Urban Resilience Planning for Dummies

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With all the efforts going into urban climate action plans
and carbon reduction, will many cities and suburbs be caught unprepared for other
sustainability crises, such as acute water or energy shortages?

In carbon reduction management, should efforts such as
focusing on renewable energy and energy efficiency deserve the highest priority,
when a city such as San Francisco produces 78 percent of its greenhouse gases from
transportation and only 17 percent from buildings? 

These are questions that both policy makers and sustainability
planners need to consider as we move into an era of climate change compounded by either
diminishing resources and/or resources that are expected to continue to have extreme price volatility, such as gasoline.  

My last post reviewed the findings of a UK industry
study
, partially backed by Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, forecasting a major “oil
crunch” by 2014-15 that could potentially mean shorter supplies and much higher prices
for gasoline. Because US cities do not use oil for electric
power generation (Honolulu is the only one that still does),
there should be much more focus in US cities on transportation and in other key
areas that will be more severely impacted by the high price of oil. Cities should look at everything from
citizen and business mobility options, to supplies such as asphalt for street paving, to regional food
security.

At no time has effective planning, land use and public
transit been so key to ensuring economic vitality, as well as equity (access
to jobs and services with transit), environmental sustainability, climate security
and health. That doesn’t mean that increasing renewable energy and energy
efficiency shouldn’t be part of every community’s planning, projects and
budgets. It does mean that cities will need to simultaneously prioritize action
plans for carbon reduction, peaking energy and peaking freshwater, which very
few are doing, outside of those involved in the Transition Town movement.

To help illustrate the complexities of what I’m getting at, consider the following example. Water use in California accounts for 20 percent of electrical power use. This energy is needed to move water supplies
from places with water to those largely without or to treat drinking water and wastewater.

Renewable energy sources such as solar thermal generating
plants also require great amounts of water, competing for precious water
supplies that can be used for drinking water and growing or processing food.

So where do water, oil or grain shortages fit in your city’s or region’s sustainability plan? There
are no easy answers, and metro regions and cities will want to collectively consider
their own energy, water and food sources when trying to assess combined carbon reduction
goals and resource depletion risk factors.

I’ve developed some general urban resiliency rules of thumb for an upcoming chapter in the Post Carbon Institute’s Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century’s Sustainability Crises, which is coming out this summer from the University of California Press and Watershed Media:

  1. Planning: Enable the development of vibrant mixed-use communities and
    higher-density regional centers, that create a sense of place, allow for
    transportation choices (other than private automobiles), and protect
    regional agricultural, watershed, and wildlife habitat lands.
  2. Mobility: Invest in high-quality pedestrian, bicycle, and public transit
    infrastructure with easy access, shared connectivity and rich information
    sources, from signage to cell phone alerts.
  3. Built Environment: Design new buildings and associated
    landscaping–and retrofit existing buildings–for state-of-the-art energy (smart
    grid applications), and resource efficiency, integrated with mobility
    options.
  4. Economy: Support businesses in order to provide quality local jobs and to meet the needs of the new economy with renewable energy and other “green” technologies and services. Support local and regional economic decision-makers in adapting to the new world of rising prices, volatile energy supplies and national demographic shifts.
  5. Food:
    Develop regional organic food production, processing, and metro-area
    distribution networks.
  6. Resources: Drastically cut use of water, waste and materials, re-using them
    whenever possible.
  7. Management: Engage government, businesses and citizens together in
    resilience planning and implementation; track and communicate the
    successes, failures, and opportunities of this community-wide effort.

These categories are not
meant to be “checklist” items for sustainability or resilience planning, but
rather lay out the relevant areas that should comprise planning for integrated
metro area systems. Each metro area and every city should be looking at these
factors together, in order to model how well they are prepared to collaboratively
contend with risks such as:

 

1.      Changing
regional or local climate
:
extreme heat events, floods, droughts and other extreme weather events

2.      Prolonged
drought
, e.g. loss of mountain
snowpacks or aquifers providing water for residential, commercial, industrial and
agricultural use

3.      Oil crunches, including extreme price volatility; supply shocks from
wars, political events, terrorism, natural disasters

4.      Food security
risks
from high oil prices, drought,
energy-food competition (biofuels), large-scale contamination, etc.

