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News about Climate Change and our Planet

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What Australian cities can do to pull their weight on global warming – Sydney Morning Herald

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change paints a worrying picture. Unless there are immediate and deep greenhouse gas emissions reductions across all sectors and regions, limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees is beyond our reach. In fact, the past decade has seen the highest decadal increase in greenhouse gas emissions of all time and, without considerably strengthening our existing policies, they are projected to continue to rise, leading to an average global warming of 3.2 degrees 2100.

We are not on track to meet our targets, and the consequences reach beyond just climate change. The report says that without ambitious reduction, sustainable development is also not achievable.

Cities are on the front line in fighting climate change,

Cities are on the front line in fighting climate change,Credit:Kate Geraghty

To turn the tide, the next five to 10 years are critical, and our cities will be the front lines.

Cities are responsible for more than two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions, which has increased by 5 to 10 per cent during 2015-2020 alone. The highest per capita emissions are typically found in the world’s wealthiest cities, while the fastest growth rates are found in cities undergoing rapid economic growth. Meeting the infrastructure need of rapidly urbanising populations in developing countries could result in large carbon emissions. For example, providing the same level of infrastructure enjoyed by people living in today’s OECD countries in a “business as usual way” to developing cities could mean an additional 226 Gigatons of CO2 by 2050.

Australian cities in particular have it all, boasting one of the highest emissions per capita in the world, while also rapidly expanding. This means Australian cities need to excel on all fronts: 100 per cent renewable energy, zero carbon transport, improved waste management, decarbonised construction and a climate-friendly culture. As our major cities are also exposed to severe hazards such as coastal inundation, floods and fires – all to be exacerbated by climate change – the stakes are high.

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Cities need to seek to kill multiple birds with one stone. For example, building green infrastructure in cities such as leafy parks and green roofs is a great way to absorb carbon emissions, support biodiversity and other ecosystem functions, while helping to alleviate extreme heatwaves caused by climate change. Australian cities typically enjoy a high level of green already, and our research in Melbourne shows every additional bit of urban green counts.

The IPCC report also highlights a 40 to 70 per cent emission reduction potential in the way people buy and use goods and services. For example, shifting to more plant-based diets and reducing food waste could cut up to 44 per cent emission in the food sector, and shifting to active transport and living in comfortable but smaller housing has the potential to cut two-thirds of emissions in each of these sectors.

Changing lifestyle doesn’t necessarily mean individual sacrifice. Research shows these measures also deliver high levels of health and wellbeing benefits. Cities can provide necessary structural conditions and cultural shifts to make individual choices easy.

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