Why is sustainability so important for our cities?
Yesterday marked the start of COP26 - the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference, this year being held in Glasgow. As the eyes of the world fall on the UK to follow the proceedings, we look at the role which cities must play in the survival of our planet.
Just under 5 years ago, on 4th November 2016, the Paris Agreement first came into force. One of its main objectives is to limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, which will significantly reduce the impacts of climate change. In order to do this, global carbon dioxide emissions need to be reduced to the point of being at Net Zero by the middle of this century.
Of course, despite the increasing prevalence of floods and wildfires in the UK, it can sometimes be hard to recognise the effects of climate change first hand in our daily lives. The disappearance of sea ice may not be the first thing on our minds as we wearily sip our morning coffee, and extreme weather events like droughts and hurricanes are rarely to be found in Liverpool, Birmingham or Leeds - for the moment, anyway.
The fact is, it’s often the most underserved and marginalised communities who suffer the worst effects of global warming. According to C40.org an estimated 1 billion people worldwide live in informal settlements with no access to risk-reducing infrastructure. And 100 million people are at risk of being forced into extreme poverty by 2030 without equitable climate strategies.
How does this affect cities like mine?
One of the harsher truths of climate change is that it is often city-dwellers’ lifestyles that impact the planet most significantly. It is estimated that most major, developed cities need to drop their emissions from over 5 metric tons, to 2.9 metric tons of carbon dioxide (or equivalent) per person by 2030 to avoid a global catastrophe. Given this is just over 8 years away, the term ‘climate emergency’ has never felt more fitting.
Yet it’s not all doom and gloom. As with most things, the greatest challenges also present the greatest opportunities, and implementing permanent and effective change has never seemed more possible. While our highly connected and urbanised world means cities contribute immensely to climate change, it also means that cities are in a position to do something about it. Through sustainable building initiatives, educational programmes and improved transport infrastructures, our cities can contribute massively to the world’s journey to carbon neutrality.
Cities will benefit too
Of course, this involves lots of work - and fast. But with hard work comes great reward. Already, many of the UK’s cities have started to think about how they improve their commuter infrastructure - with pop-up cycle lanes and new walkways being created. In Greater Manchester, up to 45,000 cars per day are taken off the road by cycling; in the West Midlands, cycling cuts greenhouse gas emissions by 23,000 metric tons per year. And aside from the health of our planet, this is hugely beneficial to the health of our population, too. Since more active commuting like cycling and walking releases endorphins (the ‘happy hormone’), the people who live and work in our city regions will benefit from improved mental and physical wellbeing.
Plus, the type of governance required for city-led transformational change will have positive change as a by-product. As opposed to top-down decision-making, city leaders will need to work in partnership with local communities and private businesses, consulting across divisions to bring new insight and identify routes for change. This will only help to embed a system whereby all voices - even the most marginalised - are sought out and heard; an approach which champions equality and makes the most of our great cities’ cultural vibrancy.
Our local and national economies are set to reap the benefits too. As reported last week, the UK’s transition to Net Zero Carbon is expected to be responsible for the creation of 139,000 jobs in science and technology by 2030 alone. This means great strides for the Levelling Up Agenda, as regional economies will see significant growth by 2050 (3.5% in the North West; 4% in Yorkshire and Midlands), along with improved career opportunities for a broader range of skill sets.
Sustainability may have become a commonplace term, but its importance cannot be overstated for the future of our world. In becoming more sustainable, our cities will really thrive in so many other ways.
Over the next few days and weeks, we’ll be offering tips on how you can make a big difference with some small changes, as well as keeping you in the loop about our events and discussions around sustainability - with fascinating inputs from several key figures... Stay tuned!
Meanwhile, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how you stay sustainable, and what cities can do to improve… Let us know on Twitter @Bruntwood_UK.