Admittedly,
the overlapping and inextricable problems that cities face today can be
overwhelming, especially when budgets are tight or non-existent, and people’s
time is stretched to the breaking point.

Selective
problem solving, such as climate action planning if it is done in isolation from
resilience planning, however, may lend a false sense of security for cities on the brink
of an era that promises to be very different than anything ever experienced in
the past.

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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Preparing for 2014-15 “Oil Crunch” Forecast by UK Industry Group

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A new report by a United Kingdom industry taskforce predicts steep oil price rises and gasoline supply shortages by 2014-2015, which will put the global economy at similar risk to the 2007-2008 rapid rise in oil prices that helped trigger the Great Recession.

“The time period would be 2014-2015 when the oil market would be starting to experience rapidly rising prices and tightening oil supplies…It is notable that the CEO of Total, Christophe de Margerie, is already warning of such an outcome in the 2014/15 period,” says the report, “Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil & Energy Security,” funded by Virgin Group, Arup Engineering, Foster and Partners, and Scottish and Southern Engineering.

What can cities, businesses and individuals do to prepare for such energy price volatility, buy hybrids? Actually, the report asserts, “there is real danger that the focus on technological advances in cars is making consumers and government complacent.”

More urgent steps need to be taken by policymakers in particular to avert this impending crisis:

  • Support greater planning and funding for public transit, including taxation to benefit public transit and allocate road space based on most fuel efficient modes (i.e., congestion pricing).
  • Support planning for less energy-intensive forms of development (less sprawl, more transit-oriented housing, retail and businesses).
  • Transition to more energy-efficient transportation fleets or vehicles.
  • Coordinate policy mechanisms and organizational practices to create a behavioral shift from private car use to other more sustainable forms of mobility, including public transit, car sharing, cycling and walking.
  • Encourage, enable and practice smart green city tactics: telecommuting, video conferencing and public work centers, such as those being piloted in Amsterdam with Cisco.

At the state and national government level, preparations for another “oil crunch” similar or worse than 2008 and 1980 should include: 

  • Ending subsidies for oil in order to reduce economic dependence on oil-based industries.
  • Transition agriculture and food production from operations highly dependent on the use of oil-based products such as diesel fuel, fertilizers and crop treatments, while encouraging bio-regional food production from urban foodsheds for nearby population centers. 
  • Planning and support for high-speed rail networks (though this would be a longer-term preparation for post-carbon transportation era beyond 2020)

Daniel Lerch of the Post Carbon Institute authored a guidebook for cities and local government on how to prepare for an oil crisis. I have also written a study looking at US oil crisis readiness in the largest 50 US cities, “Major US City Post-Oil Preparedness Ranking” (second publication from top).

Whether, it is called “peaking oil” or an “oil crunch,” many experts
see total global oil production reaching a plateau of around 91-92 million
barrels a day by 2012-2014 unless, as the report says, “some unforeseen
giant, and easily accessible, finds are reported very soon.”

With fast-growing demand for oil in developing economies such as China
(which overtook the US in 2009 for total automobile sales), India and
the Middle East, developed nations in North America and Europe need to consider wholescale industrial and societal shifts.

The United State and Canada in particular should start reducing oil dependency now in preparation for oil price volatility and possible supply disruptions that would force such shifts without warning, with dire consequences for the economy, nationally and locally. Many cities (New York, Toronto, Vancouver, Washington, D.C.) are already somewhat prepared to make this shift because of infrastructure for public transit and other oil-free mobility options.

