Climate action plans, an essential planning tool for cities
Climate change is happening and on a faster pace than ever recorded before. The summers are now marked by multiple wildfires on nearly all continents, heat waves, melting glacier, thawing of permafrost, water shortage, the reduction of the biodiversity and other environmental occurrences.
From the 1950s onwards scientists started to alert on the negative impact of human activities on the ecosystem of the earth. Rachel Carson book ‘Silent spring’, published in 1962, documented the adverse environmental effects caused by the indiscriminate use of pesticides on wildlife. In many cases the voices of these forerunners stays unheard. In 1972 the Club of Rome stimulated considerable public attention with its first report on ‘The Limits to Growth‘ (Meadows & Club of Rome, 1972). The report suggested that economic growth could not continue indefinitely because of resource depletion. Translated in 30 languages, it became the best-selling environmental book in history. But besides debates, few actions followed to slow down the environmental degradation. The movie ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, about former United States Vice President Al Gore‘s campaign to educate people about global warming, came on screen in 2006, raising further awareness of global warming internationally.
But it is only recently that the general public in many countries seems to give attention to the protection of our planet. The visible signs of climate change, the tangible negative impact on health of humans and wildlife, a strong mobilization of the youth in the School strike for climate movement, also known as Fridays for Future, will hopefully change people from being spectator to become actors against climate change.
The Paris agreement
The Paris agreement, based on the negotiations of the 21st Conference of the Parties in Paris (COP21) in December 2015, focus to contain global warming well below +2°C compared to pre-industrial levels by 2100, and strives to limit the increase to +1.5°C. 197 countries signed the Paris agreement and it came into force in November 2016 after it has been ratified by 55 countries representing at least 55% of the estimated greenhouse gas emissions. It requires countries to put forward national climate action plans, called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), and to periodically report on their progress towards implementing those plans. But it leaves it up to each country to determine the plan’s content and level of ambition.
The Climate Action Tracker (CAT), developed and updates by three research organizations tracking climate action since 2009, show a gap between the objective of the Paris agreement and the objectives of the today’s national climate action plans. And a second gap between the objectives of the national climate action plans and the total level of measures they have implemented. In their estimations, the today’s national climate action plans will lead to an increase of 3.0 to 3.3°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. Well above the emission pathway consistent with the Paris Agreement long-term temperature goal of 2.0 to 1.5 °C (Climate Action Tracker 2018).
Russia, which ranks as the fourth biggest contributor to climate warming gasses, has signed, but not yet ratified the Paris Agreement. The Russian authorities might have counted on getting benefits from a rise in global temperatures, which are opening navigation routes through the Arctic and increasing economic activity on Russia’s northern coast. But the negative effects are overshadowing the intended benefits. In July 2019 the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, declared that his government will submit a bill to parliament to approve ratifying the agreement by September 2019, according to a government statement. And Russia’s environmental ministry alerted that temperatures in Russia have risen at twice the rate observed worldwide between 1976 and 2018 (Digges, Charles 2019).
The important role of cities
Cities have taken an important role in the development of the human society. The Institute Paris Region recently issued a publication on who cities are changing the world (Lecroart, 2019). They accommodate worldwide about 55% of the world’s population, emit 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions and host 80% of the wealth, while covering only 2% of the land surface. They represent the main places of political, economic, social and cultural decisions. What happens and is decided in the cities has a large impact on the whole countries.
To implement the objectives of the Paris agreement on their municipal territory many European cities developed their municipal climate action plans with the objective of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. This objective signifies to reduce the major part of all CO2 emissions and to compensate the remaining irreducible emissions generated by human activities.
The Paris climate air and energy plan
The city of Paris, capital of France, houses about 2,2 million inhabitants in an agglomeration of 10,7 million inhabitants. It is the political, economic and cultural capital of France. With 20 800 hab./km² it is one of the most densely populated cities in Europe.
