From Singapore’s high tech congestion management system to New York’s
PlaNYC 2030 to Yokohama’s zero-carbon emissions goal, the future greening of
cities is becoming our global “Plan A” for survival–economic and
species–and will be the topic of the “Global Green Cities” conference in San
Francisco, Feb. 23-25. The invitation-only event will mash up top planners,
designers, strategists, technologists, mayors and financiers on how design,
technology and behavior can facilitate the cross-fertilization of critical
ideas and perspectives.
By now most have heard that cities will be the century’s
Rosetta Stone to mitigating the resource depletion and carbon emissions of
humanity. China alone will add 400-700 million people to its cities by 2050.
Developing nation urban growth is set to double by 2030 the urban footprint
that existed way back in 2000.
If you are old enough to read these words, you will be living in a whole new world than
the one in which you grew up.
The global cities of 2030 will be created with ten
times the speed it took to cobble together the global cities of 2000, which has
acute sustainability implications. That’s why international organizations
ranging from the United Nations to Natural Resources Defense Council are
feverishly creating strategic plans and training for green city innovation
including energy supply and energy efficiency, land use and planning, green
building, water supply and use, food supply and production, green
infrastructure, and enabling information and communications technologies.
The financial sector is well aware that 90 percent of
urban economic growth will come in developing nations, so the leaders of The
World Bank, the IMF and private banks and investment firms are scrambling to
integrate financing in a dizzying array of new life-cycle costing instruments,
revenue sharing agreements and public-private partnerships.
Consider Guangzhou’s new bus rapid transit system (photo above, Karl Fjelstrom), now the
largest in Asia, or Mexico City’s Metrobus system. Both were supported by
private foundations, while Mexico City’s Metrobus also garnered support from an
international and Mexican non-governmental organization. Green economic innovation
is not just occurring in developing nation cities. San Francisco was able to
achieve a leadership role in solar energy projects through a voter-supported
bond measure, while Berkeley created its groundbreaking residential PV solar
financing program through a mortgage-like approach that cuts costs
and financial risks for homeowners.
Global Green Cities will host breakout sessions on the:
design of livable, compact, transit oriented
technologies of digital, efficient and
low-carbon urban systems;
behaviors and lifestyles of the urbanite
A “Breakout Synthesis” will focus on how planning,
technology and behavior can provide a specific vision for the future.
In a wrap-up discussion of the Global Green Cities plenary
session, I will address the issue “Enabling the Green City of the Future,”
which will look at best practices and driving change in finance, policy and
business. On Friday Feb. 25, the conference goes off-site to study planning for
sea level rises caused by climate change. It will also analyze California’s
planning for its landmark state climate change bill of 2006, AB 32, and its
companion, SB 375, a historic land use planning law trying to prevent further
exurban sprawl while enabling denser, transit-oriented development in existing
Many others are invited, and I will provide another post reviewing this seminal symposium.
One last sober observation. By all appearances, there
appears to be no “Plan B.”
Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current. He is a fellow at the
Post-Carbon Institute, strategic adviser to the Institute for Strategic Resilience and co-author ofa forthcoming United Nations manual on global sustainable city planning and management.
This weekend I’m attending the Shanghai Expo Summit Forum as part of a United Nations delegation. The Oct. 31 event,
which will be on “Urban Innovation and Sustainable Development,” will mark the close
of the largest World’s Fair in history: more than 70 million have visited the
Expo (the Osaka, Japan, World Fair of 1970 attracted 64 million) where a record
two hundred countries are exhibiting through Sunday.
The Shanghai Expo has been targeting
sustainable cities throughout its six-month run. Developing nations such as
China and India will be the focus of not only emerging strategic sustainability
frameworks, but also of large-scale financial, technology system and cultural
innovation, all of which will constantly intersect with new ways of managing
resources and mitigating and adapting to climate change.
