Latest UN climate change report shines new light on well-documented urban mitigation strategies

The best way for cities to slash emissions within the next decade and limit global warming is by using urban planning that incorporates electrification and carbon-sequestration

The latest UN climate change report offers insights into well-known urban mitigation strategies

  • The best way for cities to slash emissions within the next decade and limit global warming is by using urban planning that incorporates electrification and carbon-sequestration, according to the United Nations climate change mitigation report released Monday.
  • The third release from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Sixth Assessment Report addresses buildings, transportation, and energy systems, as well as entire urban systems.
  • Some of the authors said the report should remind leaders how important it is to make changes right away, even though the information and strategies in it are not new. The IPCC isn't meant to give instructions, but its findings are still very important.

We need to stop greenhouse gas emissions from rising by 2025 in order to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius, which is what the Paris Agreement targets. Scientists have known for a long time that urban centers play an important role in mitigating climate change. The IPCC counts at least 826 cities that have adopted zero-emissions targets, but we all need to get more aggressive in implementing such strategies to slash emissions more rapidly, UN leaders and report authors say.

"It's not a pretty picture," said United Nations Environment Programme Executive Director Inger Andersen in a press conference Monday. "In the last two decades, emissions increased more than ever before in human history. Half measures won't reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, which is what we need to do. We need to take action together."

This latest report from the IPCC is more solution-oriented. However, the IPCC's charge is not to tell governments exactly what to do. Rather, it provides many important options. Regarding energy systems, for example, the report broadly calls for widespread electrification and improved energy efficiency while acknowledging that electric energy must come from renewable sources.

Paulina Jaramillo, a professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University and an author of the transportation-focused chapter of the report, stated: "It's not like there's some novel solution that no one had thought about 15 years ago."

"There's nothing new that we haven't been expecting," Jaramillo said. "We just need to start implementing these things." Solutions to reduce transportation emissions, according to the report, include electrified and more accessible public transport systems; electrification of private vehicles and expansion of charging infrastructure; urban environments designed to reduce distances that must be traveled; and a society that supports more active transport like walking and cycling.

There are some good things about these known solutions. They have gotten cheaper, better or easier to implement. Cities still have a lot of room to encourage people to change their behavior by providing different incentives, like charging less for public transportation.

The way a city deals with reducing emissions will depend on how new or old the city is. If it is a new city, it might be easier to make changes. But if it is an older city, it will be harder. However, one of the most achievable and impactful ways to reduce emissions is by increasing the population density. This way, people will rely less on cars to get around.

There are many ways to reduce carbon emissions, but one especially important way is by designing buildings that store carbon. Buildings made from materials like wood or plant-based plastics instead of steel and concrete can help reduce emissions and sequester carbon.

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