UN Climate Talks Disappoint: Ecocities Work Now

September 24, 2009

The recent United Nations global summit meeting on climate change has disappointed many climate policy advocates.  According to the New York Times, in many of the speeches at the summit, presidents and prime ministers spoke with hefty promises about the importance of confronting the problem for future generations. However, the Times noted that when it came down to the nuts-and-bolts promises of what they were prepared to do in the next decade, experts and analysts were disappointed that there were no bold new proposals, particularly from the United States.

While the Obama administration seems to consider tackling climate change a much higher priority than the preceeding administration did, the lack of concrete commitment from the federal government during these talks may speak to the President’s awareness of just how difficult it will be to pass a strong climate bill this year.  Getting Congress and the Senate to understand and act on the issue in proportion to its seriousness seems a lost cause.  As much as many planet lovers (ie. lovers of life on earth as we know it) would like to see Obama save the day in cape and tights, we must realize the role that structuring our own communities can play in making lower global emissions a reality.

In the United States, per capita emissions in dense urban centers are a fraction of what they are in sprawling suburbs.  With the world’s population rapidly migrating towards cities, we have a great opportunity to make sure that the urban experience is one that can happen without a personal automobile.  As the megacities of South America and South East Asia absorb more people into their already teeming boundaries, a car for every person becomes a frightening thought.  It would not only render lower per capita carbon emissions a ridiculous notion, but also would mean severe traffic and air pollution for citizens around the world.

When climate talks resume in Copenhagen in December, we can be sure that developing countries will look to the actions of industrial nations to determine their seriousness in addressing climate change.  Per capita emissions will be a big piece of this conversation.   Undoubtedly our legislators will have to step up to the plate to achieve the kind of emissions reductions that are needed.  However, we don’t have to wait for our legislators to act in order to create the kind of dense urban communities that will reduce emmissions per citizen to the levels needed for a stable climate.  Such action sends a message to developing nations about what kind of development can work for them.  If the developed world cannot achieve lower per capita emissions, we will fail in convincing developing countries that there is any pathway out of poverty beyond jammed freeways and urban sprawl.

Stacey Meinzen


8th Ecocity World Summit, December 13 -15, 2009, Istanbul, Turkey

September 15, 2009

Register or get more info at Ecocity 2009.

When you hear over 50% of people now live in cities consider that probably over 95% live in cities, towns and villages. Caves, home on the range and hunter-gather walk-abouts just aren’t what they used to be.

Well then, if everybody lives in the “built environment,” how then is it built?

Answer: Badly, and as the largest creation of humanity, the built environment, especially its city form, is by far the largest cause of climate change, habit destruction and the collapse of species around the globe in urban expansion. Excuse us – SUB-urban, automobile dependent expansion. For the car city is destroying the world. Not just by itself but with its partners: low density development, paving and cheap energy (which won’t be much longer).

Facing this reality with the idea that we can build cities that actually build soil, regenerate biodiversity and cool the Earth by making room for massive reforestation on our over-stressed planet with its gathering fever – that could make for an interesting conference.

The place is one of the most interesting in the world, one might say fascinating, exotic, amazing: Istanbul, Turkey, cross roads and cross waters of worlds ancient and modern and troubled and future.

Consider this: cities are the single largest source of carbon emissions contributing to climate change, but city dwellers on average have lower carbon footprints per capita than their rural counterparts because they rely much less on cars.

And consider this too: If Washington D.C. were to be transformed into a high-density public transit and pedestrian centric city, its current annual per capita carbon emissions (19.7 tons of CO2) could be reduced to resemble those of Barcelona (3.4) or Rio de Janeiro (2.3). (Chart)

But enough about that – now what about us?

Ecocity 2009 in Istanbul will bring together visionary architects, planners, designers, policy makers, green businesses, nonprofits and civic leaders from China, Australia, Canada, Germany, Malaysia, France, Nepal, Egypt, India, USA, Singapore, Brazil, Kenya, of course Turkey and many other countries. The conference will stream live feeds from the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, connecting the pivotal issue of ecological urban development to the overarching goal of reducing worldwide Greenhouse gas emissions.

Meantime, back at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen which will be happening at the same time, will they be talking about the largest things we build? They didn’t in Bali two years ago or in Poland last year and the subject of the effects of city design and urban layout is not on the agenda yet again. Big goal at Istanbul: finally get the climate scientists, activists, politicians and sympathetic media into the conversation about the connection between cities, in all their wild diversity from massively damaging to pretty good, and climate change. What if cities were designed from the get-go to be ever so healthy? With the real pioneers in ecological cities at Istanbul, maybe that’s where the future’s fulcrum really lies.

First held in Berkeley in 1990, this year’s Ecocity World Summit follows previous annual conferences held in Australia, Senegal, Brazil, China, India and San Francisco. This year Ecocity Builders will produce The Ecocity Challenge, a special four-hour session where conference participants will begin to define internationally accepted principles and metrics to evaluate the performance of ecocity projects worldwide.

Join an international community of inspired thought leaders to create viable solutions that are sustainable, healthy and socially just.

Register or get more info at Ecocity 2009.

Contact: Richard Register, ecocity (at) igc.org

Sponsored by: Ecocity Builders, Lankson & PR

EcoCity World Summit 2008 in 59 seconds

September 15, 2009