Tag Archives: Future Proofing Cities

Smaller Municipalities Today are Potential Mega Metropolises of Tomorrow: The Need for Climate Change Resilient Approaches

Simon Bawakyillenuo and Innocent Komla Agbelie from the University of Ghana on the recent IPCC “Key Roles of Cities in Climate Resilience” report.

Terence Creamer’s article entitled New report highlights key role of cities in building climate resilience[1] sheds light on the report ‘Climate Change 2014: Impact, Adaptation and Vulnerability’ produced by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II. Quoted in the article, during a post-publication briefing, Dr. Debra Roberts, one of the authors of the ‘Urban Areas’ chapter of the report, warned that “urban areas are at risk and vulnerable to climate change simply because they have so many eggs in the basket in urban areas: the majority of people now live in cities; the bulk of our infrastructure is in cities”. Dr. Roberts noted further that “cities offer us one of the single greatest opportunities for global adaptation, if we get our act together around urban development and any step taken to improve the resilience of urban areas has the potential to greatly increase the global ability to adapt to climate change”. Adding a different dimension, Dr. Bob Scholes, an ecologist at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research Systems cautioned that adaptation to climate change alone would have limitations, hence, the need to combine it with “early and aggressive mitigation actions” to tackle not only “how much the climate changes, but also how fast it changes”

Indeed, evidence abounds today, manifesting that cities such as Chicago in the U.S.A, Leicester in the UK, and Ekurhuleni in South Africa have made huge investments in retrofit programmes for public buildings as a way of reducing energy use, since energy consumption is a key driver of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. Other innovations such as the Bus Rapid Transit system in Mexico City, biogas-powered buses in Lille, France and the solar-powered municipal bus fleet in Adelaide, Australia are all green strategies being introduced into city structures to enhance the mitigation of GHG emission as well as improve the resilience of these urban areas. The adoption of these clean and efficient technologies by the cities, which serve the dual purposes of climate change mitigation and adaption strategies are in sync with Dr. Debra Roberts’ views. Since cities are the highest contributors of GHG emissions, strong leadership and institutional set-ups are required to initiate innovative approaches that will embrace the dual purposes of adaptation to climate change and mitigation of GHG emissions. While existing mega cities will need to reorient their strategies and approaches, the lessons and opportunities, perhaps for local authorities of smaller cities and municipalities are that, they can leapfrog the fundamental mistakes of mega cities by pursuing development agenda that will involve meticulous planning, adoption of policies that will be clean and efficient technology driven as well as improving resilience to climate change.

It goes without saying that today’s mega cities are more complicated, structurally and institutionally compared to smaller cities; which therefore make it difficult to apply the same technologies, processes and scientific approaches to tackling what may seem homogeneous problems facing the two types of cities. Thus, a more proactive approach to building climate conscious cities and municipalities is the need for them to adopt adaptation and mitigation measures that are within their means, resource-wise. While mega cities need to integrate more climate friendly technologies into their existing structures in order to upgrade them to climate compatible levels, smaller cities and municipalities, having not developed complicated structures can just begin developing their structures with climate compatible elements, being mainstreamed in them.

The SAMSET project’s approach of supporting municipalities from three countries with varied setups in terms of size, structure and institutional arrangements, with sustainable energy transition paths, is laudable in building climate resilience in the selected municipalities and, therefore speaks to the views of Dr. Debra Roberts. The selected smaller municipalities on the SAMSET project, which are considered alongside other larger cities, are obviously potential mega cities in the future. Thus, these smaller municipalities are well placed in shaping their development trajectories in the right directions and protecting their fragile infrastructure by drawing lessons from the bigger municipalities that have faced numerous climate change issues. In effect, the SAMSET project has an enviable opportunity of impacting positively on climate change resilient approaches of all partner municipalities especially, the smaller cities through building the capacity of their personnel to come up with informed decisions, strategies and approaches to develop clean and efficient technologies.

[1]Available at: http://www.engineeringnews.co.za/article/new-report-highlights-key-role-of-cities-in-building-climate-resilience-2014-03-31


Where Is The Blackwood?

Simon Batchelor from Gamos offers his thoughts on the importance of considering charcoal use as a fuel option, even in urbanising areas.

As David Mann of UMU points out in last week’s blog, “wood and charcoal still represent roughly 90 per cent of the total energy consumed in the country (Uganda).” He goes on to say that “as Ugandan cities grow and develop, the fuels used in transportation, industry, refrigeration, lighting and entertainment become more diverse; we see gasoline, paraffin, diesel, and electricity increasing their share of the energy mix.”  This energy mix is important for Africa municipalities, although wood and charcoal remain a mainstay.  Remember that cooking remains the largest single use of energy in an urban household.  Even in a large city like Kampala charcoal looms large.

Using Measure DHS data we can show  in the figure below that charcoal was a dominant choice of cooking fuel in Kampala in 2011.  Each dot represents a cluster of respondents, and each red dot shows that between 75% to 100% of households surveyed in that cluster were using charcoal for cooking.   Only in a few areas at the very centre of Kampala do the number of households using charcoal drop to below 50%.

Gamos Blog Feb 14 Image

So given the prevalence of charcoal for cooking, it must feature in designs for the future?  Given our focus on modernity, and the irrelevance of charcoal to the mega cities of the Western world it is easy to marginalise the role of charcoal.  Consider the Future Proofing Cities report.  This scoping study sought to “help national and regional  government and development agencies understand the environmental risks to growth and poverty reduction in cities to target investment and support at those urban areas or greatest need”.   It “assesses the risks to cities from climate hazards, resource scarcities, and damage to ecosystems and how they can act now to future proof themselves.

This comprehensive report addresses the balance to be struck between urban growth and development on one hand, and environmental damage on the other. Energy is indeed one of the factors considered, but when it comes to the use of biomass specifically, it lists a biomass power plant and tree planting as options for Bangkok.  Although it does acknowledge the use of fuelwood (almost in passing), it fails to mention ‘charcoal’ specifically, and only touched on deforestation as a contributor to the complex agriculture water erosion nexus.  This is not to criticise the report team, but rather to illustrate how a focus on modern approaches to urban development can easily overlook a simple, but currently a major, energy source in Africa.

Charcoal will remain important for cities in Africa for the foreseeable future, and we need to bring it into any discussion of, as David puts it, ‘energy production and usage at the scale of the municipality’.