About 2,000 are invited to the fair’s closing ceremonies, including heads of state, governors, mayors, Nobel Prize recipients and CEOs: China will be represented by Premier Wen Jiabao, while Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will appear for the UN. The Obama Administration is sending Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council for Environmental Quality, to present on “Green Development and Ecological Cities.” Former World Bank economist Nicholas Stern, author of the pivotal 2006, “Economics of Climate Change,” (The Stern Review) will also speak.
Stern asserted that with one-percent investment worldwide in climate change mitigating technologies and development, estimated climate change-related damage to the global economy in the 5 to 14 percent range will be avoided.
Other sessions at the Shanghai
Expo Summit Forum will include:
Knowledge Innovation and Cultural Cities
Science and Technology Innovation and
Economic Transformation and Sustainable
Community Management and Livable Cities
Youth Creativity and Future Cities
This year I’ve
been collaborating with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social
Affairs, which has been preparing for the Summit Forum with Premier Wen Jiabao
and the National Organizing Committee of Expo 2010 Shanghai China. Together,
with the input of other UN agencies and the World Bank, we have been writing the Shanghai Training Manual on
Sustainable Urban Development. The publication will come out in May 2011 as
one of two “legacies of thematic substance” from the Shanghai Expo, the other
being “The Shanghai Declaration,” which will be released at the Summit.
The “Shanghai Manual” will be an
instrument for knowledge sharing and capacity building for cities around the
globe as they struggle to tackle the economic, social and environmental
challenges of the 21st century. The largest challenge will be the
result of China’s expected increase in urban population from nearly 50 percent
of its 1.3 billion citizens to about 75 percent of its total population by 2050:
that means 400-700 million people will settle into China’s cities in the next
four decades, mostly from rural areas of China.
Such unprecedented growth in
developing-nation cities prompted the Shanghai Manual to analyze the
intersection of sustainability management and urban planning with the emerging green
economy, science and technology innovation,
management and governance approaches, as well as traditional environmental management
sectors, such as transportation and land use planning, solid waste management
and wastewater management.
The Shanghai Manual will address
topics covered by previous Shanghai Expo urban sustainability forums that have
been held in and around Shanghai since its opening in May (which has an
overarching theme of “Better City, Better Life,”):
and communication technologies and urban development
heritage, creative cities and urban regeneration
and technology innovation and urban futures
carbon cities: environmental protection and urban responsibilities
carbon economic transformation
campus; better living: learning for a sustainable future
transformations and urban-rural relationships
change and city responsibility
urban governance and sustainable lifestyles
Mayors from North America appearing will
include Vancouver’s Gregor Robertson, who announced a year ago the goal of
attempting to make the Canadian city “the greenest in the world.”
By 2015, according to the UN,
Shanghai will be the seventh largest city in the world, after (in order):
Tokyo, Japan; Mumbai, India; Sao Paulo, Brazil; Mexico City, Mexico; New York,
New York; and Delhi, India. The Shanghai Energy and Environment Exchange, based
in the city’s Pudong District, has 300 companies involved in a market-based
trading system for pollution credits that may become the basis for a city-based
and even national carbon trading platform.
How fitting that China focuses an
international expo on sustainable urban planning in a city that is its largest,
most dynamic example of how climate change, financial markets and urban
planning are merging into an entirely new global socio-economic model.
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 ofa forthcoming United Nations manual on global sustainable city planning and management.
Urban sustainability is
the challenge of the century as more of the world’s population becomes urbanized
(50 percent in 2008, 60 percent by 2030), at an ever-faster rate. Global climate change has been caused in large
part by the burning of fossil fuels to generate energy, materials and food for
metro areas. Yet urban culture also constitutes a powerful response capability
by which to cope with the diminishing socio-economic options forced by climate
change, especially in megacities, metro areas of more than 10 million people.
