Sustainable Cities: The Key to Fighting Climate Change

pollution_citiesAccording to the Americas Quarterly Winter 2014 Launch Event press release, at least 80 percent of the world’s population living in cities is causing the world to face the challenges of rapid urbanization, pollution and climate change.

In the last decade, these factors have led to pronounced economic declines and realistic worries about how to balance human consumption and population growth with environmental and climate stability.

With the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expiring in 2015, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will set out the post 2015 development agenda until 2030, by policies focused inter alia on increasing capacity building, securing the participation of civil society and grassroots entities, and earmarking more further funds for mitigating and adapting to climate change.

UNEP Report and Findings

Simultaneously, UN agencies, such as the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), have released reports stressing the great opportunity that urban areas have to reduce their impact on climate change through a transition to greater energy efficiency and greener energy solutions. In 2013, UNEP released a report highlighting how best to integrate growing cities with environmental protection measures while insuring an increase in revenue and growth. Cities such as Medellin, Colombia, and Copenhagen, Denmark have taken action locally to reduce pollution, increase energy efficiency and lower their carbon footprint.

In other cities however, the report found that some cities are artificially clean. That is to say while their consumption practices are cleaner, the foreign production of these consumed resources is causing pollution elsewhere.

What are cities and countries doing to help?

Teleférico urbano, Medellín Colombia
Urban aerial cable car, Medellín Colombia

According to a press release by the Harvard School of Public Health, air pollution levels in the United States have been on a decline since the 1970s, and with the exponentially growing trend towards a ‘pollution-free’ and sustainable world in the international community, this sort of achievement can be mimicked, accelerated, and improved worldwide with the help of cities.

In 2004, Medellin, which has been previously known for its terrible air pollutions, implemented the world’s first urban aerial cable car for public transportation. These aerial cable cars are hydroelectric-powered and are said to lower CO2 emissions by more than 121,000 tons by 2016. As if that doesn’t seem to be enough, the aerial cable cars have caused a dramatic decrease in violence and crimes within the city limits. . For more on this remarkable step, please click here.

In Mexico City, the government created the Isla Urbana project that harvests rainwater in areas of low to middle income populations. By 2010, the project had collected over 4.1 million liters of water. For more on this achievement, please click here.

In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the city passed a law that would push to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 20% (2005 levels) by 2020.

For more on other cities’ achievements, please click here.

Finally, in the Dominican Republic, a pilot program was put into place to train teachers and professors on how to teach their students the importance of environmental protection and how to do their part in protecting the environment.

For more information on how the international community is transitioning into more sustainable cities, please click here.

Questions for the Reader

  1. What is your municipality or country doing to fight climate change and pollution?
  2. What sort of reforms would you put into place to lower the effect of your country on climate change?
  3. Is there anyone in particular that comes to mind that you could contact to help fight climate change?
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