In 2004 the city began assessing the impact of its activities in terms of greenhouse gases. In 2006 the municipal government published its first greenhouse gas assessment and revealed the most highly emitting sectors: public facilities (56%), public transport (20%) and consumer goods (24%). Paris developed and adopted its first climate action plan in 2007 to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. It had been updated ten years later in 2018 (Plan Climat Énergie de Paris, 2018).
Paris’s greenhouse gas emissions had been of 25.6 million tonnes of CO2 (mtCO2) in 2014, which can be divided into two major categories:
1) Local emissions (6.0 mtCO2 in 2014): Direct emissions from Paris area related to the energy consumption of the residential, tertiary/service and industrial sectors, city centre transport and the emissions associated with the waste produced in Paris.
2) The carbon footprint of the territory (6.0+19.6 mtCO2 in 2014): Local emissions plus the upstream emissions produced prior to energy consumption, emissions associated with the food and construction sectors, and from transport outside Paris (including air transport).
In line with the objectives of the Paris Agreement, by the horizon of 2050 the City of Paris undertakes to:
– Reduce local emissions by 100%, achieving the goal of zero emissions in Paris.
– Promote an 80% reduction in the carbon footprint of Paris compared to 2004 levels and involve all local stakeholders in compensating for residual emissions in order to attain the zero net carbon target for the Paris area.
To reach these objectives the city set up an operational action plan for 2030 and an ambition for 2050. An essential milestone are the 2030 targets with:
- A 50% reduction of local CO2 emissions.
- A 40% reduction of the Paris carbon footprint.
- A 35% reduction of energy consumption.
- 45% of renewable energies in the overall consumption, including 10% locally produced.
- And becoming a zero fossil fuel and domestic heating oil area.
The operational action plan for 2030
The operational action plan for 2030 is structured by six main categories: energy, mobility, buildings, urban planning, waste, food. These are recurrent themes in climate action plans as they represent the main CO2 emissions. Following some examples of measures in these main themes:
- Establishing a local energy governance system.
- Producing renewable energy on its territory.
- Reducing traffic and enhance active mobility.
- Supporting low-carbon urban logistics.
- Renovating 100% of the existing building stock.
- Reducing housing inequalities and encourages social links.
- Targeting carbon neutrality for all new urban projects
- Creating temporary urban projects on vacant sites.
- Reducing primarily waste of packaging and food.
- Supporting the growth of the existing recycling centres.
- Reducing the average supply distance for foods.
- Introducing vegetarian days in institute caterings.
Drafting, detailing and ratification of a climate action plan is a necessary step for every cities to assumes its responsibilities for the future. But the next, and more difficult step, is to implement the plan and to translate it into practical measures. Processes of sensitization, communication and participation are essential for this phase. To achieve the climate plan objectives, it is crucial to involve all stakeholders: public and private entities, associations and citizens. With all the actions that the city of Paris can implement directly, like the renovation of municipal buildings or the replacement of municipal vehicles, the city can only fulfil their climate action plan objectives at 20%. The other 80% of the objectives are directly depending of the implication of all other stakeholders. Without convincing the stakeholders to actively participate and to adapt their habits, every climate action plan will fail to reach its objectives. For example, to actively implicate its inhabitants the city of Paris attribute 5% of its annual investment budget for projects proposed and voted by the inhabitants, since 2014.
The Berlin climate air and energy plan
Berlin is the capital of Germany and a city-state of 3.6 million inhabitants within an agglomeration of 4.5 million inhabitants. It bears the image of a green city, because more than 40% of its surface is green spaces and the city is surrounded by agricultural areas (Population density 4 203 hab./km²).
Following the current trajectory of climate change, the climate of Berlin in 2100 will resemble to that of the city of Toulouse in southern France today. To avoid this and to respect the Paris agreement, the city of Berlin likewise has the objective to become carbon neutral for 2050.