Upon this tableau, I am collaborating with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs,
in conjunction with other UN agencies (United Nations Environment Program, UN
Development Program, UN Habitat and UN Center for Regional Development) and the
Shanghai World Expo Bureau on a sourcebook for sustainable urban management in developing
The sourcebook will consider sustainability advantages
to urbanization along with disadvantages. It will cover broad topics including
greening the urban economy, effective management, as well as solution sectors (land
use and planning, water, buildings, transportation, information and
communications technologies). Case studies will be provided to illustrate how
solutions have already overcome a host of urgent challenges, or how they may soon be able to help do so.
During the next ten
years, according to the McKinsey Global Institute (pdf), 90 percent of urban population growth will take place in developing
countries. In India, for example, cities are forecast to garner 85 percent or
the nation’s total tax revenue (up from current level of 80 percent), which
will be the primary source for financing economic development on a national
scale. Seventy percent of all new jobs are projected to be created in India’s cities by 2030, though cities are expected by that date to represent only 40 percent
of the nation’s total population.
Besides the threats and risks that megacity
growth poses to global humanity and regional resources, trends in
developing nation megacities will also strongly define emerging economic
opportunities for large-scale low-carbon and resource-efficient technologies,
services and strategic approaches. Whether in Delhi or Mexico City, megacities
are devising more effective methods of integrated sustainability management using
everything from social networks and crowdsourcing, to paticipatory budgeting and comprehensive green planning.
Cities are the most powerful economic engines in the world for advances in
information and communications technologies, health care, education and energy
systems. These combined capacities have provided urban areas with
anywhere from 55 percent (developing nations) to 85 percent (developed nations)
of total national income, significantly surpassing per-capita income averages,
and trending even more upward during the next two decades of hyper-urban growth.
Megacities and urbanization, in other words,
should be the cause for global concern that needs to be tempered with concerted
strategy, actions and ultimately, hope for humanity.
The complete United Nations study is expected to be released on
1 May 2011, the first anniversary of the opening of the 2010 Shanghai World
Expo-which has a theme of “Better city, Better life.”
The top ten sustainability stories of the past
decade was my last post.
What trends are likely the next ten years? One thing for sure, 2010 through
2019 will be one day be looked at as 1.) the turning point for addressing climate change
by using effective urban management strategies, or it will be remembered as 2.)
the time when we collectively fumbled the Big Blue Ball.
1. Bikes Culture 2.0
Time period: 2010-2019
Around the world, bicycles are becoming a
potent talisman of our urban post-carbon future. The city of
Copenhagen is making noise to replace the Little Mermaid of Hans Christian
with something two-wheeled. Copenhagen residents use bikes for 37 percent of all their transit. But
bikes in Europe represent more than utility; riding a bicycle with the Velib’
bikeshare program in Paris now easily competes (42 million registered users)
with taking a spring walk along the Seine. Bikesharing abounds in dozens of
European cities as well as in Rio de Janeiro and Santiago, Chile. Look for North American burgs to continue their proliferation of bicycles-as-transit use
and bike lane expansion (NYC bicycle use is up 61% in two years).
Bikesharing on a large scale should follow new programs in Montreal, Washington DC, and Minneapolis. Note to China: time to reclaim your status as the world’s “bicycle kingdom.”
Indoor bicycle parking will be
common in commercial garages and offices
even in businesses like cafes, bars (Gastalt Haus in Fairfax, California, is pictured above), stores and restaurants. On public
transportation bicycles will be allowed access at any time. In short, bicycles
and their riders will become legit, which will influence fashion, the economies
and the design of cities in particular. As musician-turned-bike-rack designer David
Byrne observed in his surprise 2009 bestseller Bicycle
Diaries, US metro areas in particular might have to be re-engineered
completely in some cases to accommodate this massive social transformation:
I try to explore some of these
towns–Dallas, Detroit, Phoenix, Atlanta–by bike and it’s frustrating. The
various parts of town are often “connected”–if one can call it that–mainly by
freeways, massive awe-inspiring concrete ribbons that usually kill the
neighborhoods they pass through, and often the ones they are supposed to
connect as well.
