Climate change is a reality that can’t be ignored today, and cities will play an increasingly important role in fighting its adverse effects in the coming years, experts at the 2017 World Economic Forum in Dubai said on Sunday.
“If we get our cities right, we might achieve our 2030 goals; if we get our cities wrong, we are doomed,” said Robert Muggah, research director, Igarapé Institute, Brazil.
Muggah explained that there are several reasons why millions of people are moving to cities across the world. Living in cities provides better access to schools, healthcare and job opportunities.
“It has been proven that people live longer and better qualities of life in urban cities,” he said. “Yet, with all the positives, there are a few dark sides to cities. Cities produce over 75 per cent of carbon emissions and use just as much when it comes to energy consumption.”
Muggah also noted that nation states around the world are in decline, and that it is cities that are instead playing a larger role in the combating the effects of climate change.
“Hyper globalisation is a challenge, and there are reports which suggest that after 2050, over 70 per cent of the world’s populations will live in cities. One of the biggest threats to cities is climate change; we have whole cities along the coast that are under threat from rising sea levels,” he said.
“Cities can, and must, be part of the solution,” he stressed. “Cities around the world are already stepping up and applying international standards to combat some of the challenges that they face. The future of our actions to combat climate change will not be in the actions of regulators, but cities taking actions collectively. Cities are where the action happens first, is the age-old adage.”
Giving examples of progress, Muggah noted that over 8,000 cities across the world have already implemented solar technologies. Several others are in various stages of implementing other forms of renewable energy.
Changhua Wu, director of China and Asia at the Office of Jeremy Rifkin, People’s Republic of China, said the future looks bleak when it comes to the effects of climate change.
“Our oceans are becoming more acidic due to rising carbon dioxide levels; the demand for more land for cattle pastures has led to deforestation,” she said. “By 2030, we are going to see shortages of fresh water reserves; and pollution is rampant in Asia particularly in places like Beijing and India.”
She added: “We are literally living in an ongoing crisis; this is not a dilemma that will come to pass in the future or will manifest in our children’s lifetimes. Technology provides an answer. But for change to come, we need policy and purpose-driven systems. There is a long way to go and a global community is required to create a solution.”
Wu also cautioned that while technology is critical when it comes to combating threats, agencies have to be very careful when it comes to new technologies that might have unforeseen adverse effects.
She stressed that while the recent Paris Agreement had done a lot to set the framework for the future, actions need to come faster; and that countries need to move faster.
“Our planet is under stress,” agreed Jean-Marie Guéhenno, president and CEO of International Crisis Group, Belgium. “We live in a world on the move. Millions of people are living in a country in which they were not born. In addition, millions of people are displaced by terrible regional conflicts. The vast majority of displaced refugees are not straining Europe, as many want you to believe; instead, they are straining smaller countries that are not equipped to deal with a sudden influx of refugees.”
Guéhenno also noted that transitions, such as the one that the world is going through right now, are periods of high risk with an increase in violence. The rise in violence, he said, is also accompanied by an increase in discourse, and a steady erosion of norms when it comes to trust among governments. Regional rivalries and tension become more eminent.
“Building a wall to create a solution is an illusion,” he said. “If you plug one path, then it just puts strain on other areas.”