Driving climate innovation through cities
This author no longer works for DNV GL.
As I write this post, negotiators in Lima at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are meeting past the scheduled conference end in the hopes of preparing a draft agreement for consideration in the next meeting in Paris in 2015. Just before the Lima meeting began, the World Meteorological Organization announced a new record high in CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, and at the current rate of increase, the global annual average CO2 concentration is set to cross the 400 parts per million threshold in 2015 or 2016. The world’s CO2 concentrations in atmosphere have not been this consistently high since approximately 800,000 to 15 million years ago.
The meeting in Lima is the 21st annual session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 11th session of the Meeting of the Parties (CMP 11) to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The conference objective is to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate by all the nations of the world. The litmus test of success in Lima will be a “clear draft of the universal agreement, a shared determination by all to deliver significant national contributions to build a low carbon resilient future, initial capitalization of the Green Climate Fund, and the mobilization of a broad coalition of actors turning potential into reality on the ground without delay.”
You no doubt have heard, if not followed, the long drawn-out negotiations of the UNFCCC. Each meeting is known by the city in which the meeting is held: Kyoto, The Hague, Milan, Bali, Copenhagen and Cancun to name but a few. Unfortunately, the international negotiations named after leading cities have often fallen short in achieving an internationally actionable plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It is ironic, because some of the most impactful actions that address climate change and reduction in GHG emissions are in fact not the nations at the meetings, but rather the cities themselves operating at a local level to achieve meaningful GHG reductions.
In my career, I have been fortunate to work with many cities implementing climate change programs including Vancouver, Palo Alto, Johannesburg, Boston, Merida, and Shenyang. DNV GL’s Sustainable Buildings and Communities program is currently working with a number of communities on climate action planning, climate mitigation, and climate adaptation programs. These and other cities around the world have not waited for an international convention to initiate action; rather they have moved forward to implement real, tangible projects that reduce climate risk for the globe while benefiting the living standards of their residents. The work of C40 (www.c40.org) presents compelling evidence of the progress made by cities to directly address climate change.
Cities are moving forward with bolder plans to slow down the growth in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. We have moved beyond simple energy efficiency programs and GHG tracking on spreadsheets. Leading cities are driving systemic change within their communities. For example, nearly 40 cities in the U.S. have committed to driving GHG down by 80% by the year 2050. In Helsinki, municipal leaders are implementing a combination of flexible mobility, ride sharing and open city information services to all but eliminate vehicles in the city by 2025.
Closer to home, we in DNV GL’s Sustainable Buildings and Communities Program are currently working with the City of Palo Alto to dramatically reshape how residents and businesses use energy. The City first developed aggressive renewable energy programs where by 2017 all the electricity consumed within the city will be carbon free. We are currently developing the City’s strategies to assess what new actions are needed for significant emissions reductions to achieve the City’s vision for sustainability. These actions include considering how to transform the buildings and transportation sectors to help Palo Alto achieve community goals for livability, mobility, access, safety and economic prosperity.
Transportation emissions are the City’s most vexing challenge, so DNV GL is leading a group of subject matter experts supporting Palo Alto to scale up the transportation solution. What effective strategies can the City implement to get away from gasoline and diesel consumption and reduce the use of fossil-fuelled vehicles? We are operating on the goal of “transporting people, not vehicles,” looking at open data transportation platforms and new service models transportation systems. We are considering such options as sharing electric vehicle fleets at the neighborhood level, driving EV purchases through financial incentives and building requirements, and radically reforming the “drive-park-work” and “drive-park-shop” behavioral paradigms that are at the base of American’s reliance on fossil fuel vehicles.
While the international negotiations continue, action on reducing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere at the local level are growing and changing how cities operate. With more than half of the world’s population now living in cities, municipal action on GHG emissions can and will have a significant impact on how we find solutions to the climate crisis facing the globe. We at DNV GL recognize the critical role cities play in tackling the climate challenge and in driving new innovation to achieve real benefits for the globe and its inhabitants.