AN UNDENIABLE RELATIONSHIP: CITIES AND CLIMATE CHANGE - Prabin Tandan (BTRTC, Hetauda) Climate change is a well-heard phenomenon that has been discussed, debated andresearched for decades. Yet it has not been able to fully transform itself from talk-to-task; i.e.enough attention has not been garnered from all concerned sides. Basically Climate change refers to the result of changes in the Global energy balance,which is the equilibrium between rate of receiving energy from the Sun and rate of losing energyto space. This equilibrium energy is dispersed throughout the earth as winds, ocean currents, heatwaves and other means. Several factors have been attributed to Climate change, the most prominent one being theemission of Greenhouse gases that trap Solar heat inside earth’s atmosphere, resulting in globaltemperature rise (of alarming 0.7 degrees in the 20th century).CITIES ARE BEING MAJOR CAUSE OF CLIMATE CHANGE Greenhouse gases usually find their origin in urban areas, which consume more than 67%of world’ energy and contribute to 70% of Global CO2 emission, including radiatively activegases like methane, carbon monoxide and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). A great portion of itcomes from Industries, which are responsible for 50% of CO2 emissions from fossil fuelcombustion; the rest being attributed to vehicles and production and use of energy for lighting,heating, recreation etc. Apart from that, the dense urban environment of cities, with reduced land
area for open space, forests, parks and agricultural surfaces abruptly lowers cities’ capacity toabsorb CO2, further degrading the situation. On the other hand, poor waste management alsoreleases gases like methane and CFCs. Thus cities are being gradually transformed into “HeatIslands”.CITIES ARE BEING AFFECTED BY CLIMATE CHANGE Statistics suggest that the most dangerous impact Global Climate change is going to haveis on Cities, especially the Urban poor population. With more than half of the world’s populationnow living in cities, it is a matter of grave concern for the whole world. Indications have beenseen worldwide of Physical impacts (Glacial retreat and disappearance, changes in rainfallpatterns, frequent and severe weather events like storms, floods and droughts, decreased cropyield, spread of infectious disease vectors), Biological impacts (Extinction of endangeredspecies, Growth of harmful species) and Social impacts (Large-scale migration, conflict on waterresources) etc. Last but not the least, rise in sea level is among the most severe of itsconsequences. It is no wonder when 10% of world’s population lives less than 10 metres abovesea level (Low Elevation Coastal Zone); and 14 of the world’s largest 19 cities are port cities.Sea-level is expected to rise by 12 cm in ninety years; and it is estimated that a rise in 38 cm canincrease the no. of people flooded by storm surges by five times. Inhabitants of such areas willbe more vulnerable to inland floods, stronger tropical cyclones, spread of diseases, thusdeteorating the quality of life. Loss of ecosystem will make them more prone to disaster, onlyamplifying the risks.
The matter is serious with regard to our own region Asia too, which accounts for 90% ofdeaths related to harsh weather effects. It is estimated that 70% of urban Asian and Small IslandDeveloping States (SIDS) population are prone to flooding. In the South Asian context, most ofBangladesh is at very high risk of inundation, with Maldives at the threat of extinction! The daysare not far when we will have “Climate change refugees”, population displaced due todetrimental effects of Climate Change.CITIES CAN LEAD THE INITIATIVE From another perspective, they are the cities alone that can guide in the battle againstclimate change; on behalf of mother nature. Since their very existence, cities have been the hubsof nation’s economic, social and political fields. They have organized manpower and minds,efficient communication ability and the power to move. They have no control over the impacts,but certainly can act to decrease its causes, estimate the scale of disaster and plan and proceedaccordingly. UN HABITAT, in its “Mid-term Strategy and Institutional Plan 2008-2013” alsovoices for better management of urbanization in this regard. The Copenhagen summit of Mayors,2009 sent clear message to all stakeholders that “Cities act- we must, we can and we will” Fundamentally there are two dimensions to the solution-mitigation and adaptation.Mitigation vows to prevent further climate change, whereas Adaptation aims at readjustinglifestyle to its inevitable impacts. As both measures require efficient infrastructure services, citiescan have a unique opportunity to re-strengthen their physical capability and add new life to urbaneconomy.
Not all but many cities have already opened their fronts. Their attempts aim at increasingenergy efficiency of infrastructures, producing clean energy (being Low Carbon cities) andeffective use of resources (e.g. advanced waste management). Some have put their efforts indesigning and constructing energy-efficient facilities, reducing traffic flow, decreasinggreenhouse gas emission, producing and utilizing renewable energy, creating open spaces forgreenery etc. The steps taken by Cities should be recognized and promoted by the respectivegovernments, especially the developing ones. Cities should also upgrade their capacity to facethe challenges by strong network between them, dissemination of information, sharing ofexperiences and transfer of technology. Truly speaking, Cities are left with no alternative but totake effective action to respond to the disastrous impacts of Climate change.NEPAL: WHERE WE STAND With per capita GDP of $427 and sharing mere 0.025% of total Greenhouse gasemissions, it is ironical that Nepal ranks fourth of 170 countries in respect to the vulnerability toClimate change impacts over the next 30 years, as shown by Climate Change VulnerabilityIndex(CCVI) by U.K. firm Maplecroft. On the other hand, a Gallup survey showed that only49% of Urban and 36% of Rural Nepalese population was aware of Climate Change. Of the totalpopulation, 17% live in Cities (2008). Nepal’s urbanization rate (7.3%) is the highest in SouthAsia, where Kathmandu valley occupies 31% of total Urban population. Her diverse topography,poverty, rapid deforestation and delicate eco-system are the key factors that make her vulnerableto impacts of Climate change. What adds to the woes is that most Nepalese cities are not well-planned; and arehaphazardly growing. They are less equipped to face the challenges Climate change is going toimpose upon. Specifically the most densely populated towns like Kathmandu, which was onceonly second to Mexico-city in the global list of most polluted cities; are miles behind in thiscontext. It is unfortunate that it looks as if we have not even commenced the journey for anintelligent, energy-efficient Green city. Some efforts have certainly been launched, like DUDBCprovoking through its available resources for better planned small towns, well-equippedmunicipalities, building safer and economic buildings and efficient waste management being fewof them; but they are obviously not enough. There are further things that need to be taken into account, e.g. introducing buildingmaterials that repel rather than trap heat, green roofing with vegetation and adding energyefficiency requirements in National Building Code; designation of open spaces as Buffer zonesfor flooding etc. This is only possible with the co-ordinated effort of Government, Local bodiesand the general public.Finally, a quote from Maldivian President Mohamed Nashed is worth noting:“Going green might cost a lot, but refusing to act now will cost us the earth”.