Global Mayors Start Acting Upon UN’s Sustainable City Manual

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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.

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China’s Urban Low Carbon Future in Shanghai

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SHANGHAI–The Shanghai Expo officially closed yesterday with pomp, circumstance, and a confirmation of the city as the planet’s primary hope for a low-carbon future.

“Eco-friendly development and dissemination of renewable energy sources and new materials will influence the way we live and will lead the course of industrial development in the future,” said China’s Premier Wen Jiabao to the closing Expo Summit contingent of domestic and foreign dignitaries (eight heads of state), Nobel Prize winners and business leaders. 

The World Expo, the world’s largest in history with 73 million attending, for the first time in 159 years focused on cities, sustainable ones that is. China’s plans for 350-600 million more urban residents by 2050 threatens to tip the earth’s scales in terms of climate change and the economy so much that China is now focused on a fifth global industrial wave: the low-carbon or green economy.

“The low-carbon economy is a new industrial revolution,” said Sir Nicholas Stern, Chairman of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics. “Low-carbon growth is cleaner, safer, far more attractive while high-carbon growth will kill itself. China is well placed for this industrial revolution.”

Stern, author of the groundbreaking 2006 “Stern Review: the Economics of Climate Change”, was referring to China’s new national pilot program announced thus summer by its all-powerful National Development Reform Commission for five low-carbon provinces and eight low-carbon cities.

One of the low-carbon cities, Baoding, for instance, within the last three years added 20,000 new jobs in wind, PV solar ( the city of one million is home to Yingli Solar, among other renewable start-ups), and other renewable energy technologies. It’s also the site of large-scale energy efficiency and renewable energy installations in everything from building-integrated solar to streetlights. The new national pilot programs are expected to pick up the pace and provide a template for the rest of the nation’s provincial and city low-carbon transformations.

Throughout its six-month run, the Shanghai Expo featured numerous forums on urban sustainability. Meanwhile, its pavilions employed many new green technologies in design and architecture. More than 500 new technologies in solar, heat pumps, energy efficiency, transportation and advanced material were developed as part of the Expo, according to ShiFang Tang, Technical Office Vice Director for the Shanghai Expo Bureau.

The massive China Pavilion and the country’s “theme” pavilions on sustainable cities and urban best practices repeatedly and effectively emphasized how the challenges of climate change, pollution and growing consumer consumption can be met with more advanced urban planning, green technology innovation and citizen education.

The displays and creativity were the best I’ve experienced, anywhere, in terms of sustainability information, education and multi-media. For instance, one entire building was devoted to four real families living in the cities of four different contenents, Australia, North America, Africa and China. The exhibit demonstrated through video, waxed figures (the mostly Chinese crowds especially loved these) and other physical displays demonstrating how each family lived and what they did for work, fun, school. At the same time it taught people experiencing the multi-level walk-through how much each family consumed in terms of resources, even land, and how that impacted climate change: carbon or ecological footprinting education for the masses.

The takeaway is that China is serious about climate change as a threat to the world and itself, and it intends to capitalize on this inevitability with all its might. China’s National Development Reform Commission’s low carbon pilot projects comprise 27 percent of the nation’s population, and about one-third of its total economic output. The new low-carbon pilot projects span not only provincial and city planning and operations, but also industrial, economic and social planning, including education. In short, the whole ball of wax: “China will accelerate the model of sustainable development where nature, the planet and people can survive and thrive,” said China’s Premier Wen Jiabao at the Expo Summit’s closing ceremonies.

It will be a tough path, indeed. Only one day after industrial controls were lifted that were in place for six months during the Expo in order to reduce regional air pollution, the air quality in Shanghai has already gone from crystal clear to disturbingly smoggy. As Stern pointed out to a rapt audience at the Shanghai Expo Summit, China will need to reduce its projected total greenhouse gas emissions from 35 billion tons in 2030 to 20 billion tons by 2050 if the world will have any chance of realizing the 2 degree Celsius maximum global temperature increase agreed to with the 2009 Copenhagen Accord.

China, if it continues on its current trajectory of yearly greenhouse gas emission increases, will by 2030, according to Stern, account for 50 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas “budget” under Copenhagen while being home to only 17-18 percent of the world’s population.

