Building the Road For a Sustainable Future
This year’s Climate and Society class is out in the field (or lab or office) completing a summer internship or thesis. They’ll be documenting their experiences one blog post at a time. Read on to see what they’re up to.
By Sebastian Bonelli, C+S ’15
I live in a city. In a typical day, I wake up in the morning and I take a shower, I eat some toast, I drink some coffee, I grab my phone and head out. I catch the subway and I go to work. I drink my second coffee while I turn on my computer and check the news. I’m usually comfortable. When it is cold outside, I enjoy the benefits of central heating. If it is hot, the air conditioner is my best friend. For lunch I get food in the cafeteria. Chicken or beef, noodles or soup, served on a plastic plate. One more coffee in the afternoon is not unusual. Once I’m back home, I cook dinner or I order food online and I relax until the day is over. A normal city life, I guess.
What could possibly be uncommon about it?
However, when I think about all the machinery and energy used to make my daily life possible, it becomes the most strange thing I could think about. Most of the things I do, almost all the food or drink I consume, and most of the services I use depend on consuming energy and generating an impact on the earth system.
At the end of the day, most of my daily activities are strongly tied to the world’s fossil fuel dominated economy. One fraction of those billions and billions of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted every year to the atmosphere driving global warming and its multiple impacts are due to the way I live.
Estimations are that 70-80 percent of the world’s energy-related emissions come from cities. These emissions are linked to my habits and the habits of about 55 percent of the planet’s population — nearly 4 billion people — who live in cities and have a similar way of living. In addition, many cities of the world are already dealing with climate change, facing heat waves, heavy storms, droughts and other impacts. Cities have experienced exponential growth during the past decades, a trend that is expected to continue in the future. By 2050, two thirds of the world’s population are likely to be living in cities. That makes cities one of the main keys to address the problem of climate change.
The good news is that cities around the world are already taking action and working together. ICLEI is a network of more than 1,000 local governments working together for a sustainable future. The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group is another network that connects about 75 of the world´s largest cities. A third network is the United Cities and Local Governments, which also has climate change as one of their main priorities to address.
While the creation of these and many other networks has been part of a great push for global climate action, standardization has become a new challenge. Many different frameworks and protocols to report a city’s CO2 emissions have been developed and many different scopes were defined. The consequence is that for too many years, there was no consistent way of setting emission reduction goals as well as measuring global progress. This is why, under the pressure of COP21 — the next climate conference in Paris — goals, objectives and commitments of cities have recently been reinforced through the creation of the Compact of Mayors.
The Compact of Mayors is an agreement between these global city networks — and therefore its members — which establishes a common platform for cities to report their emissions and commitments, as well as their adaptation efforts. As part of this process, the Global Protocol for Community scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventory has been developed, and today cities have access to common online tools, such as ClearPath, a common platform to calculate emissions, and carbonn, a unique global platform for emissions and climate actions reporting. Is expected that through this process, cities’ efforts will be more visible and public and private investments will be encouraged, accelerating local climate action in a more ambitious, collaborative and sustainable way.
Supporting this process is what I have been doing this summer in ICLEI. Collecting cities emission data, checking if they are in compliance with the new global protocols, and helping them to update their inventories and report their actions. In part, these efforts are being done so when the Paris conference takes place in December, cities will have an effective channel of communication with the world governments. This is the road through Paris; it doesn’t end in the city of love. It is a road that started long ago, a road that is improving now, and that will transform our cities for a more sustainable future.