Rising sea levels, heatwaves, recurrent floods, water and food supplies under threat... Climate change is gradually revealing how vulnerable cities are to extreme weather events for which they are not prepared.
At the same time, faced with insufficient action on the part of States, cities, which cause 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions, are starting to show their tremendous capacity to take action to preserve the climate. “They are the ones who are the most aware of the challenges facing their territories and the expectations of citizens”, points out Alix Françoise, Project Team Manager at Agence Française de Développement (AFD). “They can play a major role in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, by breathing new life into policies for mobility, waste management and access to water.”
Biodiversity, district heating, street lighting, transport, mobilization of actors all over the world: here are 5 pioneering cities in the fight against climate change.
1. In Curitiba (Brazil), protected nature reserves in the heart of the city
The capital of Brazil’s Paraná State, designed by the French architect Alfred Agache in the 1940s, was long considered as a model city in Latin America, but had to face new challenges a few years ago.
One of them involved preserving biodiversity – and at the same time the image of this “green city” in Brazil – while the city continued to relentlessly expand towards the South, threatening the state of the Barigui River and local wildlife.
With AFD’s support, Curitiba is not only going to redevelop the river banks and create four new parks, but will also eventually connect up all the parks into a single ecological corridor surrounding the city. These areas will preserve the local flora, increase the surface area reserved for biodiversity in the city and provide a response to soil erosion and the resulting flood risks. The project will soon be demonstrating – as if it really needed to – that urban development is not incompatible with the protection of biodiversity.
For further reading: Brazil: The challenges of Curitiba
2. In Jinzhong (China), a model heating network for energy efficiency
Heating in buildings alone is an example of China’s huge room for improvement in reducing its greenhouse gas emissions: coal is still its main energy source, while the dilapidated state of heating networks causes enormous energy losses.
The city of Jinzhong is tackling this problem head-on. Since 2010, it has replaced some 700 small boilers by a much more efficient heating network. It is 98 km-long and supplied by a new 2 x 300 MW “cogeneration” (electricity + heat) coal-fired power plant.
There were immediate benefits for the climate and the residents of Jinzhong. The replacement of old generation boilers has avoided the emission of 400,000 tons of greenhouse gases (CO2 equivalent), 4,000 tons of soot and 1,300 tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2, a pollutant gas in the firing line of the World Health Organization) a year. This project now serves as a reference in China for the development of the district heating sector and, at the same time, avoids overheating the planet.
For further reading: How AFD is contributing to developing district heating in Taiyuan and Jinzhong
3. In Jodhpur (India), LEDs put the spotlight on energy savings
India is experiencing a sharp rise in its energy consumption due to economic growth and rapid urbanization, to the extent that it is today the world’s 3rd largest energy consumer, after China and the USA. The problem is that its needs could double by 2035 and its energy mix still mainly focuses on coal.
In 2010, the Government set out to address this situation by defining objectives to develop non-polluting energy and save energy in the sectors of industry, agriculture, infrastructure and public buildings.
One city is emblematic of this transition: Jodhpur and its 1.1 million inhabitants, in the Indian State of Rajasthan. What is known as the “blue city” has gradually been turning green since it started replacing, back in 2015, the traditional light bulbs of its street lighting equipment with 45,000 LED lamps, which are both brighter and consume less energy. The environmental benefits are already being felt: street lighting consumption in Jodhpur has already been reduced by 55% and the related greenhouse gas emissions have dropped by 16,000 tons a year.
This change also benefits residents: the street lights work better, road safety and the safety of women in public spaces have been improved. “The lights used to go off all the time. We can now sit outside every evening and stay to chat and drink tea”, says a resident.
For further reading: Greener nights in Jodhpur
4. In Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic), a river bus connected to the metro
Behind the postcard image, the capital of the Dominican Republic suffers from a lack of transport equipment and infrastructure. Indeed, poor neighborhoods with little access to public transport have sprung up due to its population growth (the city has 3 million inhabitants) and its urban sprawl.
Santo Domingo was determined to take action and a few years ago launched an ambitious program to redevelop transport in the east of the city, thanks to a USD 210m (EUR 182m) loan from AFD.
The city consequently set up the “Acuabus”, a river shuttle service connected to the metro and serving several isolated neighborhoods, as well as a 5 km-long pilot cable car line, connecting the outlying northern neighborhoods to the city center, which used to be cut off by the Ozama River. At the same time, the city is extending Line 2 of its metro with an additional 4 km.
The results of this policy are already visible. In addition to opening up precarious neighborhoods and enhancing Santo Domingo’s reputation as a tourist destination, greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced since the arrival of these new less polluting modes of transport.
For further reading: Dominican Republic: Launch of the first urban cable car service in the Caribbean
5. In Buenos Aires (Argentina), cities are mobilizing for the climate
Buenos Aires, the capital of a country with 44 million inhabitants, is not escaping the questioning over the roles that cities play in the global ecological crisis. The city already set positive dynamics in motion many years ago. Its commitment to become carbon neutral by 2050, its support for projects to install rooftop solar panels on public buildings, the expansion of its metro network and the construction of 210 km of cycle tracks all bear witness to this.
Buenos Aires wants to go one step further and take action at international level. In December 2017, at the One Planet Summit in Paris, it launched a new initiative: Urban 20, or U20, a summit gathering the main cities of G20 countries with the aim of promoting the main challenges facing cities – especially climate change – in order to send a strong message at the next summit of Heads of State from the world’s 20 largest economies.
The first Urban 20 will be held on 29 and 30 October in Buenos Aires. 24 major cities have already confirmed their participation, showing that many other cities stand ready to take action for the climate.
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