You Go First Carbon Politics Threatens Us All

mage showing iceberg off Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada with meltwater ponds in the foreground. Arctic warming has been associated with a rapid decline in Arctic summer sea ice extent. Image credit- Sandy BriggsBy Stephen Leahy

NY-ÅLESUND, Svalbard, Norway, Jun 15 (IPS)

Political and business leaders may agree in principle that climate change is a serious threat, but there is a startling lack of consensus and a ‘you-go-first’ attitude on taking action, even amongst a small group of high-level decision makers disconnected from their cell phones here in the Arctic.

“We want to reduce China’s CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions, but we are a market-driven economy,” Liu Yanhua, China’s vice minister for science and technology, told 30 participants at the Ny-Ålesund Symposium located at a scientific research centre called Kings Bay on the western coast of Spitsbergen Island about 1,200 kilometers from the North Pole.

“Climate change is a matter of economy, of energy,” said Yanhua, a former scientist at the Chinese Institute of Geography.

It is also an issue of generational equity, since at current rates all fossil fuels will be consumed in 50 to 80 years, leaving nothing for future generations, he said.

China’s CO2 emissions have soared 150 percent in the last 20 years, Yanhua acknowledged, and are now the highest of any country, including the United States. China’s carbon intensity – the amount of carbon emitted per unit of production – is 10 times higher than Germany’s and major efficiency improvements are needed, he said. Continue reading

Soaring Energy Costs May Force Low-CO2 Living

By Stephen Leahy

Jun 5 (IPS) – Climate change is a global problem but individuals and communities can take simple measures to cut their carbon emissions in half, experts said Thursday on World Environment Day.

The U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) launched a “Kick the CO2 Habit” campaign in Wellington, New Zealand today to encourage low-carbon lifestyle choices at home and when travelling.

“The public have the power to change the future — have the power to personally and collectively influence economies to ‘Kick the CO2 Habit’,” said Achim Steiner, UNEP executive director.

UNEP released a kind of “Rough Guide” to low-carbon living, entitled “Kick the Habit: The UN Guide to Climate Neutrality“, which is available free online.

The knowledge and technology to dramatically reduce carbon emissions already exist, mainly through improvements in energy efficiency. What have been lacking in most countries are incentives to make changes. Now the hard stick of high energy prices has given the public new interest in reducing energy costs, which also reduce carbon emissions. Continue reading

How To Exit Gridlock? Don’t Build Roads, Lessons from Brazil

Stuck in a traffic jam? Choking on car fumes? Then take the next exit and head south past the equator to the city of Curitiba, Brazil, where you can board a bus to a public transit utopia.

By Stephen Leahy

[This 2002 magazine article offers a positive example of urban transport while cities continue to grow exponentially often without creating sustainable ways for people to move around.]

By the year 2025, two-thirds of the planet’s population will live in cities, according to the United Nations. And almost all of this growth – a staggering 90 percent – will take place in countries of the developing world.

Third World cities usually conjure up images of traffic and pollution, poverty and shantytowns. But the remarkable city of Curitiba in southern Brazil is trying to paint a different picture. This mid-sized city of just over one-and-a-half million has become a Mecca for urban planners, transit officials and environmentalists the world over.

Cities as far flung as Cape Town, Santiago, Lagos, New York, Toronto, Montreal, Amsterdam and Bogota have come to learn how Curitiba fought the car congestion and pollution nightmares that haunt many, if not most, of the world’s cities.

What’s even more remarkable is that by most standards, Curitiba is a poor city. Its annual per capita annual income is under $3,000 (all figures in U.S. dollars). Yet polls show that residents of Curitiba love their city and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Visitors call it one of the most liveable cities anywhere.

The story of Curitiba’s transformation into a self-styled ‘Capital of Ecology’ begins in the late 1960s when the city of then 360,000 faced a population growth boom, like other cities in Latin America.

Curitiba was industrializing rapidly, levelling the old to make way for the modern. And like most cities, it was suffocating on its own traffic.

The solution, of course, was to build more roads.

So in a scene repeated hundreds of times the world over, the narrow, main street, and many of its magnificent turn-of-the-century buildings, were to be obliterated by a modern expressway. But in 1971, a young architect and newly-minted mayor by the name of Jaime Lerner thought the unthinkable.

He wanted to stop the construction and instead create Brazil’s first pedestrian mall. However, not even the shopkeepers on the old street were in favour; how would people shop if they couldn’t drive their cars?

Lerner, who had trained in Paris, believed that once people experienced a pedestrian mall they’d love it. Over one weekend Lerner pushed the public works department to rip up the pavement and put in cobblestones and flowerbeds.

By Monday afternoon the shopkeepers wanted the mall extended.

–full story