“New green investments will help China continue its lead in the green race that has already begun,” Stern predicted. “Green policies are at the heart of the 12th Five-year Plan (the nation’s economic master plan for the near future, a new version which was recently drafted), showing the world what is possible.”

Meanwhile, Shanghai, China’s largest and most cosmopolitan city, is deconstructing many of its Expo buildings for reuse in other parts of the nation, and also for other bidders outside China so that its Expo theme of “Better City, Better Life” gets a second and maybe even more lives. 

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current, an internationally active consultancy based in San Anselmo, California. He is a Fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute and co-author of a forthcoming United Nations manual on global sustainable city planning and management. 

 

 

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Post Carbon Reader Hits the Shelves

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The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century’s Sustainability Crises from Watershed Media and the University of California Press hit bookstores this week. The compendium of 35 experts explores how previously
unimaginable advances in health, wealth, and technology, fed an
explosion in population and consumption that came at an
incredible cost.

Climate change, peaking oil, freshwater depletion,
species extinction, and a host of economic and social problems now
challenge us as never before. Writers including Bill McKibben, Richard Heinberg, Sandra Postel, Wes Jackson and others (including myself), explore not only causes in the 523 pages, but lay out detailed “post-carbon” solutions, many which are inter-related.

According to Lester R. Brown, President of the Earth Policy Institute and founder of Worldwatch Institute, “For a comprehensive, integrated overview of the relationship between the human species and its planetary home circa 2010, look no further. The Post Carbon Reader is an invaluable primer, resource, and textbook. This is what you need to know–period.”

Most of the authors are Post Carbon Fellows at the Post Carbon Institute (PCI), which is based in Santa Rosa, California, where author and Senior PCI Fellow Richard Heinberg also lives.

PCI “fellowed” me early last year, when I began work on my contribution to the Reader, a chapter titled, “The Death of Sprawl: Designing Urban Resilience for the 21st Century Resource and Climate Crises.” (pdf) This chapter takes a look at how cheap oil and the financial industry created an unsustainable explosion of suburban and exurban sprawl, driving the US economy over a cliff with the still ongoing 2007-201? foreclosure crisis.

About 25 of 29 PCI fellows gathered for the first time together or participated electronically in a two-day event held in Berkeley, California earlier this year.

The results of the event included a forthcoming mission statement that
was co-authored by nine different subgroups. My group on cities also
consisted of Johns Hopkins professor Brian Schwartz, City University of New
York professor (and former New York City green building standard
originator) Hillary Brown, and transportation expert Anthony Perl,
author of Transport Revolutions: Moving People and Freight Without Oil.

We
contributed concepts around “bioregionally grounded human communities”
based on non-automotive transportation options, human-scaled
neighborhoods and regionally produced sustainable food and energy. 

Much like the Club of Rome’s 1972 treatise, The Limits to Growth, the work of PCI fellows now presents a publicly available collective analysis of where we are, where we are headed and what our options might be in terms of climate, biodiversity, economies, cities, food, energy, culture, population, health, education, transportation and developing better resilience.

Most importantly, thanks to editors Heinberg and Daniel Lerch, The Post Carbon Reader illustrates inter-relationships among these categories, instead of just providing a laundry list of issues and challenges.

I discovered, for instance, that the chapter I wrote was reinforced by Sandra Postel’s chapter on water, “Water, Adapting to a New Normal”, (pdf) where we both examined how solar thermal power plants in the desert Southwest require surprising amounts of water. Same with my chapter and chapters by Tom Whipple, “Peak Oil and the Great Recession”, David Fridley, “Nine Challenges of Alternative Energy”, and Dr. Peter Whybrow’s, “Dangerously Addictive: Why We are Biologically ill-suited to the Riches of Modern America.”

Kudos to PCI executive director Asher Miller and my old friend, Daniel Imhoff, publisher of Watershed Media, for pulling off what may be a milestone in post-Great Recession sustainability thinking, hopefully spurring others to action in order to bring us back into balance with our beleaguered natural world.

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current,
an internationally active consultancy based in San Anselmo, California. He is a Fellow at the
Post-Carbon Institute and co-author of
a forthcoming United Nations manual on global sustainable city planning and management. 

