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Tag Archive: cities

  1. The role of cities in climate change: massive upscaling of local climate policies key to achieving 1.5 °C target

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    • Local governments are crucial actors in the multi-level climate governance system.
    • A massive upscaling of local climate policies is key to achieving the 1.5 °C target.
    • Local climate action must go hand in hand with higher-level governance initiatives.

    Fuhr, H. et al. The role of cities in multi-level climate governance: local climate policies and the 1.5 °C target. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability. Volume 30, February 2018, Pages 1-6.  Published on line Nov 2017

  2. Carbon-Free City Handbook- 22 no-regrets actions with immediate results

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    • Includes 22 no-regrets actions that nearly every city should take to start the journey to becoming carbon-free. Disciplined application of four primary selection criteria helped cut through hundreds of possibilities to define a focused list for cities. The selected recommendations are:
      • Immediately Actionable: could be launched by city staff within one year
      • Achievable: recently proven and economically viable, with compelling examples of successful city implementation
      • Impactful: leading-edge solutions that either make immediate, significant impact or enable large, long-term carbon reductions
      • Broad Relevance: applicable for most cities globally (population: 100,000+
    • The end result of ambitious 100% goals paired with aggressive action is the same: transformational change mitigating climate impacts. It is about significant, rapid change on a short time frame, rather than slow, incremental change.

    November 11, 2017 Bonn, Germany  read full Rocky Mountain Institute article here

    The Carbon-Free City Handbook (pdf), launched at COP23 [at the UN 2017 climate conference in Bonn, Germany], helps city staff implement climate policies and actions that resolutely place their communities on an aggressive path toward sustainable, low-carbon economies.

    Cities are at the forefront of climate change risk and opportunity. Nearly 600 cities making climate commitments, but they will only get us so far and must be substantiated with on-the-ground solutions that enable cities to make rapid progress toward near-term decarbonization, and put them on a path to full climate-neutrality.







  3. Cities can cut greenhouse gas emissions far beyond their urban borders

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    • Upstream emissions may occur anywhere in the world and are roughly equal in size to the total emissions originating from a city’s own territory, a new study shows.
    • Cities should be encouraged and enabled to focus on their full emission spectrum — local and upstream — as they continue to develop their climate mitigation plans.
    • Among the cities studied, Berlin’s global hinterland is largest, with more than half of its upstream emissions occurring outside of Germany, mostly in Russia, China and across the European Union.
    • 20% of Mexico City’s considerably smaller upstream emissions occur outside Mexico, mainly in the US and China.

    November 7, 2017 Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)

    Greenhouse gas emissions caused by urban households’ purchases of goods and services from beyond city limits are much bigger than previously thought. These upstream emissions may occur anywhere in the world and are roughly equal in size to the total emissions originating from a city’s own territory, a new study shows. This is not bad news but in fact offers local policy-makers more leverage to tackle climate change, the authors argue in view of the UN climate summit COP23 that just started…
    The planned emission reductions presented so far by national governments at the UN summit are clearly insufficient to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, the target agreed by 190 countries, therefore additional efforts are needed.

    If a city instead chooses to foster low carbon construction materials this can drastically reduce its indirect CO2 emissions. Even things that cities are already doing can affect far-away emissions. Raising insulation standards for buildings for example certainly slashes local emissions by reducing heating fuel demand. Yet it can also turn down the need for electric cooling in summer which reduces power generation and hence greenhouse gas emissions in some power plant beyond city borders.

    By choosing energy from solar or wind, city governments could in fact close down far-away coal-fired power plants….

    Peter-Paul Pichler, Timm Zwickel, Abel Chavez, Tino Kretschmer, Jessica Seddon, Helga Weisz. Reducing Urban Greenhouse Gas Footprints. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-15303-x

  4. City Climate Planner – training and certification- to help city staff advance local climate action globally

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    • new training and rigorous certification program recognizes skill set required to best assess GHG emissions as well as to develop and implement climate action plans- more info here

    Nov 9 2017 ICLEI Sustainable Cities read article here

    The City Climate Planner training and certification program, launched on Thursday 9 November at the Cities & Regions Pavilion at COP23 in Bonn will raise the global talent base of city climate planning professionals.

