Swift action on pollution

The power plant “Neurath” run by coal from the brown coal open cast mine Garzweiler is pictured in Rommerskirchen, western Germany. Smoke from factories is one of the major causes of air pollution. AFP

Cities are major contributors to climate change. According to United Nations (UN) Habitat, cities consume 78 percent of the world’s energy and produce more than 60 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, they account for less than two percent of the Earth’s surface.

The sheer density of people relying on fossil fuels makes urban populations highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Fewer green spaces exacerbate the problem. According to the IPCC report, limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius would “require rapid and far-reaching transitions in uses of energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings) and industrial systems.”

An added challenge is the projection, in a UN report, that another 2.5 billion people will reside in urban areas by 2050; nearly 90 per cent of them in cities in Asia and Africa. The good news is that cities around the world have already begun to take measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and are putting policies in place that encourage the use of alternative energy sources. Efforts by policy makers and administrators to address climate change, however, will need to accelerate to keep pace with population growth and the rapid climate change.

The effects of climate change are worse among poor and low-income communities, in part because many live on the margins of society, in unstable structures and in areas more susceptible to flooding, landslides, earthquakes, but also because of inadequate capacities, inadequate resources and reduced access to emergency response systems. This is even more pronounced in developing countries.

To address the issue of climate change in cities, UN-Habitat, UNEP, the World Bank and Cities Alliance have established the Joint Work Programme to assist cities in developing countries to mainstream environmental considerations into urban policymaking.

In Jamaica, UN-Habitat’s Cities and Climate Change Initiative (CCCI) helped people understand “planning as a long-term tool for climate compatible cities.” The program, through partnerships with the local administrators and activists, has fostered communication within the community so that residents become informed on climate-resilient activities.

Pollution, mostly associated as a by-product of urban landscapes, is also linked with climate change. Both climate change and air pollution are exacerbated by the burning of fossil fuels, which increase CO2 emissions, the cause of global warming.

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