Urban centres: the real climate change battle-ground

A new report by the UN says that urbanisation and climate change are on a crash course to threatening the world's environmental, economic and social stability unless action is urgently taken.

The report, Cities and Climate Change: Global Report on Human Settlements 2011, says the world’s cities are responsible for up to 70% of harmful greenhouse gases, while only occupying 2% of its land.

The main sources of GHG emissions, according to the report, come from urban areas are related to the consumption of fossil fuels.

They include energy supply for electricity generation (mainly from coal, gas and oil); transportation; energy use in commercial and residential buildings for lighting, cooking, space heating, and cooling; industrial production; and waste.

The effects of increased urbanisation include an intensification of heat waves, drought, increased cyclone activity and extreme high sea levels.

The report argues that local action is indispensible in order to fulfil international and national climate change commitments. Currently, it says, there are no clear processes by which local governments, stakeholders and actors can participate in national climate change policies.

The report considers mitigation and adaption measures for a more sustainable future. Policies, it says need to address long and short-term issues and need to take an opportunity/risk management approach.

UN-HABITAT executive director Joan Clos said: “Cities are responsible for the majority of our harmful greenhouse gases. But they are also places where the greatest efficiencies can be made.

“This makes it imperative that we understand the form and content of urbanization so that
we can reduce our footprint.

“Understanding the contribution of cities to climate change will help us intervene at the local level. With better urban planning and greater citizen participation we can make our hot cities cool again.”

Read the full UN report here.

Alison Brown

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