Cities must play role in fighting global warming

By , People Daily Digital
Monday, November 1st, 2021 00:00 | 4 mins read
Nairobi city. Kenya Photo/FILE

How much do cities contribute to carbon emissions?

By virtue of their role as engines of economic growth, harbouring core industrial and commercial activities, cities pollute more than rural areas.

This remains so despite that agriculture adds significantly to the carbon load.

Occupying only about two per cent of the earth’s surface, a whopping 75 per cent of the global carbon dioxide is ascribed to cities.

This is generated from combustion of fossil fuel in transportation and manufacturing, and electricity and heating and cooling systems in buildings.

From the above revelation, why do cities need to play a central role in the net-zero emissions agenda?

The nexus between cities and climate change is that cities predominantly consume more than two-thirds of the world’s energy leading to significantly high emissions of greenhouse gases.

This is augmented by soaring levels of urbanisation mostly in cities in Asia and Africa.

According to population growth forecasts, approximately 70 per cent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050.

Subsequently, there shall be tremendous growth in the demand for energy and urban infrastructure.

In pursuance of the Paris Agreement agenda to reduce global warming and build resilience to climate change, cities must take radical measures in the use of energy, land, and natural resources.

Cities are compelled to employ innovation and technological advancement to plan for population growth and design urban areas, buildings, infrastructure, and industrial systems to achieve the net-zero emissions agenda.

And what are some of the ways cities can keep their emissions in check?

Cities can leverage technology to obtain data on air quality, monitor energy consumption in buildings, manage traffic through smart systems, and sustain employee productivity through remote working.

In this era of the Internet of Things, urban planners must optimise digital solutions to plan better and design for efficiencies in cities.

This includes promoting walkability and investing in reliable safe and convenient public transport.

Employing consolidation as a tool to curb environmental impacts of uncontrolled expansion reduces government expenditure on the provision of infrastructure to the masses.

While harnessing the benefits of a compact urban form, cities must be well furnished with adequate public green spaces and commensurate infrastructural services.

Due to global awareness of the irreversible detrimental impacts of climate change, many cities are intentional about curbing global warming by partaking in cleaner production techniques, exploring renewable energy sources, and imposing penalties and incentives to limit industrial emissions.

Salient to reducing the huge carbon footprint created by our cities is embedding environmentally significant actions into the urban planning policy-making process.

To achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, cities need to set easily traceable mitigation commitments.

As a country have we put enough resources and attention towards achieving our carbon-free targets? And what needs to be done to meet these targets?

Kenya continues to invest and take remedial action on adverse impacts of climate change while forging preventive measures and building resilience.

Kenya has developed its own climate action tracker whose latest assessment reveals that the country’s policies and unconditional targets meet its fair-share contribution to limiting warming to 1.5°C.  

The climate action tracker also posits that the country is considered Paris Agreement compatible meaning its unaided commitments are aligned to the global vision of limiting warming to 1.5°C.

However, actions that require international support are seen to have unsatisfactory performance requiring the country to specify support needs for better outcomes.

The landscape on Climate Finance Report in Kenya 2021 provides Kenya’s budgetary estimate for implementing mitigation and adaptation actions at Sh7.2 trillion (USD 65 billion) for the period 2020-2030.

These monies must be closely tracked to ensure they flow proportionally to targeted sectors and activities that will significantly address climate needs.

The interplay between public and private sectors as well as domestic and international investors is also crucial in meeting climate ambitions.

The country has visibly mainstreamed climate issues in all sectors particularly in the preparation of policies, programmes, plans and projects.

This goes a long way in creating awareness and consciously embedding actionable initiatives towards climate change mitigation and adaptation.

The country has also been commended for scaling up investment in renewable energy with Africa’s largest wind power project standing on Kenyan soil in Turkana.

However, the country can achieve more by providing tax incentives such as waiving off taxes on clean cooking and renewable energy solutions.  

On the transportation front, the government has built urban infrastructure that promotes walking and cycling.

The government has also invested in improving mass transit with the Kenya standard gauge railway, Nairobi commuter rail project, and the Nairobi Bus Rapid Transit project. 

Urban areas and cities are now seen to promote higher densities through zoning guidelines and ordinances.

This has a triple dividend of fostering walkability, reducing expenditure on laying down infrastructure and utility services, as well as controlling the unplanned expansion of urban spatial extents (commonly referred to as urban sprawl).

Are there any commitments that the government has made to reduce carbon emissions in Kenya?

Yes, there are so many commitments that the government has made. Kenya is a party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol.

The country is also among the 196 Parties to the 2015 COP 21 Paris Climate Agreement., an international treaty that calls for unity of purpose by all nations to work at limiting global warming to no more than 1.5 °C.

Kenya is among the more than 110 Parties that have so far conducted a review after five years and submitted their new or updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

In the updated NDCs, the country stipulates the actions that shall be taken to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and to build resilience to adapt to the impacts of rising global temperatures.

If we don’t act now, what will be the future trajectory of carbon emissions, considering changes in population, technology, and urban extent?

Carbon emissions emanate from our daily activities particularly through motor conveniences brought by technology and the human insatiable quest for energy.

These emissions have led to unprecedented changes in the pace of global warming.

Climate change had, in the preindustrial era, been seen to take place over thousands and millions of years but it is now noticeable over decades and even a few years.

Changes in the carbon footprint have changed how the earth systems function.

Global patterns have re-arranged; climate and weather patterns have migrated across the globe.

We are living in a world that is 1.1°C warmer compared to thousands of years ago.

Each degree means a different future. Bushfires, heatwaves, drought, and floods are just warning signs.

In four decades, the Himalayas ice caps could be gone, the Amazon could wither to an arid savannah.

Countries need to pull efforts to stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by replacing the use of fossil fuels and engineering ways of removing large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere.

A hotter future is undeniable, but how hot it gets is solely dependent on us.