This is the second half of a two-part paper which deliberates the changes facing urban landscapes in a time where climate change has taken effect and shown its devastating impacts. This paper considers the contributions of developed and developing nations to climate change and the resulting infrastructure development. Developed nations seek to push the boundaries and capabilities of existing infrastructure while developing nations face the uphill battle of implementing growth and sustainability in the national framework.
The challenge for global leaders is to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change on basic urban services and quality of life while keeping the focus on local environmental and economic priorities. The pressure to adapt to climate change is mounting in developed nations, particularly as they have been the major contributors to carbon and greenhouse emission from the industrial age.
Ownership of the costs of climate change
The main problem facing climate change is that its effects are transboundary. It does not adhere to any manmade geographical or regional boundaries, thus at best the exact source of the emissions are ones that can only be estimated. This creates reliance and interdependencies between neighbouring countries. The worst case scenario would mean a lot of accusations thrown between neighbouring countries, resulting in international disputes and increased political tensions.[i]
Claiming ownership of major carbon emissions over the past century and being one of the ‘causes’ of climate change would result in claiming ownership for its costs as well. No one nation would be willing to be the first to admit their part in contributing to climate change, especially considering there are other nations involved and the high cost of ownership. This figure could round up to the billions, and with that amount, developed nations would much rather prefer to focus their attention on infrastructure development. Developing nations are less wealthy than their developed counterparts and are thus more willing to push the blame to the richer, developed economies who can afford the high cost.
Taking the proactive stance: It’s not a zero sum game
Developed nations may still prioritise economic development and increased urbanisation despite knowing the impacts of climate change. Instead, they will implement climate change into existing infrastructure and try to mitigate its effects as best they can.
All over the world, city centres are beginning to go car-free. Of the cities that have implemented this action, most have reported positive changes in the local environment, with less pollution and cleaner streets. This has also resulted in other benefits such as increased demand for bicycles and a healthier local population with the extra exercise that comes with increased mobility.[ii]
Russia has taken the proactive stance in issuing the decree to have electric car chargers at gas stations. This shows remarkable political will and support for the future of the automotive industry, despite record low electric car sales of a mere 500 in total. The measure is aimed at boosting the production, sales and use of more-environmentally friendly cars. While electric cars are unpopular with Russians due to the high prices, the government decision is a strong example of what nations can do to actively create greener transport alternatives. [iii]
Innovation can play a part in transforming urban landscapes. An architecture firm in London has boldly suggested replacing the city’s underground train system, known as the London Underground, with a system of travellators designed to increase human mobility and put travel in the hands, or feet, of the daily commuter. The technology allows for travellers to ‘hop on and hop off’ safely between travellators at different train stations.[iv]
The developing advantage
Developing nations have the advantage of learning from the experience of the developed nations and the potential to implement climate change variables into sustainable infrastructure development models, from climatic to cultural and historical conditions. This can range from “climate-proofing” of infrastructure to emphasis on nature conservation and clean energy.
On the supply side, prioritisation of alternative sources of energy over fossil fuels should be clearly communicated to users. In rural areas, open cooking fires affect more than 2.5 billion people and cause over 4 million deaths per year due to the harmful emissions. According to the World Health Organisation, the victims of the deadly smoke are predominantly women and the children accompanying them while preparing meals.[v]
That devastating fact is what inspired Indian entrepreneurs to provide households in rural Bhutan with access to affordable alternative energy, where the energy source comes in the form of fuel cookies and smokeless stoves. Jobs creation is assured with the aim to employ the local population in local fuel supply chain.
On the demand side, better city planning can reduce the city’s carbon footprint through greener buildings and cleaner public transport, thus providing better quality of life and an environment which is more conducive for business. This will increase private investment in developing nations.
Developing regions such as Africa can also play a part through the demand for sustainable building resources. The hunger for construction materials can create new demand for traditional ones such as sand, and more unusual ingredients such as fungal materials used for industrial purposes. [vi]
Those that would not benefit from the new demand would be investments that contribute to carbon emissions and climate change. High carbon investments are now being priced into fund selection and performances, with more investor companies requiring the investee companies to have proper environmental, social, governance (ESG) and risk policies in place. [vii]
With proper governance, farsighted leaders can properly address climate change through relevant policies and action plans and regulations on urban planning and environment which is adjusted to manage climate change. When properly planned, cities can be places of innovation and efficiency with the potential to diminish the causes of climate change and effectively protect themselves from its impacts, both developed and developing nations alike.
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