    Cities all over the world are taking action to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. Cities are some of the largest emitters of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions but they are also hubs of innovation that are developing key solutions.

    In an effort to empower cities to tackle climate change more effectively, the City Climate Planner program was developed by the World Bank and global partners with funding from the Korea Green Growth Trust Fund. It is now led by Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI) in partnership with the World Resources Institute (WRI) and ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability.

    The CCP aims to offer training and certification to city staff and their partners on the five key steps to reduce GHG emissions: conducting a GHG inventory, setting emissions reduction targets, defining an action plan, implementing actions and tracking performance.

    Currently, the CCP offers training and certification on the first step, conducting a GHG inventory, and the training for the second step is under development. Trainings have already been conducted in the Philippines, Argentina and Costa Rica as part of the pilot phase and the interest shown by local governments in particular in the Global South shows a willingness to build capacity in order to accelerate climate action.

    This certification is the first of its kind, leading the way in the field of local climate action, providing local governments with quality assurance, policy guidance and technically sound practices.

    For more information, visit

  5. House sparrow decline linked to air pollution and poor diet

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    • City sparrows suffer from more stress than their country cousins, find Spanish researchers, especially during breeding season

    October 3, 2017 Frontiers  read full ScienceDaily article here

    House sparrows are well-adapted to living in urban areas, so it is surprising their numbers have fallen significantly over the past decades. An investigation into this worrying trend finds that sparrows living in urban areas are adversely affected by pollution and poor nutrition. The study also finds the birds suffer more during the breeding season, when resources are needed to produce healthy eggs….

    …if our cities are unhealthy for birds, which is what our study is suggesting, then as their neighbors we should be concerned because we are exposed to the same environmental stressors as house sparrows.”

    …”We took a small blood sample from each bird, according to its weight and physical condition, and released them unharmed,” she explains. The samples were analyzed for signs of oxidative stress, which can be used to measure how much an environmental stressor, such as pollution, is weakening the bird’s natural defenses….

    …”We need to work hard to improve the quality of the urban environment, for example, air quality and the design of green areas. Even the leftovers that we throw in the bin at the park should encourage us to reflect on ourselves: more nuts and fruit and fewer chips and cookies would be better for humans as well as for birds,” Herrera-Dueñas advises.

    Amparo Herrera-Dueñas, Javier Pineda-Pampliega, María T. Antonio-García, José I. Aguirre. The Influence of Urban Environments on Oxidative Stress Balance: A Case Study on the House Sparrow in the Iberian Peninsula. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 2017; 5 DOI: 10.3389/fevo.2017.00106

  6. Urban climate change: urban runoff strongly controlled by proportion of built up vs vegetated surfaces

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    • Model of impact of changing precipitation patterns in northern European, North American cities
    September 11, 2017 University of California – Santa Barbara
    Southern cities such as Houston and Tampa — which faced the wrath of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, respectively — may not be the only urban environments vulnerable to extreme weather. Northern cities also face the potential for flooding as global temperatures continue to warm…. In fact, higher temperatures have been found to disproportionately affect northern land areas, particularly the Arctic, which has already experienced fallout from climate change….
    A new study by a group of international researchers, including UC Santa Barbara’s Joe McFadden, combines observations and modeling to assess the impact of climate and urbanization on the hydrological cycle across the distinct seasons in four cold climate cities in Europe and North America….the amount of precipitation is increasing but also the kind of precipitation is changing,” said McFadden, an associate professor in UCSB’s Department of Geography. “While more precipitation may fall in a year, it arrives as rain rather than snow because temperatures are rising. A shorter period covered by snow, more spring rain and faster snow melt can combine to release large amounts of runoff that have the potential to stress urban hydrologic systems and cause flooding in urban areas.”…

    …The investigators found that after snow melt, urban runoff returns to being strongly controlled by the proportion of built-up versus vegetated surfaces, which can absorb water. However in winter, the presence of snow masks this influence….

