World– As almost 200 nations gather in Paris to form a new climate change agreement over 11 days of negotiations, there’s a strong focus on the roles of cities in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
More than half of the global population – 54 per cent – lives in cities and that number is expected to reach 66 per cent by 2050, according to the United Nations.
It is little wonder then that urbanised spaces emit most of the world’s carbon dioxide.
French President Francois Hollande considers the role of cities so important, he hosted a COP21 side event for almost 700 mayors from around the world, at the Paris City Hall.
“This group is leading by example, and as the largest ever meeting of mayors and local leaders on climate change, and the first ever local summit to coincide with international negotiations on climate, we are making history right here today,” former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is the UN’s Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change told the representatives of 600 million citizens.
“But we did not come to Paris to make history, we came to shape the future.”
Sydney among the international cities grappling with climate change
Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore is among those attending the COP21 climate summit in Paris.
“This is the first time cities have been on the agenda for national leaders,” Ms Moore told SBS.
“And that’s incredibly important because they’re here to take long term action on climate change and of course 80 per cent of emissions are occurring in our cities, over 50 per cent of the worlds populations now live in cities – in Australia, it’s 75 per cent.”
With most of Australia’s population based around coastlines, the major risk of global warming is rising sea levels.
A four degree Celsius rise in global temperatures – the current trajectory – would see cities such as Sydney underwater by 2100, according to a study by US-based research group, Climate Central.
Even a two degree Celsius rise would also see global cities such as Melbourne, Shanghai, London and New York experiencing inundation.
International cities have been learning from each other for some time now. After a 2007 trip to Los Angeles, Ms Moore was inspired to roll out LED lighting across the Sydney CBD, saving $800,000 year and achieved a cut in emissions by 30%, at a time the city is undergoing an unprecedented level of development.
“In Sydney its about heatwaves and the flow on affects of bushfires. The cities aren’t immediately at threat of bushfires by the extreme heat is something that has even a greater impact than bushfires and of course bushfires have serious impacts on air quality and this affects everyone.”
In Oslo, the focus is public transport
Oslo’s Deputy Mayor, Lan Marie Nguyen Berg, said the city wants a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, and 95% by 2030.
“We have to cut emissions in the transport sector first and foremost, because that’s 63% of our emissions. So we want to reduce the number of cars by 20%,” Ms Berg told SBS.
“We have to stop building roads, start building public transport.”
But if citizens still choose to drive, the city has offered incentives, such as free tolls and parking, to encourage citizens to opt for electric vehicles.
Though almost 100% of Norway’s energy is generated through hydropwer, Ms Berg said 20% of Oslo’s emissions come from old oil heaters and 15% from waste burning facilities. From 2020, they plan to ban all oil heaters.
Rotterdam, a city floating on water?
Nearby in the Netherlands, Rotterdam is a city which has undertaken extensive mitigation and adaptation methods in the wake of climate change.
The Dutch port city has prepared for rising sea levels by building absorption gardens, a prototype floating hub and smog vacuum.
Using climate change mitigation and adaptation measures, Rotterdam has advanced from being one of the dirtiest cities in the world into one of the cleanest.
It is progress that has been applauded at the COP21 climate talks with the C40 City award, which recognises climate change action leadership.
Eighty per cent of the city is below sea level.
“Rotterdam is a low-lying delta, very vulnerable to climate change, so we have to take measures to adapt,” Director of Rotterdam Climate Change, Wiert-Jan de Raaf, told SBS.
There is a big push away from cars and towards public transport and buildings have been retrofitted to be more energy-efficient. The city has a plan to decrease its use of natural gas by using residual waste heat from industrial companies instead.
“Rotterdam is a very petrol-chemical energy port, we’ve earned money already for years with oil, gas and coal. So, we have to make a transition,” Mr de Raff said.
He conceded it will not be easy to achieve a 100 per cent renewable energy target in the near future, but the city is working with the industry to get there as soon as possible.
“We’re trying to expand our approach into a circular economy and decarbonise the current industry and attract new sorts of industry that don’t use fossil fuels.”
In the short term, the city has a 25 per cent reduction target.