14.12.2023

City Of Dreams

The urbanization of our world needs a concept. Cities are excellent actors in climate adaptation. Unveiling pathways forward at COP28.

As our world increasingly urbanised, cities are emerging as critical players in the global effort to address climate change through both mitigation and adaptation strategies. Beyond being hubs of economic and cultural activity, cities significantly contribute to greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously bearing the brunt of climate change impacts, including increasing temperatures, extreme weather events and rising sea levels.

Acknowledging this intricate relationship between urbanisation and climate change, a collaborative side event organised by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Climate Action Network South East Asia (CAN-SEA) and the Collaborative Labeling and Appliance Standards Program (CLASP) was held at COP28 in Dubai. This event aimed to delve into the multifaceted aspects of a »just urban transition« (JUT), reflecting on examples of the process and on living conditions in the Global South.

What is a just urban transition?

Discussing the concept of a just urban transition, Tassneem Essop (CAN International) reminded everyone, that the »just« part of a just transition is often highly contested and countered with different meanings and implications. It is therefore key to have clarity about the concept and the elements of a JUT. At the same time, what a JUT looks like is highly dependent on circumstances and the actors involved. So, while JUT must be an inclusive process and needs to address procedural and distributive justice, the outcome is not predefined. There is definitely »no one-size-fits-all solution«, Essop reminded us.

The urban form

Mariel Navarro from FES Mexico presented insights from a recent FES study, offering perspectives on the implications of a JUT and shifting labour patterns across Asia, Africa, the MENA region, Latin America and Europe. The concept of the 15-minute city was explored with a view to its potential synergy with decarbonisation efforts. At the same time, urban greening was highlighted as an environmental necessity and a socially beneficial endeavour. When it comes to the transformation of cities, we must be careful to avoid »lock-ins« of private vehicle privileges. Public transport, on the other hand, can be not only far more emission-friendly, but also inclusive if planned and implemented correctly. Planning in consultation with all users is therefore key.

Urban labour

Of course, many cities in the Global South, especially in environmental sectors such as waste management and transportation, are characterised by informal labour. While reskilling and upskilling, education and vocational training could offer a way into formality, gender implications and differentiated vulnerabilities should not be underestimated. In this context, Alison Tate (ITUC) emphasised, »We also have to consider the safety and dignity of people working in the transport sector.« A sectoral transition therefore needs to be reflected in national-level planning. The study further addressed the anticipated surge in »green jobs«, emphasising the need for a systemic definition at the urban level to prevent unintended consequences.

Transforming appliances for a just urban transition

In a compelling presentation, Christine Egan from CLASP brought attention to the crucial role of appliances, such as refrigerators and air conditioners, in our daily lives and their significant impact on individual carbon footprints. These devices, while indispensable, contribute nearly 40 per cent of global energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. It is essential to acknowledge that 3.6 billion people residing in climate-vulnerable regions lack access to the basic appliances critical for adapting to rising temperatures. Appliances play a vital role not only in providing comfort but also in providing access to cooling, information, food security and improving overall health and productivity.

However, for appliances to contribute positively to climate resilient development, substantial changes are imperative. According to CLASP’s estimates, a business-as-usual (BAU) scenario would see the appliance sector exceed the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) net zero emissions (NZE) mitigation target by at least 9 Gt CO2 by 2050. Even with the universal adoption of existing global benchmark appliance efficiency policies, emissions in 2050 would still surpass the NZE mitigation target by at least 7 Gt CO2. The IEA’s Net Zero by 2050 Roadmap emphasises the need for a significant increase in renewable energy generation capacity to meet its targets. The excess 9 Gt CO2 emissions under the BAU scenario would be the result of the additional fossil fuel power generation required to meet the energy demands of appliances.

Özlem Ünlüer, a representative from Arçelik Global, a global appliance company, underscored the need for governments and states to provide a robust regulatory framework. Such regulations are vital to steer the industry towards sustainable practices and ensure that appliances play a constructive role in achieving climate goals. In developing a vision for a just urban transition, it becomes clear that transforming the appliance sector is not just an environmental imperative but a critical component of equitable and resilient urban development.

In essence, the perspectives, arguments and recommendations laid out during the event can guide urban stakeholders in their assessment while taking the context-dependent nature of just urban transition pathways in consideration. As we navigate the complexities of urbanisation, this inclusive and transformative approach becomes paramount in fostering a sustainable and resilient future and addressing the specific challenges faced by cities in the Global South.

Franziska Schmidtke heads the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung's regional climate project in Asia, based in Vietnam. She was previously a consultant at the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung's Thuringia regional office. She accompanied the Asian delegation to COP28 in Dubai.

Schlagworte: Just Transition, Socially Equitable, Economic Sustainability

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