    L. Järvi, C. S. B. Grimmond, J. P. McFadden, A. Christen, I. B. Strachan, M. Taka, L. Warsta, M. Heimann. Warming effects on the urban hydrology in cold climate regions. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-05733-y

  7. Houston’s Flood Is a Design Problem

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    • It’s not because the water comes in. It’s because it is forced to leave again.
    • Reducing impervious surfaces and improving water conveyance has a role to play
    • most important step is to reduce the velocity of water when it is channelized, so that it doesn’t deluge other sites. And then to stop moving water away from buildings and structures entirely, and to start finding new uses for it in place.
    • China’s “sponge cities” as a dramatic example—a government-funded effort to engineer new, permeable materials to anticipate and mitigate the flooding common to that nation….

    Ian Bogost  The Atlantic  August 29 2017  Read full article here

    …But the impact of flooding, particularly in densely developed areas like cities, is far more constant than a massive, natural disaster like Harvey exposes. The reason cities flood isn’t because the water comes in, not exactly. It’s because the pavement of civilization forces the water to get back out again.

    Under normal circumstances, rain or snowfall soaks back into the earth after falling. It gets absorbed by grasslands, by parks, by residential lawns, by anywhere the soil is exposed. Two factors can impede that absorption. One is large quantities of rain in a short period of time. The ground becomes inundated, and the water spreads out in accordance with the topography. The second is covering over the ground so it cannot soak up water in the first place. And that’s exactly what cities do—they transform the land into developed civilization.

    Roads, parking lots, sidewalks, and other pavements, along with asphalt, concrete, brick, stone, and other building materials, combine to create impervious surfaces that resist the natural absorption of water. In most of the United States, about 75 percent of its land area, less than 1 percent of the land is hardscape. In cities, up to 40 percent is impervious….

    …In Houston’s case, catastrophic floods have been anticipated for some time. The combination of climate change, which produces more intense and unpredictable storms, and aggressive development made an event like this week’s almost inevitable. The Association of State Floodplain Managers has called for a national flood risk-management strategy, and the Houston Chronicle has called flood control the city’s “most pressing infrastructure need.” …

    …Houston poses both a typical and an unusual situation for stormwater management. The city is enormous, stretching out over 600 square miles. It’s an epitome of the urban sprawl characterized by American exurbanism, where available land made development easy at the edges. Unlike New Orleans, Houston is well above sea level, so flooding risk from storm surge inundation is low. Instead, it’s rainfall that poses the biggest threat.

    A series of slow-moving rivers, called bayous, provide natural drainage for the area. To account for the certainty of flooding, Houston has built drainage channels, sewers, outfalls, on- and off-road ditches, and detention ponds to hold or move water away from local areas. When they fill, the roadways provide overrun. The dramatic images from Houston that show wide, interstate freeways transformed into rivers look like the cause of the disaster, but they are also its solution, if not an ideal one. This is also why evacuating Houston, a metropolitan area of 6.5 million people, would have been a terrible idea. This is a city run by cars, and sending its residents to sit in gridlock on the thoroughfares and freeways designed to become rivers during flooding would have doomed them to death by water.

    Accounting for a 100-year, 500-year, or “million-year” flood, as some are calling Harvey’s aftermath, is difficult and costly. Stiftel confirms that it’s almost impossible to design for these “maximal probable flood events,” as planners call them. Instead, the hope is to design communities such that when they flood, they can withstand the ill effects and support effective evacuations to keep people safe. “The Houston event seems like an illustration that we haven’t figured it out,” Stiftel says.

    Many planners contend that impervious surface itself is the problem. The more of it there is, the less absorption takes place and the more runoff has to be managed. Reducing development, then, is one of the best ways to manage urban flooding. The problem is, urban development hasn’t slowed in the last half-century. Cities have only become more desirable, spreading outward over the plentiful land available in the United States….

