Foreign Policy Blogs

Urban Planning as a (Powerful) Tool Against Climate Change

Since billions of people live in cities, with more coming every day, the infrastructure needed to support them needs building, rebuilding and rehabilitation, expansion and enhancement. There's power generation and transmission, the delivery of drinking water and the treatment of waste water, housing and parks, schools and hospitals, transportation, and commercial and industrial development. All this activity requires energy and energy, as we know, is primarily carbon-based throughout the world. As I pointed out in my post, "Mike Bloomberg's Earth Day," the Big Apple's carbon dioxide output is on a par with that of Switzerland, Norway and Ireland. New York City has 8.2 million folks with probably 800,000 more on the way in the next several years. The OECD reports that "60-80% of worldwide energy consumption occurs in urban areas."

The fascinating event I attended yesterday, the Regional Plan Association's annual assembly, focused on the problem of global climate change and how to address it. Robert D. Yaro, RPA's president, said that climate change will influence planning for the foreseeable future. Former New Jersey Governor Jim Florio spoke about the imperatives of minimizing our carbon footprint and said that economic advancement and environmental sensitivity were not incompatible. The present N.J. Governor, Jon Corzine, was to have given the morning's keynote address but, because of a recent terrible car accident in which he was involved, was replaced by Gary D. Rose, the Chief of N.J.'s Office of Economic Development. Corzine has an ambitious energy master plan that's being developed now that will require a 20% increase in energy efficiency and 20% of electricity from renewables. This echoes the plan proposed by N.Y. Governor Eliot Spitzer recently. Rose, like Florio, emphasized the opportunity in developing a "clean and green tech economy" and that this sort of activity could "support the next great wave of economic growth."  (See my last post – opportunity is what I'm seeing, and I'm sure glad that I'm in the company of folks who know their way around high finance, venture capital, and economic development. See also my post from March 9 on "The Business of Green," and the mention of venture capitalists and their enthusiasm for renewables.)

The Assembly Chairman, Theodore Roosevelt IV, is an investment banker and certainly knows his way around these matters. He's also the Chairman of the Lehman Brothers' Council on Climate Change. John Llewellyn, a Kiwi with an impressive track record as an economist at the OECD, and now the Senior Economic Policy Advisor to Lehman Brothers, gave a stunning presentation on the realities of climate change and their implications for corporations. Llewellyn tells CEOs that the science is sound, the climatology is too, that the economic analysis shows that no matter how bravely and well we address global warming, we are going to have impacts:  2 to 3% of global GDP is going to be destroyed by the impacts of climate change annually. (See the Stern Review from the U.K. and its analysis of economic consequences as referenced in my post from March 30.) You can find much of Dr. Llewellyn's compelling presentation on The Business Of Climate Change – Challenges and Opportunities here. (There's that word "opportunity" again.)

There were six breakout sessions:  on carbon markets, protecting water resources under the pressures of climate change, transportation options, siting, green building, and the one I attended, "Tilting at Windmills? Opportunities for Green Power Generation." One of the panelists was Jim Gordon, President of the Cape Wind project. He reported that NRDC has characterized Cape Wind as the largest single GHG reduction project in the U.S. He also reported that in the six years that the project has been going through the regulatory process, 20 offshore projects have been built in Europe and 25 more have been approved. He gave us a heads up too to a book that's coming out next week:  Cape Wind: Money, Celebrity, Class, Politics, and the Battle for Our Energy Future on Nantucket Sound.

Another panelist was Dr. Stephen Hammer from Columbia University's Center for Energy, Marine Transportation and Public Policy. He's been running the Urban Energy Project there and they've been looking at the renewable energy potential for New York City and have found four main sources:  landfill gas, tidal, wind, and solar photovoltaic. I asked him after the session about whether or not they'd been looking at distributed generation, fuel cells, microturbines and the like, and he said they were working on this now. He further mentioned "microgrids" , "Small networks of power generators in "microgrids' could transform the electricity network in the way that the net changed distributed communication." See this from the BBC. Finally, I asked him if they were looking at geothermal and he said no. I mentioned this new report on geothermal from M.I.T. and the fact of a landmark geothermal project in downtown Manhattan. Maybe I've put a bee in his bonnet.

Mike Bloomberg was the luncheon keynote speaker, promoting PLANYC, and he promised that New York City was going to become the first truly sustainable American city in the new century. He said the stars were aligned and that it was time for action. As I said once before here, quoting Winston Churchill:  "I never worry about action, but only inaction."

Cities for Climate Change is doing a lot of important work. I think this is a compelling thought from the mayor of Charlotte, N.C.:  "We are the ones building roads, designing mass transit, buying the police cars and dump trucks and earth-movers. We're the ones lighting up the earth when you look at those maps from space. Together we have huge purchasing power and if we invest wisely, that can have huge implications for the environment."

I'm going to another exciting event in ten days:  the C40 Large Cities Climate Summit. Much more soon on how cities are approaching the climate change crisis.      



Bill Hewitt

Bill Hewitt has been an environmental activist and professional for nearly 25 years. He was deeply involved in the battle to curtail acid rain, and was also a Sierra Club leader in New York City. He spent 11 years in public affairs for the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation, and worked on environmental issues for two NYC mayoral campaigns and a presidential campaign. He is a writer and editor and is the principal of Hewitt Communications. He has an M.S. in international affairs, has taught political science at Pace University, and has graduate and continuing education classes on climate change, sustainability, and energy and the environment at The Center for Global Affairs at NYU. His book, "A Newer World - Politics, Money, Technology, and What’s Really Being Done to Solve the Climate Crisis," will be out from the University Press of New England in December.

Areas of Focus:
the policy, politics, science and economics of environmental protection, sustainability, energy and climate change