CHIANG RAI, Thailand, Feb 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) -
Cities are on the frontline of the fight against climate change
and will play a key role in limiting global temperature rise to
1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a target
governments agreed to aim for in the Paris climate change deal,
officials and green experts said this week.
“Whether we win or lose, or (will) be able to really achieve
that goal of 1.5C (2.7F) - that battle will be waged at the city
level,” said Milag San Jose-Ballesteros, director for Southeast
Asia and Oceania with C40, a network of over 80 cities
representing some 600 million people.
Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is the
president of C40’s board of directors.
World temperatures hit a record high for the third year in a
row in 2016, at around 1.1C higher than before the Industrial
Revolution ushered in wide use of fossil fuels. They will likely
rise by 3C or more by 2100 if current trends continue, many
Keeping global warming below 2C would limit the worst
effects of sea-level rise, melting of Arctic sea ice, damage to
coral reefs and acidification of oceans, according to the U.N.'s
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Cities are vital to that effort because of the sheer number
of people living in them now - and those who will move there in
coming decades, experts told a conference in northern Thailand
on making East Asian cities safe, green and inclusive.
Around two-thirds of people on the planet are predicted to
be city-dwellers by 2050, with developing countries in
particular poised to see their urban populations soar
“Cities are (being) reinvented, re-imagined, redesigned. I
think that’s where the future will be defined. It’s the seed of
innovation and economic activity,” said San Jose-Ballesteros.
With the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has
installed many climate change sceptics in his administration,
scientists and environmentalists have expressed fears the U.S.
government may exit the global climate action stage.
San Jose-Ballesteros, however, believes cities will forge
ahead with their own path.
Individual U.S. states and cities have said they will
continue with efforts to combat climate change, with California
releasing new measures within minutes of Trump being sworn in.
Arif Dermawan, project coordinator at the environment agency
in Malang, a large city in Indonesia's East Java, said local
governments are "very important" in the fight against climate
"We live there, the city belongs to us. It’s our community,”
CLEAN AND CONNECTED
East Asian city officials at the two-day meeting - from
Japan in the north, to the Philippines in the south - shone a
spotlight on local action and co-operation between municipal
governments and citizens.
That mobilisation does not mean national governments don't
count, San Jose-Ballesteros said. Commitment at the national
level is crucial to effectively address the problems caused by
climate change because it has to be done on a massive scale, she
“But within their authority, initiatives and commitment,
mayors will continue to do what they think will create a
liveable and sustainable city,” she told the Thomson Reuters
Many cities are already testing and promoting both high-tech
and low-tech measures in response to pressures caused by rising
temperatures, urbanisation and shifting demographics.
China is building infrastructure, including pavements and
green roofs, that absorbs water like a sponge, and is using
permeable bricks. South Korea has electric buses and smart bus
stops with their own solar panels to power LED lights and
One Japanese city hit by the 2011 tsunami created an
“eco-town” housing estate whose micro-grid can provide power for
up to a week after a natural disaster.
Meanwhile in Thailand, waste is being turned into wall
hangings, paintings and other forms of art, and a young doctor
in Indonesia has set up a health insurance scheme where members
pay premiums by collecting garbage with recycling value.
Many of the region’s fast-growing cities expressed their
desire for more green spaces, a well-connected public transport
system, and efficient waste management and recycling.
“In the future, I want my city to (have) less private
vehicles and keep the air clean, and be sustainable,” said
Malang’s Dermawan. “I already feel climate change. When I was
growing up, I used to wear a jumper or jacket every day. Now it
is hot every single day.”
San Jose-Ballesteros said she was heartened by the fact that
cities are today "on board" with the need to tackle climate
change, and are taking practical steps.
“Now (they) are at the pilot stage, looking at replicating
or scaling up their efforts,” she said.
(Reporting by Thin Lei Win; editing by Megan Rowling. Please
credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of
Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change,
resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights.