'Cities will be crucial in the global fight against climate change'
Paul Shrivastava is a professor in the Department of Management at Concordia’s John Molson School of Business and executive director of Future Earth. This op-ed originally appeared in French, in La Presse+.
Urban centres have long been the driving forces that propel culture and the global economy. Now, cities will have to take the lead in responding to humanity’s greatest challenge: climate change.
Montreal is already taking action, having just released its five-year plan to strengthen infrastructure and develop an emergency response to deal with catastrophic weather damage.
Montreal is also looking into how to leverage the expertise and know-how of the business and university communities in urban centres to respond to the challenge of climate change. This type of big thinking is the aim of this week's Montreal Summit on Innovation.
Led by Concordia University in collaboration with Montreal’s Quartier de l’innovation and the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, this gathering is an important call to action on finding ways to not only mitigate climate change but establish new pathways for collective prosperity and wellbeing.
The United Nations estimates the percentage of the world’s population living in urban areas will increase to 66 per cent by mid-century, with much of this increase centered in Asia and Africa. If this prediction holds true it means that in another 35 years 2.5 billion more people will be city dwellers.
Due to such rapid growth, extreme events related to climate change are going to massively impact city dwellers, particularly given their reliance on global supply chains. To mitigate food and water shortages as well as other negative impacts associated with climate change, a concentrated global effort that focuses on city-led actions is a must.
Shifting to a low-carbon economy is key and, for this, technological and social innovation will be paramount.
Though national strategies are fundamental, shifting to low-carbon economy will require a direct and massive contribution from cities, which in turn need to be granted regulatory powers to implement actions that will reduce carbon emissions.
Cities cannot afford to waste energy at the rate they do now, in part due to aging infrastructure. Instead we need to massively upgrade our infrastructure and invest significantly in both energy conservation and renewable energy sources to put an end to our fossil fuel dependence.
We have to better ensure the security of food supplies in our cities.
Urban dwellers often depend on food products that come from thousands of miles away. A move to locally produced foods, in which small quantities of food are collectively grown and produced, can help mitigate the disruption of food supplies as a result of extreme weather. A rethinking of the rural / urban relationship to agriculture is also needed.
One route is through establishing sustainable and substantial farming capabilities within urban centres, as Ghana has done for irrigated vegetable production within its cities. Here in Montreal, Lufa Farms have demonstrated the potential for high-yield rooftop farming.
We have to rethink our urban transportation systems to reduce our carbon footprint. Simply put, designing cities around cars is an outdated model from a previous century. Cities need to plan and implement low-emission public transportation and invest in bicycle lanes and walkability.
Montreal has already announced an encouraging initiative to add electric buses to the STM fleet next year.
The good news is innovative solutions are being implemented in cities around the world and can serve as important models for development. Building on the lead of various European cities and modeled on Montreal’s own Bixi bike share system, the Chinese city of Hangzhou has now established a vast bike rental system of 66,500 vehicles.
The expansion of scalable models into developing countries gives developed countries an opportunity to export knowledge, while allowing the most at-risk population to gain access to valuable resources.
Political will is key if these types of innovations are to be adopted on a massive scale.
Mayors and community leaders must create strong business cases for this type of investment so companies large and small can thrive in an ecological urban-based economy.
Such leadership will be put to the test as world leaders gather in Paris for the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference.
A strong and effective treaty needs to be developed positioning cities as the catalysts in the fight against climate change. This would create a binding international framework that will lead to important systemic changes.
Effective global action on climate change requires nothing less.