Global Carbon Project Tsukuba International Office

Urban planning and design are key elements for achieving the two-degree-target

Tsukuba, 24 November, 2016. In the course of global urbanization, the design of today’s transportation systems, buildings and other infrastructures will largely determine tomorrow’s CO2 emissions. Indeed, “going green” now in terms of infrastructure and buildings could cut future emissions in half or about 10 Gt CO2 per year from 2040 onwards —the same quantity that is currently being emitted by the United States, Europe and India together. These are core findings of a new study that Felix Creutzig from the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) together with Ayyoob Sharifi and Yoshiki Yamagata from the National Institute for Environmental Studies (NIES) and colleagues from other prestigious research institutes recently published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

To embark on this climate-smart path, cities around the world would need to incentivize the construction of higher-density, energy-efficient housing and implement new mobility concepts such as car sharing, electric cars and bicycles, and bike paths. The challenge would also call on urban planners to provide citizens with shorter commutes, set up inner-city tolls and realize architectural and technological upgrades of buildings, especially in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Last but not least, it would require higher gasoline taxes.

“Urban planning and transport could become a major roadblock to reaching the two-degree-target. Once infrastructures are in place, they determine carbon emissions for nearly an entire century—much longer even than coal-fired power stations,” says lead author Felix Creutzig. “However, if the world made a dedicated effort to seize the existing opportunities within the next 15 years to upgrade its cities’ infrastructures, urban planning will become a key arena for achieving ambitious climate change. Especially in times of right-wing populist and anti-climate regimes, pragmatic urban decision-makers can take more responsibility for climate protection.”

The new study is particularly relevant for urban planners and municipal decision-makers in both large and small cities. To date, most climate protection plans consider the transport and building sectors as being separate entities that are only addressed at the national and/or federal levels. The article in Nature Climate Change, however, takes a more integrated approach towards infrastructure planning and management at the municipal level and assesses a city’s climate mitigation potential on the basis of three parameters. These are the emissions savings following upgrades to existing infrastructure; emissions savings from using energy-efficient new infrastructures; and also the additional emissions generated by the construction of this new infrastructure.

The new study aggregates existing data to show that the highest emissions reduction potential is offered by the use of new energy-efficient infrastructures. For example, the annual reductions that may be achieved by the year 2040 when using new infrastructures is three to four times higher than that of using upgraded existing urban infrastructures. Nonetheless, even in existing cities considerable progress can be achieved through refurbishing existing buildings in an energy-efficient way, increasing building density and enhancing walking, biking, and public transportation infrastructure. Moreover, the very act of building these new infrastructures will invariably involve introducing new CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. In that regard carbon capture and storage as part of the cement manufacturing process is of great importance.

“Cities are increasingly gaining ground as focal points for climate change mitigation and adaptation activities. It is time to capitalize on the potential of urban planning for contributing to actions aimed at limiting global warming to below two degrees above pre-industrial levels.” says Ayyoob Sharifi.

The original article can be found here:
Urban infrastructure choices structure climate solutions
Felix Creutzig, Peter Agoston, Jan C. Minx, Josep G. Canadell, Robbie M. Andrew, Corinne Le Quéré, Glen P. Peters, Ayyoob Sharifi, Yoshiki Yamagata, Shobhakar Dhakal
http://nature.com/articles/doi:10.1038/nclimate3169