The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
To solve the climate emergency, the city’s investments in green infrastructure that ensure social and racial equity are the way forward to have impact at scale.
The Glasgow Climate Pact calls for action, but a few days after the end of COP26, the question is how to guarantee results? The answer is to empower and invest in our urban systems.
In the body of the Glasgow Climate Pact, the 197 signatories to the agreement stress the urgency of scaling up action, “including funding, capacity building and technology transfer, to improve adaptive capacity. , strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change in accordance with the best available science, taking into account the priorities and needs of developing country Parties ”.
As centers of population, culture and economic activity, cities are the only ones to deliver. Their importance will only grow as migration and urbanization trends continue and more people move to cities to live and work. The UN predicts that by 2050, nearly 70% of the world’s population will live in cities, up from 55% in 2018.
Much of this growth is occurring in emerging markets, with cities in Asia Pacific and Africa expected to grow 52% and 50% respectively.
We must therefore focus our efforts on sharing best practices and mobilizing multi-city investments in developed and developing cities.
As technologists rush to invent new energy and emission reduction solutions, we owe it to our vulnerable communities to invest in scaling up existing practices that have been shown to be effective in keeping people safe.
Reducing emissions is not enough
Cutting emissions is not enough to protect us from the climate emergency. What is also essential is building urban resilience to changes that are already entrenched in the planet’s climate system as well as other disruptive events in cities, such as pandemics, for example.
Urban resilience goes beyond putting in place infrastructure and projects that can withstand extreme weather conditions and other shocks and stresses. Instead, it is mainly about improving the institutions – which are made up of people – and the services that support city residents on a daily basis.
Thus, resilient infrastructure projects must be designed to meet the needs of communities and individuals while achieving net zero goals.
It means incorporating measures of social equity – including job creation and access to health care – and racial equity as an essential part of everything we do.
Without prioritizing and addressing social and racial equity, cities will never be resilient. Instead, cities will be constantly in recuperation mode, caught in a never-ending cycle of damaging, disruptive, and costly events that they are struggling to overcome, only to then be pushed back again.
In R-Cities’ 2021 Global Chief Resilience Officer (CRO) survey, many cities identified equity as their top resilience building challenge. Almost half (46%) of CROs responded that resilience in their city aims to promote social equity and inclusion.
Leadership for Resilient Cities and a Resilient Society
According to the Mayor of Houston and Chairman of the Board of R-Cities, Sylvester Turner, “Cities can lead the actions, partnerships and investments necessary to become resilient. Cities are looking for a new way to evaluate infrastructure investments that prioritize social and racial equity and make immediate and long-term benefits for people transparent.
Resilience is the opportunity for city leaders to revitalize the city’s economy at district, city and country level, create new jobs and improve quality of life.
This is not just theory, but effective practice in many cities around the world that have developed their own resilience strategy. There are a number of successful projects showing results beyond expectations.
Houston Sunnyside Solar Farm – A Climate-Ready, Resilient Infrastructure Project
The Sunnyside Project in Houston, Texas now provides enough renewable energy to power up to 5,000 homes and will also remove approximately 120 million pounds of carbon from the air each year.
The project has created jobs and is poised to transform a low-income community, generating US $ 70 million (€ 61.7 million) in private investment.
Houston city leaders have reinvented this space in an under-invested community with social and racial equity as a central and critical part of the site’s redevelopment. City leaders and their private sector partners involved the local community in the design and development of the project site.
This included modeling the long-term impacts of health and economic growth in the community, linking training and education programs to jobs created locally; and ensure that the site would be accessible to workers using a range of private and public transport modes.
Sunnyside Solar Farm is an example of a resilient, climate-ready infrastructure project that has created green jobs, benefited the surrounding community, and also advances racial and social equity. It provides a model that other cities around the world can follow for their own resilient infrastructure projects.
Community engagement in Cape Town for the transition to renewable energies
In South Africa, Cape Town‘s transition to an energy secure and carbon neutral future has involved significant community engagement.
The city has invested in a number of initiatives to get residents to imagine and build the city’s energy future, including through activities such as community festivals, student and professional competitions, textbooks, interactive platforms, video resources and public lectures.
This investment is an effort to shift energy use to emerging renewable sources that solve the problem of blackouts, reduce costs, promote local economic development and also address concerns about rising emissions. So far, the results are positive and show a decrease in the overall demand for electricity throughout the city.
Cities around the world are already making significant progress in creating safe and sustainable communities for their citizens, able to withstand the disruptions and dangers caused by climate change and other crises. The challenge now is to provide the additional capacity building and funding to enable cities to go further.
Integrate equity into urban resilience projects
City leaders must continue to move from theory to action by integrating equity into infrastructure development. This is what our RIDE Scorecard, recently released at COP26, offers by measuring the impact of a proposed infrastructure project on social cohesion, community engagement and benefits for marginalized populations, among other factors.
Cities need the private sector to join this effort to increase equity in building resilience in a meaningful way by contributing finance and, most importantly, expertise to develop and implement feasible projects.
National governments also have a role to play by putting in place national frameworks of minimum standards of risk and resilience to support their cities.
This combination of cooperation between the public and private sectors and between municipal and national governments is vital for the world’s cities to meet their twin goals of net zero emissions and keeping their communities safe, equitable and economically viable through resilience.
- Lauren Sorkin is Executive Director of Resilient Cities Network