The world is heavily dependent on 120 oil fields that account for 50
percent of world production, and contain two-thirds of remaining
reserves of fields in production. New discoveries of oil fields off
Brazil’s coast, under the Arctic and elsewhere, will not be enough to replenish the
“drawdown” that is occurring. Besides, many of these fields take investments
that require oil to be priced over $100 or $120 a barrel, so they will not be
producing for a number of years after such investments are made: in other words, far beyond 2015.

“The challenge is that if oil prices reach the levels necessary to justify these high-cost investments, economic growth may be imperiled,” says the Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security.

Another so-called energy “ace in the hole,” oil sands deposits in
Canada, are not a viable option. Oil sands produce at least three times
the amount of atmospheric carbon over conventional oil when they are
processed and used, which would exacerbate global climate change
significantly, while also fouling the region’s water supply.

What is being raised by this report is that the era of cheap oil is over, and that the consequences will be ugly, unless we start preparing for this profound change.

“Don’t let the oil crunch catch us out in the way that the credit crunch did,” said Virgin CEO Richard Branson and other corporate executives in the introduction to the report

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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Richard Branson Invites Select Cities to Carbon War Room

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With the 2010 Winter Olympic Games as the setting, Virgin Airlines CEO Richard Branson, has invited cities including Vancouver to join a public-private consortium against global climate change. The idea is to use Branson’s Carbon War Room to rally cities as a vehicle for financing and capacity building, maybe a Keiretsu among Vancouver, San Francisco, Copenhagen, Chicago, London and Portland with whoever else walks down the tarmac from a corporate jet.

Sir Richard lauded Vancouver for reducing carbon emissions to 1990 levels, which it accomplished while increasing population 30 percent. According to the Vancouver Sun, Jose Maria Figueres, chairman of the Carbon War Room and former president of Costa Rica, the group is trying to, “create a new blueprint for the
creation of jobs, driving economies and greener cities around the
world.”

The Carbon War Room wants to harness the power of entrepreneurs to implement market-driven solutions to climate change. The war, according to their website, operates on “seven fields of battle”: electricity, transport, built environment, industry, land use, emerging economies and carbon management.

Branson also mentioned the depletion of oil in a speech, and the need to switch to alternative fuels. A new report funded by Virgin Airlines predicted shortages of oil in the global market by 2015, a prediction made by a former Shell oil CEO and reported here previously.

It’s not clear how the Carbon War Room will work with governments, whether it’s cities or other government entities. An example of a project or even a potential project would make the whole thing more real.

Vancouver under Mayor Gregor Robertson vowed in October to become the world’s greenest city by reducing its environmental footprint by a factor of four. Thanks to oodles of regional small-scale hydroelectric power and admirable city and transit planning, Vancouver has the lowest per-capita carbon emissions of any North American city.

South of the border Seattle, has pledged carbon neutrality by 2030, but apparently Seattle did not get the invitation, nor did sustainability focused burgs such as New York, Amsterdam or Toronto attend. Also conspicuously absent were Asian city reps. The mayor of Rio de Janeiro did attend a panel with Branson and other mayors earlier in the week.

I couldn’t find an explanation about how the Carbon War Room differs from or complements such efforts as the Clinton Climate Initiative’s C40 group. The C40 approach is working on all inhabited continents with some of the world’s largest cities, in a very similar vein: financing a $5 billion deal in 2007 on energy retrofitting older city buildings of New York, Chicago, Mexico City, Berlin, and Tokyo, for instance.

Most recently C40 cities announced in Copenhagen the creation of a C40 electric vehicle network as part of one of the few COP-15 “wins,” the Climate Summit for Mayors

Anyone active in the green economy is already seeing many alliances taking shape, a few which have employed savvy marketing and visible leadership. Winning green city public-private partnerships, however, will also draw upon compelling business cases and urban performance analytics while clearly putting forth their value proposition.

Richard Branson versus Bill Clinton, now there’s a match that could rival the Olympics. Could a more effective approach besides individual competition be a relay or other team event, perhaps?

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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