    ….In other cases, floodplains have been managed through redevelopment that reduces impervious surfaces. Natural ground cover, permeable or semi-permeable pavers, and vegetation that supports the movement of water offer examples. These efforts dovetail with urban redevelopment efforts that privilege mixed-use and green space, associated with both new urbanism and gentrification. Recreation lands, conservation lands and easements, dry washes, and other approaches attempt to counterbalance pavement when possible. Stiftel cites China’s “sponge cities” as a dramatic example—a government-funded effort to engineer new, permeable materials to anticipate and mitigate the flooding common to that nation….

    ….Reducing impervious surface and improving water conveyance has a role to play, but the most important step in sparing cities from flooding is to reduce the velocity of water when it is channelized, so that it doesn’t deluge other sites. And then to stop moving water away from buildings and structures entirely, and to start finding new uses for it in place.

    That can be done by collecting water into cisterns for processing and reuse—in some cases, Debo explains, the result can even save money by reducing the need to rely on utility-provided water. Adding vegetation, reclaiming stormwater, and building local conveyance systems for delivery of this water offer more promising solutions….

    ….Instead of looking for holistic answers, site-specific ones must be pursued instead. Rather than putting a straight channel through a subdivision, for example, Debo suggests designing one to meander through it, to decrease the velocity of the water as it exits

    …But there are some regions that just shouldn’t become cities. “Parts of Houston in the floodway, parts of New Orleans submerged during Katrina, parts of Florida—these places never should have been developed in the first place,” Debo concludes. Add sea-level rise and climate-change superstorms, and something has to give.

    …Residential homeowners who install a new cement patio or driveway might not even realize that they are channeling water down-grade to their neighbors, or overwhelming a local storm drain. Citizens can also influence stormwater issues within their municipalities. Many folks know that they have a local city council and school board, but local planning, zoning, and urban design agencies also hold regular public meetings—unfortunately, most people only participate in this aspect of local governance when they have an axe to grind. For the average American concerned with the deluge, the best answer is to replace an occasional, morbid curiosity with flooding with a more sophisticated, long-term interest in stormwater management.

  8. Urban land transformation and electricity production impact river ecosystems on much larger scale

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    • The results indicate that urban land transformation and electricity production together affect seven percent of U.S. streams, which influence habitats for more than 60 percent of all North American freshwater fish, mussel, and crayfish species.

    August 23, 20 DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory  Read full ScienceDaily article here

    New mapping methods can help urban planners minimize the environmental impacts of cities’ water and energy demands on surrounding stream ecologies.

    Using streamflow data from the U.S. Geological Survey, the researchers mapped changes to natural hydrology to assess how infrastructure development and competition over water resources affects the environment at a national scale.

    The results indicate that urban land transformation and electricity production together affect seven percent of U.S. streams, which influence habitats for more than 60 percent of all North American freshwater fish, mussel, and crayfish species.

    …In the five cities, urban land transformations negatively affected more stream length overall than any other factor considered, including electricity production. The introduction of roads, buildings, and other impervious surfaces alters the natural water cycle, displaces water supplies for downstream communities and can threaten the loss of rich and diverse aquatic species.

    …”Both the source and solution to global environmental challenges may lie in the hands of cities. Unfortunately, the changes we discuss are highly transformative, not cheap,” McManamay said. “Our goal here is to give cities a way to look at the big picture, so to speak, and to generate metrics that will help them move toward more environmentally sound policies as they continue to develop.

    Ryan A. McManamay et al. US cities can manage national hydrology and biodiversity using local infrastructure policy. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2017; 201706201 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1706201114

  9. Mission 2020: The Climate Turning Point- a new global initiative

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    “We have a collective responsibility to raise ambition, scale up our actions and move forward faster together to safeguard the sustainable development goals and protect the inalienable right to life of our and future generations. Let’s not be late.” – Christiana Figueres, Convenor, Mission 2020 (former UNFCCC Executive Secretary)

    see website here  #2020DontBeLate

    2020 the climate turning point


    The high cost of climate change is largely carried by some of the most vulnerable communities around the world. They suffer from enduring human loss, and a need to continuously repair damage from severe weather impacts and rising sea-levels. The repeated infrastructure costs divert investments from education, health and food security, further entrenching poverty and accelerating involuntary migration.
    The insurance industry has also warned that if the world goes beyond a 2oc increase, it is not systemically insurable due to the frequency and intensity of extreme weather impacts. Reaching the climate turning point by 2020 will expedite the least expensive transition to a safer fossil-free economy by 2050, protecting the most vulnerable and ushering in a safer economy.

