeMIX. Cazalet’s presentation reminded me of how the internet
was optimized when TCP/ IP, the unifying data transfer protocols behind the web,
were created. The capability for energy systems to use a unified language
around energy use and transactions will be critical. This language will allow governments,
businesses and residents to better manage their energy consumption. Currently,
energy costs can  vary tremendously based
on factors including climate, usage and equipment, costing as much as five times or more during
peak hours. Few people outside of large businesses realize they can
cut energy costs dramatically by changing their behavior, which can be as
straightforward as running energy
guzzling appliances during off-peak hours.

None of this means that smart meters are a panacea. In
cities throughout California, smart meters have been rolled out clumsily by the
utility Pacific Gas and Electric
After four years of replacing residential and business analog meters with wireless smart
meters, a vocal and well-organized group
of citizens are objecting to the continuous signals they transmit. Others
object based on invasion of privacy or fear the new meters would overcharge
them. PG&E has finally gotten around to a public education program extolling
the benefits of smart meters, which they say are mandatory for their
customers. Besides the heavy handedness,
even with the new PR campaign, PG&E has not made the case for compelling
consumer benefits.

Consolidated Edison of New York City, on the other hand has managed their
smart meter pilot program more effectively. Con Ed ran an extensive public
education program and transparent opt-out option for those that did not want
smart meters (2% did not want them) on their home or business for their New
York City pilot program
. The
utility offered participants in its pilot program rebates of $25-50. Six rate
structures with hourly rate changes and a web-based consumer dashboard
explained and demonstrated different rates, according to EPRI’s Liang Min.

Many companies including Microsoft, Cisco, Intel, General
Electric and Google are eyeing the nascent smart grid for its potential not
just to make cities more eco-efficient, but for also for lucrative smart-grid
revenue streams as they penetrate the last major untapped digital pathway into our lives.

“We are cooperating with many high tech companies,” Kai Xie,
General Manager of the US Office of the China State Grid told the US-China Energy
Conference. “We have also developed some in-house products for our customers,
including a dashboard (with Intel) as part of a two-way communication combined
smart meter and consumer portal. “

Our information, communications, photographs, entertainment
and medical industries are all now increasingly digital, and soon our energy
will be digitized, too. Let’s hope the planet and our cities will benefit from a smooth and well thought out transformation.

Karlenzig is president of Common
. He is a fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute,  and co-author of
forthcoming United Nations manual on global sustainable city planning and