To reach this objective, the climate action plan of Berlin was developed and has entered the implementation phase since 2018 (Land Berlin 2018). The plan proposes 100 measures in the areas of climate protection and adaptation to the consequences of climate change, with an implementation phase until 2021 and a development horizon of 2030. Its budget is about 94 million Euros until the next local elections in 2021.
In this plan the sum of all CO2 emissions of Berlin must decrease by 60% by 2030 and 85% by 2050 relative to the 1990 base year These objectives seem to be slightly higher to those of Paris with a decrease by 50% by 2030 and 80% by 2050. But the city of Paris indicates the reduction targets relative to a 2004 and Berlin to 1990, making a direct comparison difficult.
The main fields of action
The 100 measures of the Berlin climate action plan are grouped into the following six categories. To supervise its implementation, a monitoring report is produced every two years, with an annuel interim monitoring report.
Reducing the energy demand, changing to a decentralised, safe and socially responsible energy provision flexibly based on renewable energies.
Building and urban development
Increasing the rate and extent of energy efficient renovation of the existing building stock, changing the rate of urban densification (“city of short distances”).
Increasing energy efficiency and substituting fossil fuels through a mix of consulting, networking and promotion.
Strengthening the environmental mobility network by making walking and cycling more attractive, increasing alternative drive systems and reducing fuel consumption .
Private households and consumption
Fostering climate-friendly behaviour through advising, educating and providing support.
Adapt to the impacts of climate change
In the health, urban development, urban greenery, forestry, trans-port, commerce and finance sectors.
The example of motorized mobility
Even it they look similar on a first glace, climate action plans must be adapted in detail to the characteristics and potentials of their territory. This can be seen in the measure of Paris and Berlin towards petrol and diesel vehicles.
The Berlin climate action plan foresees that by 2030 petrol and diesel-powered vehicles will make up only about a third of all road vehicles and should be almost completely replaced by 2050. The Paris climate action plan instead set the target of phasing out diesel-powered mobility by 2024 and petrol-powered mobility by 2030. In detail, while Paris targets to forbid petrol and diesel vehicles completly by 2030, Berlin indicates only to ‘almost’ replace them by 2050, twenty years later and not even completly.
This difference in ambition comes from the geography of the cities. The city of Paris covers the dense centre of the Paris metropolitan area and benefits from a well-developed public transport system, an extensive network of cycle paths, and waterway routes along the river Seine and its canals. These assets facilitate a strong ambition on mobility issues. The municipal boundary of Berlin is more extended and includes a large part of the periphery of the agglomeration. In these low density areas the public transport system is less developped and active mobility less efficiant beacause of the longer distances. In consequence the inhabitants of Berlin are more dependent on car use for their everyday needs then those in Paris.
But the low population density of Berlin and the strong presence of green spaces gives the city a higher facility to avoid and reduce urban heat islands than the densely build city of Paris, that can only rely on the flat roofs of some of its buildings for revegetation.
The difficulties of the implementation of the climate plans
As mentioned before, drafting, detailing and ratification of a climate action plan is a indispensable step for every city. But the main step is to implement the measures of the plan. Each measure will face resistance from a part of the population as it implies changes in the habits. National and municipal governments in Europe are elected and mostly wish to be re-elected. They often hesitate to implement unpopular measures, like constraining the use of petrol and diesel-powered vehicles.
This is where comes in the importance of sensitization, explanation and participation processes to change the regard of the inhabitants on these issues. A best practice example is the closure of the Seine river expressway called ‘Georges-Pompidou’, that had been progressively conducted between 1995 and 2016. While in the 1990th it was unimaginable for the majority of the population to close this inner city expressway, different well planned steps managed to changed their opinion and the population demanded its closure in the 2010th.