2. Mexico City, Climate Change, and the Future of Cities
Time Period: November-December
Because “Nopenhagen” was a semi
bust, the Mexico City United Nations Climate Change conference is taking on much bigger proportions than initially envisioned.
The UN COP15 Copenhagen conference resulted in no binding treaty status among
any of the 128 nations that attended for them to reduce global
greenhouse gas emissions. This year’s late fall gathering in Mexico City is likely to set
national binding targets for greenhouse gas emissions. If enacted, these
targets will set the stage the coming entire decade’s greenhouse gas reduction
strategies, including sub-national efforts at the regional and city level.
After disappointment in Copenhagen, UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon lost no time in
preparing for Mexico City, calling on world leaders to sign a
legally binding carbon-emission reduction treaty
and to contribute to a multi-national fund for developing nations that will be
opened this month. Let’s hope such a fund adequately addresses sustainable
urban development in Asian cities, whose currently unregulated hyper-growth is
expected to contribute more than half the world’s greenhouse gas increases
between now and 2027.
3. The Rise of Cellulosic Biofuels
Time Period 2014-2019
Creating conventional biofuels
from corn, soybeans and palm oil as an alternative to petroleum-based gasoline
hit numerous roadblocks in the past decade. Carbon-sequestering rainforests in
Indonesia continue to be burned down for palm oil plantations; this unforeseen
consequence of biofuel demand caused the European Union to back off on large
orders of palm oil.
Another big unintended consequence emerged when crude oil prices rose to record
levels in 2007-2008. Biofuels, including corn-based ethanol created competition
for agricultural land, resulting in an increase in the cost of food staples.
Global corn prices, which biofuels caused to increase an estimated 15% to 27%
in 2007 alone, were especially impacted.
Cellulosic biofuels, in contrast,
offer the promise by the middle of the decade of creating a viable energy
source (one of many that will be needed) from waste products, such as wood waste, grasses, corn stalks, and other
non-food products. The trick will be to balance land use with energy production http://news.mongabay.com/2008/0602-ucsc_rogers_biofuels.html
so that unintended consequences, particularly burning rainforests and urban
food price riots
(Mexico City in 2007 pictured above) will be a thing of the past. Backed by research funding from the Obama Administration’s
US Department of Energy (DOE), companies such as Mascoma Corporation
and Amyris Biotechnologies (with former Amyris founder Jay Keasling now at the helm of the DOE Joint Biosciences Energy Institute) are some
of the current leaders in the quest for a non-food biofuel.
4. The marriage of ICT and Green Cities
Time Period: 2013-2019
Called “the great digital
underbelly” of new and retrofitted sustainable cities by Gordon Feller of Urban
Age, green ICT (information and communications
technologies) holds promise for increasing the energy and resource efficiency of
most aspects of urban development. If these technologies can offset their
operating and production resource impacts (estimated to use 2-3 percent of
total industry energy used, but forecast to double by 2022),
the world could benefit from initial increased efficiencies in the 15-25
percent range (pdf). A crowded field that includes IBM, Cisco,
General Electric, Siemens and others is positioning to implement new ICT for
sustainability in cities, demonstrating applications at the pilot project level.
Cities with pilot or operating projects in green ICT include Amsterdam, San
Francisco, Masdar City (United Arab Emirates), Seoul, London, Singapore,
Beijing, New Delhi, Mumbai,
Stockholm and Oslo. The following are Green Smart City applications and
examples of companies involved:
traffic congestion monitoring and pricing
systems: IBM, Capita Group
water applications (leakage detection,
purification): IBM, Siemens
building applications (sense-and-respond
technologies to monitor temperature, light, humidity and occupancy): Johnson
Controls, Siemens, IBM
intelligent public transportation and logistics:
PwC, Samsung, Cisco
public shared offices with telepresence (pictured above): Cisco,
home and office smart appliances that can tie in
with smart grid energy applications: General Electric, AT&T, Whirlpool
smart grids: General Electric, Schneider
Electric, SAP, Oracle, ABB
data centers for cities: Google, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco
carbon inventories and carbon accounting:
5. Implementation of Carbon Taxes
Exxon Mobil surprised many in
early 2009 when it called for a carbon tax as a way to address global climate
change. Whether the former denier of global climate change got religion remains
to be seen. Carbon taxes have been proposed for oil, natural gas and coal by
many as a way to adjust former so-called market “externalities,” or impacts
beyond classically defined air pollution, which now includes greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.
