THE MESSAGE coming out of the ninth World Congress of Metropolis is that the laws and policies of all levels of government will have to be aligned on a global level if we are to avoid dangerous climate change.
The event, which was held in Sydney’s Darling Harbour last week, aims to connect cities throughout the world to share ideas on key issues such as over-population, energy, technology, culture and climate change.
Speaking at the climate change seminar, the former deputy mayor of London, Nicky Gavron, emphasised that the battle against climate change would be “won or lost in cities”. The activities of cities already account for 80 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions, as well as a significant proportion of other greenhouse gases, and their governance at the local, state and federal level will be key to combating climate change. “If you don’t reverse the trend in cities, you don’t save the planet, she said.”
However, she noted that cities — which house large concentrations of people and activities — also have the potential to use energy, land and transport very efficiently. Using London as an example, Gavron explained to the audience — who represented some 100 cities — how the laws and policies of governments could make a huge impact on a city’s carbon footprint.
She described London, now home to 7.5 million residents, as the world’s first “mega-city”. It was built on cheap carbon during a time when there were much lower environmental standards and the model was adopted throughout the developed world.
But the vision now, she said, was to make London “an exemplarily sustainable world city”, and London now has in place policies for water, waste, transport and energy designed to help achieve this aim.
In the area of transport, for example, large amounts of money have been invested to vastly improve public transport. Buses — cheaper than trains — have been key, she said. Policies have been put in place to allow people under 18 and above 60 to travel on buses free and there is now “draconian enforcement” of bus lanes and parking restrictions, which have also been tightened. “Congestion charging” has also been brought in, and already bus use in the city is up 40 per cent and cycling use is up 83 per cent.
“It’s the fastest shift out of the car and onto bikes, buses and feet in the world,” she said.
In terms of energy use in buildings, both commercial and residential, the city is seeking to achieve large cuts. Half of these cuts, she said, will come from improving buildings’ energy efficiency, through retro-fitting existing buildings — making things such as insulation free for low income earners — and tightening the development requirements for new buildings. The other half, she said, will come from “greening” the energy supply through a move towards using technologies such as mico-generation and co-generation as an alternative to energy from coal-fired power plants.
Also speaking at the seminar was Dr Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who said that using London as an example of what can be achieved by making structural changes to achieve sustainable development was particularly apt.
He quoted Ghandi, who early on realised the dangers of developing countries pursuing the same path of development as countries such as Britain. When asked by a journalist whether he didn’t want India to reach the same level of prosperity as Britain, Ghandi replied: “It took Britain half the resources of the planet to get where it is. How many planets will India require?”