Ryerson professor and member of UN-HABITAT'S advisory board says cities are at the forefront of implementing green policies
Newswise — TORONTO, Thursday, April 21, 2011 – Urban centres worldwide are the leading contributors of greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new report by UN-HABITAT prepared with expertise from a Canadian climate change scholar at Ryerson University.
The report, Global Report on Human Settlements: Cities and Climate Change, details the possible impacts of climate change on cities and towns. It reviews the steps being taken by national and local authorities worldwide to mitigate and adapt to climate change and assesses their potential impact on climate change policy.
Professor Pamela Robinson of the School of Urban and Regional Planning at Ryerson University is a member of UN-HABITAT’s advisory board on Global Research Network on Human Settlements and a key contributor to the report. She is one of just two scholars representing North America on the 15-member board comprised of researchers specializing in human settlements worldwide. The other North American board member is Professor Elliott Sclar of the Centre for Sustainable Urban Development, Columbia University, New York.
“In Canada, cities, through their municipal governments, have control over 53 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, which is great news,” said Robinson. “But Canada is still among the highest emitters per capita, so we have a long way to go in reducing our carbon footprint.”
According to the report, Canada has one of the highest CO2 emissions per capita in the world with annual greenhouse gas emissions reaching 22.65 tonnes of CO2eq per capita in 2007. Other high emitters include Australia (25.75 tonnes of CO2eq per capita) and the United States (23.59 tonnes of CO2eq per capita).
“Cities are responsible for the majority of our greenhouse gases,” said Dr. Joan Clos, executive director of UN-HABITAT. “But they are also places where the greatest efficiencies can be made. This makes it imperative that we understand the form and content of our urbanization so that we can reduce our [carbon] footprint and plan more sustainable and resilient cities in the future. With better urban planning and greater citizen participation, we can make our hot cities cool again.”
Robinson says Canadian cities, including Toronto, have been at the forefront in implementing green policies to keep their urban centres cool. Some examples of these green policies include:
• Landfill gas capture: toxic gases, such as methane, emitted from landfill sites are captured in pipes, and then burned to create electricity. This process reduces costs and contribution to global warming; and
• Building energy retrofits: installing energy-efficient technology in buildings helps organizations save on utility costs and reduce emissions.
“Cities like Toronto have been particularly innovative in the building retrofit process,” said Robinson, whose research focus lies in studying how Canadian cities have been engaged in climate action. “From Fredericton’s natural gas conversion efforts to Saskatoon’s Green Loan program to the Community Action Plan for Iqaluit, Canadian cities have rolled up their sleeves to actually reduce their emissions.”
At the local level, the report suggests that urban policy makers should:
• develop a vision of where they want their future development to go and find ways to relate climate change responses to urban development aspirations;
• expand the scope of community participation and action by representatives from the private sector, neighbourhoods, grassroots groups and opinion leaders in order to ensure a broad-based collection of perspectives;
• build climate change adaption strategies by conducting vulnerability assessments to identify common risks to urban development; and
• decide on ways to reduce that risk.
Robinson said that Canadian cities have already been very active in implementing these recommendations citing the example of Live Green TO, an organization that “has been doing a very creative job of expanding the scope of community action and participation.” More than 200 local and regional governments across Canada are also members of the Partners for Climate Protection Program, a network of local governments committed to reducing greenhouse gases and acting on climate change. The program is supported by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability.
In addition to mitigating contributions to climate change, cities also need to learn how to adapt to its impacts noted Robinson. “In Canada, leading municipalities have been trying to reduce our emissions for a long time, but now it is time to adapt to climate change, too.”
To start this process, Robinson said communities need to implement the report’s recommendations starting with assessments of how climate change will impact their city (i.e. – increased rainfall, droughts, more severe storms). From these impact assessments, adaptation strategies can be developed to reduce cities’ vulnerability to extreme weather events.
Robinson said political leaders also need to put climate change front and centre. “It’s time for a national conversation on local response to climate change, and how cities in Canada can collectively play an important role.”
Download the UN Global Report on Human Settlements: Cities and Climate Change media kit and abridged report at: http://www.unhabitat.org/content.asp?cid=9599&catid=7&typeid=46&subMenuId
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