    Immediate emission reductions are needed to meet temperature goals


    Meeting the 2020 turning point will bring many added benefits in health, energy, food security and employment creation. This will form a strong base for shared prosperity and financial stability.
    This in turn will help meet people’s common desire to prosper, with good jobs, safe homes and a flourishing natural world. The foundation for this stability is a living earth and a stable climate.

    Co-Benefits of Climate Action graphic M2020


    With breakthrough actions in a few key areas, including energy, transportation, land-use, infrastructure, industry and finance, we can build on the strong momentum towards a fossil-free economy and reach our 2020 turning point. The economics are shifting at scale:

    • Renewables are rapidly falling in price and are already undercutting coal in many jurisdictions.
    • Technological progress on battery storage is further enhancing the capacity of renewables as well as accelerating an astonishing growth in the market for electric vehicles.
    • Business leadership on eradicating commodities that cause deforestation from supply chains is growing quickly in response to customer demand.
    • Cities are forging ahead to create new public-private partnerships, financing resource-efficient infrastructure that will serve their communities for years to come.
    • The financial community is improving disclosure and corporations are starting to stress test their strategies against the 2-degree threshold.



  10. Urban floods intensifying, countryside drying up

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    • An exhaustive global analysis of rainfall and rivers shows signs of a radical shift in streamflow patterns, with more intense flooding in cities and smaller catchments coupled with a drier countryside

    August 14, 2017 University of New South Wales  read full ScienceDaily article here

    Drier soils and reduced water flow in rural areas — but more intense rainfall that overwhelms infrastructure and causes flooding and stormwater overflow in urban centers. That’s the finding of an exhaustive study of the world’s river systems, based on data collected from more than 43,000 rainfall stations and 5,300 river monitoring sites across 160 countries…

    …”The [study] relied on observed flow and rainfall data from across the world, instead of uncertain model simulations, means we are seeing a real-world effect — one that was not at all apparent before.”

    “It’s a double whammy,” said Conrad Wasko, lead author of the paper and postdoctoral fellow at UNSW’s Water Research Centre. “People are increasingly migrating to cities, where flooding is getting worse. At the same time, we need adequate flows in rural areas to sustain the agriculture to supply these burgeoning urban populations.”

    …[the study] found warmer temperatures lead to more intense storms, which makes sense: a warming atmosphere means warmer air, and warmer air can store more moisture…But…why is flooding not increasing at the same rate as the higher rainfall?

    The answer turned out to be the other facet of rising temperatures: more evaporation from moist soils is causing them to become drier before any new rain occurs — moist soils that are needed in rural areas to sustain vegetation and livestock. Meanwhile, small catchments and urban areas, where there are limited expanses of soil to capture and retain moisture, the same intense downpours become equally intense floods, overwhelming stormwater infrastructure and disrupting life.

    Global flood damage cost more than US$50 billion in 2013; this is expected to more than double in the next 20 years as extreme storms and rainfall intensify and growing numbers of people move into urban centres. Meanwhile, global population over the next 20 years is forecast to rise another 23% from today’s 7.3 billion to 9 billion — requiring added productivity and hence greater water security….

    “We need to adapt to this emerging reality,” said Sharma. “We may need to do what was done to make previously uninhabitable places liveable: engineer catchments to ensure stable and controlled access to water. Places such as California, or much of the Netherlands, thrive due to extensive civil engineering. Perhaps a similar effort is needed to deal with the consequences of a changing climate as we enter an era where water availability is not as reliable as before.”…

    Conrad Wasko, Ashish Sharma. Global assessment of flood and storm extremes with increased temperatures. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-08481-1