Today the city Berlin has difficulties to achieve its objectives of the 40% reduction of the CO2 emissions by 2020. Although the city had been able to reduce its CO2 emissions by about a third since 1990, an upward trend in emissions and energy consumption has been observed in recent years. In 2016, there was a total of 20 mtCO2 (Paris: 25.6 mtCO2 in 2014). Compared to the 1990 base year, this represents a decrease of 31.4%, but compared to the previous year 2015, it was an increase of 2.9%. Instead of constantly reducing the CO2 emissions, trajectory turned and the emissions increased again between 2015 and 2016.
One of the possible reasons are, that few of the 100 measures of the climate action plan have been implemented until now. The majority still remained at the concept stage. Only 23 million EUR of the 94 million EUR total budget until 2021 had been spend or budgeted for concrete measures in 2019 (Land Berlin 2019).
The other reason is that Berlin has a growing population. But the objectives of the reduction of CO2 emissions are counted in total value (40% reduction in tons of CO2 to the 1990 base year), independent of the number of inhabitants. So each new citizen adds his own carbon footprint to the existing CO2 emissions and the city has to reinforce its efforts to maintain its goals.
Cities and citizens must become leaders in the ecological transition
The ecological transition to limit climate change is one of the main challenges of the first half of the 21st century and cities have an essential role in this transition. Ambitious climate action plan, based on a detailed assessment, have to become the main planning tool to guide the development of the city in all aspects on the short and long term. Its implementation has to be proceeded and accompanied by information and participation processes with all stakeholders, public and private.
Private stakeholders have to become active participants in the ecological transition process, as about 80% (in the case of Paris) of the objectives of the climate action plan are depending of our implication and changes in behaviour. Citizens, professionals and companies are the main source of CO2 emissions. Also because the political orientation of the municipal governments can change in future elections. The next elections in Paris are in 2020 (every 6 years) and in Berlin in 2021 (every 5 years). But climate actions plans only have an impact if implemented continuously on the long term. In contrast to changing governments, we can to take the lead of the ecological transition and claim the development, ratification and implementation of climate action plans from our local governments. Architects and planners, who sharp the future of the cities, have to get directly involved in this challenge.
Some cities already show the way, like Copenhagen that implements its climate action plan since 2013 and aims to be the world’s first carbon-neutral capital city by 2025. Twenty-five years before Paris and Berlin.
What can be done ?
To get involved, Russian architects and planners can study the climate actions plan of cities like Copenhagen or Paris, that are mostly available online and translated in English. The 17 sustainable development goals (SDG) of the United Nation also offer general guideline to orientate and verify the sustainably of urban projects. To support the SDG, UN-Habitat publishes online monthly best practices in city planning and urban projects. These thus acquired knowledge will change our way to think and build our cities.
Planning professional can take advantage of their access to city officials to raise awareness on the negative impact of climate change and the positive impact of climate actions on local level. Most cities that implement ambitious measures for sustainability since a decade are now ranked among the most attractive cities, like Freiburg im Breisgau (Germany) or Malmö (Sweden),
Introduction sustainability issues in schools and universities helps to train and exchange with the future planners. Local activities on district or neighbourhood level have a strong impact. We can join local city councils and organize conferences and debates in neighbourhoods. To get support for building and planning differently with the ecological transition in mind, we need an informed and sensitized public. Local democracy, diversity of opinions and freedom of speech, is essential for this transition process.
The city of Moscow is part of the C40 network of the world’s megacities committed to addressing climate change. It organised the III Climate forum of cities in September 2019 and has joined recently 28 pioneering cities in committing to ensure a major area of the city is free from exhaust gases by 2030 and procure only zero-emission buses from 2025.
These are first steps, but mainly focused on one city in a large nation of 146 million inhabitants and insufficient. The Climate Action Tracker classifies the current policies of the Russian Federation as critically insufficient leading a global warming of +4°C by 2100.
Author: Christian Horn is the head of the architecture and urban planning office RETHINK in Paris, France
The article has been published in the magazine Project Baikal n°62
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