   
 

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Urban Sustainability Focus of Shanghai Expo

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Danish Pavilion, Shanghai Expo

Sure, the Shanghai World Expo might be the largest World Fair in history, with more than 70 million expected, the majority of visitors coming from China. With the theme of “Better City, Better Life,” the Expo will also be thick with urban sustainability related proceedings and exhibits during its May to October gestation.

Shanghai is officially China’s largest city, a metro area of more than 18 million that competes with the capital for national prominence (Beijing has an official metro population of 13 million). From Opium Wars and cunning “Green Gangs” (not those Greens!), Shanghai’s economy has emerged as the international polestar for service and information industries

Like other cities approaching 20 million, planning for global climate change and adaptation is of concern. Shanghai is examining how information and communications technologies (ICT) enable low-carbon management; Seoul, Amsterdam and San Francisco similarly have piloted “Connected Urban Development” projects designed by Cisco and MIT over the past few years, mostly in transportation demand management (broadband enabled work centers, handheld transit alerts).  

The Expo marks the first time that buzzing Shanghai, and thus China, has publicly focused so much attention on the issue of urban sustainability, in one venue. China’s urban population is expected to go from more than 600 million in 2009 to more than 1 billion by 2030.

Shanghai Expo Bureau events are orchestrated by China’s national leaders. The Bureau addresses climate change and low-carbon development through the exploration of applied information and communication technologies in the service of sustainability management. The event, referred to as the “Economic Olympics,” is a happening staged with great investment: $55 billion

During a soft launch period in April, officials examined how to make nearby Chongming Island into a low-carbon development. An Expo “ICT and Urban Development” forum earlier in May covered “social responsibilities” as they apply to smart + digital (IT-driven) urban areas.

IBM and Metropolis will be exploring ICT enabled urban management solutions as part of a “Smarter Cities” forum in Shanghai (loosely affiliated with the Expo) on June 2-3. Topics of consideration will include: energy and utilities, water, transportation, healthcare and public safety.  

The Climate Group, Metropolis and Cisco–in conjunction with the Shanghai Expo Bureau– jointly host Partnership for Urban Innovation (PDF) on June 17-18. The two day invite-only confab will cover “Urban Design and Networked Development,” “Sustainable Cities: Challenges and Solutions,” and “Smart and Connected Urban Mobility.”

San Francisco will highlight its urban best practices in sustainability on June 17-25 at the Expo. As a sister city of Shanghai, it is the only US city that Shanghai provided a week for a dedicated display (though Vancouver also boasts an Expo pavilion, also green themed). A delegation from the Bay Area including US Senator Dianne Feinstein and Fog City Mayor Gavin Newsom will be part of a Green Energy Seminar in June that will be broadcast throughout China on China Business Network TV. 

Forums on transportation, energy, waste management, water, health services and housing will occur throughout the Expo, leading to a green exit. A thematic week ending October 31, 2010, is devoted to sustainability management in megacities. The Expo finale will also consider the role of an ICT-enabled green economy as it simultaneously emerges in global markets, developing nation cities, and of course, Shanghai.

Warren Karlenzig is president
of Common Current, an
internationally active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. He is
author
of
How Green
is Your
City? The SustainLane US City Rankings
and a Fellow at the Post
Carbon
Institute
.

 

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Release of California Innovation Index: The Green Economy Lives

I went to a release in San Francisco the other night celebrating NEXT 10‘s new 2009 California Innovation Index, which is the premier report tracking the emergence of the Green Economy in the Golden State.

The report, authored by Mountain View, CA-based Collaborative Economics, has found that green sector job growth has outpaced other job growth by a 10 to 1 factor in California. Venture capital for clean tech in California reached $3.3 billion, accounting for 57% of the nation’s total.

California is the leader in solar, wind and battery patents, and has been 68% more productive than the rest of the nation per unit of energy in producing Gross Domestic Product.

2008-01_sf_solar_incentive.jpgSan Francisco city solar installation, Moscone Center

What does all this mean? More jobs nationally will be the bottom line result of the carbon reductions the nation is trying to achieve: The Obama Administration has said it will use the California model of climate change regulations–from alternative fuel vehicle standards to more efficient electricity use–in order to reduce greenhouse gases by 80% in 2050 from 1990 levels.

Which makes sense, as the precedent-setting California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 set the national stage (and Obama’s 80% 2050 reduction target) for a large-scale effort to reduce carbon through the greening of industry, transportation, land use and planning, and energy use.

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