Fit for purpose: Healthy green cities

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Information about Fit for purpose: Healthy green cities
Health & Medicine

Published on February 20, 2014

Author: Management-Thinking



Faced with increasing competition over the last decade, hospitals are having to be more flexible and efficient to survive. How can traditionally cash-strapped and risk-averse institutions incorporate new design ideas and improve the interaction between medical staff and patients? Designed for life: future-proofing hospital design is part of Fit for purpose, a series of articles sponsored by Philips on innovation in global health systems.

Healthy green cities How can cities promote health, competitiveness and jobs, while moving to a low-carbon economy? Upgrading transport systems A lthough cities are often at the forefront of innovation on climate change and emissions reduction, municipal leaders frequently worry about shorter-term goals, such as keeping citizens healthy and prosperous and attracting business investment. However, evidence is emerging that these objectives are not mutually exclusive. Research on 110 cities published in June 2013 found that cutting a city’s carbon footprint could generate annual energy savings of up to US$13m. The report, produced by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), a group of institutional investors which collects data on companies’ emissions, also found that 62% of emissions reduction initiatives make cities more attractive to businesses. “The overall finding, which is that cities are discovering co-benefits from emissions reduction, is striking,” says Conor Riffle, one of the report’s authors and head of the CDP’s cities programme. This, he says, makes the CDP’s job easier. “We’ve been pushing a boulder uphill for the past decade to get everyone to think about carbon emissions,” he says. “By thinking about the co-benefits, it makes it easier to have the conversation about why you should reduce emissions.” Cities have a number of tools at their disposal when it comes to carbon reduction strategies that also promote city liveability. Green spaces – whether parks or rooftops – absorb carbon dioxide (CO2), provide shade and return moisture to the atmosphere. And devoting large areas to plants and trees generates health benefits too, since city temperatures can be lowered by several degrees. Some municipalities are also switching to LED lamps for street and building lighting to enable energy savings. SPONSORED BY: Urban transport systems are among cities’ most important carbonreduction tools. Some require relatively modest investments. By encouraging cycling – cutting the number of cars on the streets – cities can contribute not only to carbon reduction, but also to cleaner air and fitter citizens. Meanwhile, many cities have been investing in bus rapid transit (BRT) systems based on models developed in Curitiba (Brazil) and Bogotá, the Colombian capital. Centrally controlled, run on dedicated lanes and with tickets sold at stations before passengers board, BRT systems offer the efficiency of a subway or light rail system, but at substantially lower cost. Such systems can produce cleaner, safer, quieter streets. In Bogotá, for example, traffic accidents have been reduced by about half in the corridors where TransMilenio (a BRT system) operates. Local transit systems are also essential to economic activity. “The layout of transport networks becomes the skeleton for future growth of the city,” says Rachel Kyte, vice-president for sustainable development at the World Bank. “So anything you can do to build transit systems that get people to work quickly, cleanly and safely is casting the die for a lot of other developments.” Attracting business is a big incentive for cities to invest in transit systems. Mr Riffle cites the example of Los Angeles, where the public transport system is being expanded by laying a subway from downtown to the beach. “It’s a hugely expensive project, but a major driver is the businesses that will spring up along that corridor,” he says. And, of course, urban transport systems have an impact on carbon emissions. TransMilenio, for example, generates annual reductions of more than 246,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalents, according to the Clean Development Mechanism (one of the flexibility mechanisms defined in the Kyoto Protocol). Tackling climate change But while transport systems are a city’s arteries, its muscles, fat and bones are its buildings –and buildings are thought to contribute up to 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Here, the corporate sector has an important role to play. “We’re seeing the rehabilitation of old buildings by making them more energy-efficient, and the construction of new green buildings,” says Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, a USbased coalition of investors and environmental groups which works on issues such as climate change.

Even so, the challenges are daunting. To meet 2050 global climate change targets, the construction sector will need to cut the energy use in buildings by 60%, according to estimates of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. And with cities made up of complex communities of individuals and public- and private-sector organisations, the incentives to invest are not always easy to establish. Landlords may not be motivated to spend money on energy-efficiency upgrades if it is their tenants who benefit in the form of lower energy bills. And property owners may find it hard to switch their buildings to cleaner forms of energy, such as natural gas, if utility companies’ fees to install the supply pipes are too high. Solutions exist. Through “green leases”, for instance, landlords can increase the rent to cover the cost of upgrades, so long as the increase does not exceed the value of the tenant’s energy savings. Ms Lubber argues that governments also need to create the right incentives for the corporate sector to invest. “We have to bring utility companies into the debate to discuss how they might do online billing for renewable energy or energy efficiency, or foster changes in buildings that are not prohibitive,” she says. In the developing world, where cities are expanding most rapidly, the challenge is often access to financing for energy efficiency, carbon reduction or climate resilience projects. For this reason, the World Bank has launched a programme to help the largest cities in the developing world to plan and finance low-carbon initiatives. The Bank is rolling out a methodology that measures the emissions associated with cities’ economic activity and consumption, and is training city officials and corporate executives to use the methodology as a planning tool. Meanwhile, its creditworthiness boot camps for city officials are designed to help cities access the capital needed for investments in clean infrastructure. In this respect, some places are ahead of the game. Ms Kyte cites Brazil and Colombia, whose governments have put in place regulations allowing cities to access financial markets directly. Whether the innovations are in financing, technology or infrastructure, cities can build on the knowledge and experience of their peers. “The lessons learned between cities are among the most powerful and viral solutions to climate change at the moment,” says Ms Kyte. And as the CDP report suggests, municipal leaders do not have to abandon efforts to promote health, competitiveness and jobs in order to move to a low-carbon economy. “The good news,” says Ms Kyte, “is that you can do both.”

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