Cities have had an association with smog, pollution and traffic congestion for far too long. Given their scale and the number of people who choose to live in them, it is clear that today’s cities are huge consumers of energy and generators of waste. When policymakers get environmental strategy wrong, the consequences are there for all to experience – declining air quality threatens public health, vehicle emissions surge into the atmosphere and recycling is not a priority. Poor policy also just makes life harder with inadequate public transport provision, roads blocked with traffic and apparently no room for safer options like cycling.
However, it does not have to be like this. It’s perfectly possible to fight climate change and make our cities better places to live. This is not only the right thing to do but something that we must do. With so many cities situated in coastal locations they are on the front line as they face rising sea levels, which threaten life, infrastructure and the long-term future of the cities themselves.
There is therefore encouragement to be found from the Climate Reality Project founded by former US Vice President Al Gore. It has identified the top five sustainable cities around the world. In these places, projects are in place to defeat the assumptions that pollution is inevitable and that real green policies have to remain in the file marked as “too difficult”.
Five cities delivering greener future
Copenhagen sparkles in both winter and summer sunshine. It’s an ambitious place too with the target of being the first carbon neutral capital by 2025. At the heart if this is the drive to reduce energy consumption through innovative ideas like a new heating system which links properties and delivers energy in a more efficient way. Changes like this matter because they deliver meaningful savings throughout the year while limiting CO2 emissions. Copenhagen is a leader in progressive and joined-up cycling policies. The success is significant with 45% of people commuting by bike.
With its IT-driven economy it’s right to expect San Francisco to be a leader in technological innovations designed to deliver sustainability. You can see this approach clearly in the commitment to better public transport provision. Instead of buses belching out noxious fumes, there is now a fleet of hybrid electric vehicles carrying more and more passengers who’ve made the active choice to leave the car at home. Add in the efforts made to make public buildings energy efficient and it becomes evident that this is a city where change is in the air. Given the severity of the Californian drought, there is a programme in place to save water which has already reduced consumption significantly. The city’s objective is for zero waste by 2020 so there is a big push to recycle and compost more.
Vancouver is a proud early adopter of environmental initiatives. The city’s civic leaders have created a Greenest City Action Plan with clear targets across areas like green job creation, lower greenhouse gas emissions and greener buildings. There’s a stretching target in place too whose objective is to source 100% of all forms of energy from renewables by 2050. Given the pressures associated with winter heating and summer air-conditioning, there will be a lot to do to achieve this aim. However, Vancouver is a place which seeks to build a “climate consensus” around the need for positive action. This approach is already delivering results as the city is the lowest producer of greenhouse gases in North America.
Stockholm wants to be a leader in the journey towards genuine sustainability. The city has laid down a target of being fossil fuel free by 2050 and has made domestic heating central to this. The idea is to establish centralised sources of energy for both heating and cooling so that oil usage falls dramatically. It’s a policy that works particularly well in apartment blocks where a community-based energy policy heats homes and keeps emissions low. Add in the fact that the Swedes have a depth of commitment to greener ways of doing things and it becomes evident that Stockholm has the right ideas.
Population pressures in a city like Singapore put strain on both land and resources. In such a vibrant economy how is it possible to secure a balance between economic prosperity and environmental security? The city has developed its Sustainable Development Blueprint setting out its range of sustainability goals leading up to 2030. In a place where energy consumption on air-conditioning is so high, there clearly has to be a focus on efficiency and emission control. Singapore also takes a bold approach to reduce car usage and promotes a more accessible public transport system to make it easier to get around. The growth in walking and cycling also demonstrates that it is possible to encourage alternative and greener ways to get around.