Methods and myths of sustainable development

Sustainable isn’t attainable when it comes to urban development and growth. Or at least that’s the prevailing perception many naysayers have, said Carolina Schmidt, Chile’s Minister of Environment  during the recent TEDxDaringCities session entitled: Embedding Climate Neutrality Ambition Through Sustainable Development

Citing figures from the World Bank, Schmidt said that investing $40 billion USD in clean energy in Chile will translate into a net gain of $30 billion, while at the same time, increasing the country’s GDP by 4.4 percent. “That disproves the myth that you have to choose between climate responsibility and economic growth,” she observed. “And now with COVID-19, we have an opportunity to accelerate these investments,” to realize such benefits as jobs tied to initiatives ranging from the electrification of the energy sector to the implementation of water sanitation and security measures, to sustainable forest management. 

That sense of opportunity coupled with the need to act now was shared by Michael Bloomberg, co-chair of the Global Covenant of Mayors (GCoM) for Climate and Energy. “As cities now work to recover from the public health and economic devastation caused by COVID-19, they have a chance to move even faster towards a greener, more sustainable economy,” he said. “Through the support from international networks and all levels of government and the private sector… they can keep leading the way forward in the fight against climate change,” adding that “that’s exactly what we need in the race to net zero emissions.”

Notwithstanding the fact that tackling climate change requires the collaboration of multiple public and private players, Manuel Pulgar Vidal, head of WWF’s Climate and Energy Practice and moderator of the session, said much of that change needs to take place at the city level. Vidal commented that the greatest challenges with respect to emissions come from the energy, industry and transport sectors as well as land use and “cities are where those things can be addressed,” through various measures. In terms of local energy efficiency measures, he said cities need to begin considering such bold measures as the electrification of all transport and the adoption of better waste management to significantly reduce methane emissions. 

In terms of adopting sustainable development measures, Vidal stressed the need to “get cities of all sizes on board, from the wealthiest to the poorest, based on their own resources.”

In the ensuing presentations, Jiunn-Ming Chiou, Deputy Secretary General of Taoyuan City Government, provided a detailed overview of his city’s ambitious EcoLogistics program in an area where 1,800 logistics companies handle over 100 billion USD worth of industrial shipments per year. In their capacity as the Chair of the ICLEI EcoLogistics Community, Taoyuan has established demonstration sites in and around the city’s airport tied to combined goals of energy conservation, making better use of renewable energy and significantly reducing carbon emissions. 

One site – the Shalun Green Warehousing Park – covers all aspects of logistics tied to minimizing energy consumption including LED lighting, smart air and water management, traffic management, green buildings and low emission vehicles. In another, the Daxi Business District, they’re creating a level playing and working field right at street level, eliminating parking areas and curbs to create a flat surface that can better accommodate low emission vehicles. Vehicles “such as electric scooters and three-wheel cars are being used to  carry goods into the old town,” he said, referring to a part of the city known for its busy, narrow streets. 

Working with ICLEI over the coming year, Chiou said the performance of the city’s EcoLogistics program will be closely monitored, with respect to such key indicators as logistics best practices, environmental sustainability and social equality. Following this year of real-world analysis, a white paper will be produced that other cities can learn from. 

Lima, Peru is home to almost 10 million people. Mayor Jorge Muñoz Wells spoke about the vulnerability of Lima’s residents due to the fact that the area is prone to flooding, drought and other natural disasters. So as part of their climate mitigation efforts, the city plans to establish 525 bio orchards. “We are dealing with diverse needs in different areas of the city,” he said, so by strengthening the city’s food producing capabilities these orchards can concurrently promote food security, help with flood mitigation and act as natural carbon sinks. 

Through varying approaches and resources, the overwhelming consensus of this session was that cities, with the support of national governments and organizations like ICLEI, GCoM and  WWF, have a fundamental role to play in improving the quality of life of citizens by reducing local pollution, fostering electric mobility, promoting nature based solutions and building local infrastructure that is resilient to climate change and its impacts. 

Learn more about TEDxDaringCities, part of the global initiative Countdown, that champions and accelerates solutions to the climate crisis.

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