Sustainability, Global Warming, Environment, et al.

Posted On Friday, 08 September 2006 02:00 Published by
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The UN-initiated World Commission on Environment and Development defines ‘sustainable development’ as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”

The UN-initiated World Commission on Environment and Development defines ‘sustainable development’ as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”

South Africa’s statutory definition is“Sustainable development means the integration of social, economic and environmental factors into planning, implementation and decision making so as to ensure that development serves present and future generations”

(In last night’s ‘Star’ The Gauteng Provincial Government Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Environment published an invitation to comment on the first draft of its Strategy for Sustainable Development which can be viewed on the Gdace web site. I have printed the document but haven’t yet had time to read the 80 plus pages. However I wrote the following before I knew of our new Strategy.)

I’ve referred to Neal Pierce of the Washington Post Writers Group from time to time. Neal writes on cities and city related issues in the USA. Just after writing last week’s Citichat, I received a copy of his latest weekly column which was focused on US city responses to global warming. Global warming is described by one senior official in his piece as “not the light at the end of a tunnel; it’s a train bearing down on us at a high rate of speed”.

The Bush Administration hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory in relation to environmental issues and continues to provide no leadership to American cities in this area. So Seattle Mayor, Greg Nickles, last year took a national lead by issuing a “Kyoto Challenge” to America’s mayors “to tackle the profound climate disruption that scientists now project.” Neal Pierce reports that:“By last week 284 mayors, representing cities with 49 million total population, had signed on, urging both state and federal governments to meet or beat the Kyoto Protocol goals of reducing global warming pollution levels to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.”

So what are the US cities actually doing? Here are just two answers to that question.
Portland (aiming to reduce its 1993 emissions of greenhouse-gas triggering carbon dioxide to 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2010) is on track to meet its goal through a mix of dramatic public transit expansions, biking and walking trails, insisting on “green” new building designs, replacing traffic light bulbs with ultra-efficient light-emitting diodes, planting 750,000 carbon dioxide-absorbing trees and plants, and more.

In Seattle, Seattle City Light, the municipal electric utility, has accomplished zero net emissions by its power plants. The city is using increased portions of bio-diesel in its vehicle fleet, requires energy saving standards for all new or remodeled city buildings, and is now focusing on ways to reduce the big carbon footprint of the diesel-burning ships, trains and trucks that use its busy port. In addition, Seattle is investigating a regional road pricing system similar to London’s controversial but highly successful effort to discourage vehicles in city centres. Major private employers, ranging from cement plants to the University of Washington, are signing onto a “Seattle Climate Partnership” agreement to assess and reduce their carbon emissions.

Seattle’s King County has partnered with General Motors on the development of the country’s first and largest hybrid diesel bus fleet, purchasing 220 of the big vehicles which avoid major greenhouse gas emissions by switching to electric power at low speeds or when standing still. King County also launched the nation’s largest hydrogen fuel cell project, using methane gas from its sewage plant to power the fuel cell, which then creates the energy for almost half the plant’s power needs. And last year it bought an entire forest -- development rights to 90,000 acres close to Seattle, its preserved greenery a way to absorb carbon emissions, its land offering expansion opportunities for the area’s already extensive system of walkways and bikeways.

And it’s not just in the US! An R18 billion development recently announced in London will provide 75 000 sq metres of retail and 5 300 residential units (plus lots of public space) using renewable energy sources from a new combined heat and power plant; water extracted via boreholes from an underlying chalk aquifier for non-drinking water uses such as for toilets and irrigation; high bandwidth fiber-optic cable to enable energy management, the use of intelligent building technology and provision of data connections for residents and businesses and an automated waste management system. The Councillor for the area says “We have made a commitment to keep carbon emissions to their current levels despite almost tripling the number of homes and businesses………..the project will demonstrate that building new homes and businesses can be compatible with protecting the environment”

An approach that Greg Nickles advocates is to develop a 2050 mindset – “assuming it’s already mid-century and looking backward to see whether today’s major decisions -- on big highway or public transit systems, for example -- make sense on the basis of their carbon impact. Example: does a multibillion tunnel to replace aging roadways along Seattle’s waterfront makes sense -- compared, for example, to a major expansion of the region’s rapid bus transit network.”

So, what’s our 2050 mindset? We plan to introduce a much needed Inner City Distribution System (ICDS) that will enable quick, regular and cheap transport across the inner city enabling you to get from Ellis Park to Newtown and vice versa. But, using conventional buses! That’s a 1950’s mindset not a 2050 mindset! Here we have a great opportunity to demonstrate to the thousands that will arrive on our doorstep in 2010, that we have taken the lessons we learned at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development to heart. Why not use alternative energy sources for the buses or, better still, use a light rail system that could well be developed longer term into connecting Soweto to the Inner City.

The reason for this 1950’s mindset is to be found in a statement in the State of the Cities Report 2006 (released earlier this week by the SA Cities Network (SACN)) -“very little data describing the ecological dimensions of the sustainable city……..suggests that the monitoring and recording of environmental sustainability is a relatively low priority for many of the nine SACN cities.”

In its conclusion the Report recommends inter alia that“In order to raise the profile of sustainability issues, cities will need to:

Improve the information base upon which cities make decisions by regularly updating a common set of performance targets and indicators.

Prioritise and take ownership of the many innovative sustainability programmes in cities currently being driven by outside funding agencies, to make them central municipal concerns.

· Investigate alternative service delivery approaches that use appropriate technologies at scale. ”
I want to suggest that the issue of ‘sustainability’ goes onto every senior executive’s scorecard (the system by which they are bonused) - not only rewarding those who actually do something about the issue but punishing those who don’t and especially those that do not evaluate and put forward alternatives to conventional approaches. And this must apply equally to Council Agencies or wholly owned entities.

There is a Council proposal to develop a substantial part of the Field and Study Centre in Sandton as housing. I have written previously that I am concerned that we are becoming a country of great expertise in writing or saying the “right thing” but then ignoring what we have written or said. The review of Mayor Masondo’s first five year term - “Reflecting on a Solid Foundation” states that “The impact of new development on available open space raises the further challenge of how to conserve Johannesburg’s biodiversity. Only a few parts of the city still preserve the original Bankeveld vegetation. International convention holds that a city should try to conserve as much as 10% of its original habitat in pristine state. Johannesburg has only 1.38% conserved as natural areas.”

And now it is the very city that penned these words that is putting our 1.38% remaining open space under threat! Whose open space is it? Whose needs are we actually serving? We have a responsibility to future generations that we are ignoring to serve to what end? Whilst other Cities have sought to increase their open space (ex Mayor Jamie Lerner took Curitiba from 1/2m2 open space per citizen to 50m2 as well as installing pedestrian & cycle networks), we seem to be decreasing ours!

Sweden, one of the leaders in sustainability has a more holistic definition than those I started this piece with as it rather defines ‘the sustainable society’ …. “a society in which economic development, social welfare and cohesion are united with a good environment. Society satisfies its current needs without jeopardizing the ability of coming generations to satisfy theirs”

Sustainability, social welfare and cohesion, environmental awareness – we barely know how to spell the words!
Find some open space to enjoy this weekend – we may not have it for much longer! Ciao, neil
Neil Fraser is a partner in Neil Fraser & Associates which trades as ‘Urban Inc.’ an urban consultancy dedicated to the revitalisation and regeneration of cities and of the inner city of Johannesburg in particular. He can be contacted at (083) 456 0242 or (011) 444-4895 or by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Views and opinions expressed in Citichat are not necessarily those of Urban Inc.

Publisher: Citichat
Source: Neil Fraser

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