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Redefining City Life through Equity in Climate Action

When thinking of transformative climate actions, one should imagine the many aspects of city life that can be redefined. Transformative climate actions are not exclusively technical – they go well beyond divesting from fossil fuels and erecting barriers to mitigate flood risks. Climate actions can have myriad environmental, social and economic benefits that transform the relationship between a city and its inhabitants and pave the way toward more equitable development.

This is the case for many projects submitted to the Transformative Actions Program (TAP).

Lighting the Way in Cameroon

Ebolowa, a town in southern Cameroon with about 77,000 residents, aims to install 1,000 photovoltaic solar streetlights as part of its Solar Lighting Project. Using solar energy mitigates emissions, while the project as a whole could change the picture of citywide energy access and equity.

shutterstock_70419373(small)Currently, only 15% of the city benefits from public lighting concentrated in the main thoroughfares, which leaves many public spaces, squares, intersections and roads unlit. In addition, the existing network is unreliable: frequent and widespread power cuts mean the entire city is regularly in darkness. This increases the risk of traffic accidents and violence, and has a negative impact on economic activities and tourism. The installation of public lighting has the potential to transform the entire city, making spaces safe and allowing residents and tourists to remain active for longer hours.

The Solar Lighting Project is also part of the National Energy Action Plan for Poverty Reduction, which places access to energy at the center of economic and social development in Cameroon. The plan links access to energy to increased wellbeing and economic productivity, aiming to provide access to electricity for 60% of people living in impoverished areas that traditionally use biomass for fuel. In addition, Ebolowa’s street lighting initiative will serve as a model, as Cameroon aims to equip all regional capitals with an effective street lighting system. In total, it is hoped that 70% of urban and suburban residents will have access to reliable and modern sources of energy.

Ebolowa’s Solar Lighting Project is thus a major climate initiative with significant social and economic co-benefits. As such, it can serve as a pioneer for the planned nationwide transition, while transforming the city itself, and the lives of the poor and vulnerable in particular.

Equitable Transport in Indonesia and India

Transport is one of the key sectors for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, producing around 23% of global CO2 emissions. Urban transport accounts for 40% of this total.

Tram in Portland, USA (c) iStock.

Tram in Portland, USA (c) iStock.

Balikpapan, Indonesia is implementing a transformative project that will contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions reductions while generating substantial co-benefits. The Monorail and Tram Project will provide two new services: one entirely separate from the current transport infrastructure and the other integrated into it. The central point of the new routes, Klandasan, is a trade and service area in Balikpapan; it is therefore expected that the new infrastructure will increase mobility from the suburbs to the city center.

The economic benefits of this project include shorter travel times for the public and reduced transport costs for the public. However, the social benefits are just as important.

Young people, the elderly and women in particular will benefit from the Monorail and Tram Project, as they are currently reliant on others for their transportation needs. This can result in dangerous situations, such as children and women riding on the back of motorcycles, often without helmets. In addition, the poor and unemployed will benefit from a reliable and affordable mode of transportation and the creation of temporary and permanent employment opportunities.

This same thinking is at play in Kochi, India, which has begun to prepare a Non-Motorized Transportation Master Plan. This plan will identify a network for walking and cycling facilities, along with area improvement proposals to encourage active use of public spaces, walking, cycling and use of public transport systems.

There is tangible evidence of the potential for such change: close to 94% and 73% residents surveyed within the project area have showed their willingness to shift towards walking and cycling respectively, if safe, accessible and comfortable infrastructure is provided.

This kind of development is important for Kochi, which has limited road space and increasing use of motor vehicles. It will contribute to greenhouse gas emissions reductions and will help to reduce air pollution.

However, it is also designed to benefit the marginalized and disadvantaged. The project will ensure that spaces can be used by all, with a particular emphasis on bringing the urban poor back into the life of the city. In urban environments, an emphasis on private vehicles closes down street space and excludes those without cars. Cities in which the only transport option is a private automobile become increasingly segregated, and social mobility declines, with the poor unable to travel to work or send their children to school.

One key aspect of transformative climate projects is the co-benefits they bring. These projects will contribute to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and are also notable for the impact that they will have on the city as a whole, and the poor, marginalized and vulnerable in particular. These projects aim at making the city a more equitable and inhabitable place, while realizing important climate goals. This is the kind of thinking that will generate transformation in cities – the kind of transformation that will be felt and experienced by all sectors of the population.