A handful of nations have some form of carbon tax, mostly in Scandinavia. On
the sub-national level, British Columbia and the San Francisco Bay
recently proposed some form of the tax. Costs for carbon taxes can be
passed on to consumers directly, or they could be levied on industry, which
would likely cause manufacturing and operating costs to be wholly or partially
passed onto consumers.
Currently, the costs of producing
and using fossil fuels do not take into account the vast damage these
activities do to the earth’s climate, which is gaining atmospheric carbon
dioxide concentrations at a rapid rate, endangering the stability of natural ecosystems, people’s health, and the economy.
6. The First Big Urban Climate Change Adaptation: Drought
A major effort at climate change
adaptation is underway in Californiaas well as other urban areas that are
experiencing or are likely to feel the early effects from climate change.
Prolonged droughts consistent with the impacts of climate change are being seen
in Beijing, Southwestern North America (Mexico City/ LA, etc.) and urban areas in Southeast Australia.
As Maude Barlow (above) writes in her 2008
book Blue Covenant,
cities are becoming hotspots not only for suffering from the effects of water
shortages, but in many cases urbanization may be actually creating or exacerbating the severity
Massive urbanization causes the
hydrologic cycle to not function correctly because rain needs to fall back on
green stuff — vegetation and grass — so that the process can repeat itself.
Or we are sending huge amounts of water from large watersheds to megacities and
some of them are 10 to 20 million people, and if those cities are on the ocean,
some of that water gets dumped into the ocean. It is not returned to the cycle.
Adaptation strategies will focus
on preparing government, business and citizens for extreme heat events,
wildfires (including urban/suburban wildfires), disease, and large-scale
migration of populations from impacted areas. Some of the efforts will involve
education and community outreach, such as Chicago’s effortsto alert the elderly and handicapped to
imminent heat waves, or having people check on others that may be vulnerable
when conditions warrant. Other measures will require huge chunks of investments in
urban public and private infrastructure
to prevent coastal flooding and to store dwindling seasonal water supplies,
while health care professionals are likely to be first responders to new climate
change-boosted disease outbreaks, such as dengue fever.
The military is also likely to be added to the mix of climate change adaptation
7. End of Cheap Oil/ Onset of Fossil Fuel Shortages
Besides fresh water, oil is the
most threatened increasingly imported resource in developed economies. Energy shortages
or supply disruptions are expected to continue to develop because of political
acts, terrorism, warfare and natural disasters. The issue is not that the
reserves are “running out,” but that getting at the remaining oil in a
cost-effective manner is becoming increasingly more difficult, as has been
outlined in multiple books by author Richard Heinberg (The Party’s Over, Peak Everything) and others. As former Shell Oil CEO Jeroen van der Veer said in a 2008 email to
employees, “Shell estimates that after 2015, supplies of easy-to-access oil and
gas will no longer keep up with demand.” Add the coming impacts of global climate change regulations to the scarce oil
equation (see Trends numbers 2 and 5 in this post), and oil will continue to be
an unpredictable flashpoint for the world economy. In 2007-2008, rapidly rising oil
prices helped trigger a deep world recession;
during the next decade oil may set off a chain of economic and civil events
that could be far more severe.
With market uncertainty for oil
prices and oil supplies, this new decade will witness the sunset of exurban-style automotive dependant sprawl in the United States
and in many overseas copycat developments, particularly Asia. The overbuilt market
for large, totally car-dependent single family homes in outer suburbia is expected
by even some developers to not be viable for almost a decade, even if oil prices and supply stay relatively stable. A prolonged recurrence
of oil prices above $100-150 a barrel will drive a stake through the heart of
the exurban car-only model of real estate speculation, and will hit many other
elements (food, imported goods, oil-based products) of the Western economy.
8. Focus on Urban Agriculture and Foodsheds
Time Period: 2012-2019
As fuel prices rise and unexpected energy shortages
occur, food prices will rise rapidly, especially for food that must be
transported long distances via airplanes, stored and processed. The alternative
is greater local and regional food production in and around cities. Existing
cities in Latin America (Havana, Cuba–pictured above–and Quito, Ecuador), Africa (Dar Es Salam, Tanzania; Kampala,
Uganda) and Asia (Seoul, South Korea), have produced significant
quantities of produce or aquaculture within their city limits.
Cities in North America that have maintained or are building or rebuilding
strong regional food networks include Seattle, Honolulu, Boston, Philadelphia
and San Francisco. Some newly planned cities are being engineered to produce
significant amounts of food that can also be used as a potential energy source
or rich compost nutrient. Examples include Masdar City in Abu Dhabi (United
Arab Emirates) and a supposedly scalable community plan called NewVista that is expected to be prototyped in the
United States and in Asia: both are innovating the production of food from
algae and other low-energy input nutrient sources.
9. Resiliency planning: cities, towns, homes
Time Period: 2010-2019
Resiliency is about making a
system or one’s self stronger and more able to survive adversity. As the
previous items portend, there will no shortage of adversity during the coming
decade from climate change and energy supply instability. One of the major
social phenomena related to resiliency has been the emergence of the Transition
which has grown from a few villages in the United Kingdom to Barcelona, Spain, Boulder,
Colorado, and Sydney, Australia. The founder
of the phenomena, Rob Hopkins, also a Post Carbon Institute Fellow,
has used his transition model of Totnes, United Kingdom, to devise a global organizational playbook. The purpose of transition thinking is to prepare people for potential
shortages in global energy supplies and food caused by peaking oil and climate
change. In contrast to earlier “off-the-grid” movements of the 1970s,
Transition Towns can be located in urban neighborhoods as well as in the distant
boonies, and they focus on community-scaled solutions in transportation,
health, economics and people’s livelihoods and personal skills. Tactics of
local groups vary widely, with events ranging from the familiar–clothing swaps
and art festivals to the seemingly more obscure–“unleashings,”–to
policy-laden activities, such as launching a long-term (15-20 years) “Energy Descent
Action Plan.” The emphasis is on understanding and using collective community
resources, including knowledge and skills, that people have in their own sphere
of influence, versus waiting for top-down government decrees.
10.SustainabilityMovie/ Novel /Art/ Song
There has yet to be a significant
work of popular art that I am aware of that captures the modern systemic
aspirations of sustainability. In terms of modern life, some works have focused
on environmental destruction, (Marvin Gaye’s song “Mercy Mercy Me”), the terror
of abrupt climate change (the unsuccessful 2004 film The Day After Tomorrow),the international political subterfuge behind
oil (2005’s Syrianawith George Clooney, one of my personal favorite films), and the destruction of natural
systems (Dr. Seuss’s 1971 book The Lorax) or cultural/species depletion (James Cameron’s 2009 film Avatar), but no novel, song, painting or movie has come
close to depicting a fictional world of what holistic sustainability solutions
might look like, even feel like. Any suggestions of existing or planned works
that would fit the bill?
Odds are that breakthrough art successfully depicting sustainability will feature or draw upon urban culture in some fashion. After all, cities have gone from being perceived as the opposite of what the “environmental movement” has been trying to save, to the epicenter of this new revolution that is launching in a city or neighborhood near you.