Rapid urbanisation must mitigate climate change effects

Slightly more than 50 per cent of the world’s population lives in urban areas. According to the World Bank, this trend is on a rapid increase and by 2045, the number of people living in towns and cities is projected to hit six billion from the current four billion. Kenya is no exception in this as more people leave rural homes for towns in search of jobs and ‘good life’. This demographic group consists mainly of the youth.

Urbanisation is a reality we cannot live without. More than 80 per cent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product is generated in cities through trade, commerce and manufacturing. Indeed, cities consume about two-thirds of the world’s energy, which translates to 70 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Urban experts observe that if properly managed, urban centres act as hubs of productivity and offer an ideal environment for innovation and formation of new ideas.

Green technology

However, rapid urbanisation has brought with it massive challenges. These include an insatiable demand for affordable basic services such as housing, education, transport and health care. Jobs and other income-generating activities are also scarce compared to demand, which leaves a large number of people almost destitute. The latter consist of the billion urban poor who live in informal settlements.

With the foregoing scenario, it is clear that as cities develop, so does the rise in their exposure and vulnerability to climate and disaster risks. In some places, effects of the increasing carbon footprint are being experienced.

For instance, almost half a billion urban residents live in coastal areas, increasing their vulnerability to storm surges and sea level rise. Over the last couple of decades, for instance, the sea front in Malindi has been receding, adversely affecting fishing and tourism activities along the town’s coastline.

Industries now need to start the transition to the use of green technology. According to Supply Chain Transformation and Resource Efficiency report published by Carbon Trust of the UK, businesses can save billions by tackling supplier inefficiencies as well as re-thinking products and business models. This includes relooking at the process from the extraction of and transportation of raw materials to the disposal of used products.

The paper states that “the impact of energy costs illustrates the broader need for companies to address resource risks and opportunities within their supply chains. In addition to their own energy bills, companies indirectly buy the energy used to extract, process, manufacture, and transport material inputs, embedded within the cost structure of their supply chain”.

Glimpses of hope are also being witnessed in Kenya. For example, a leading distillery is set to install a 1MW roof solar system on its plant in Athi River, a first in the region’s manufacturing industry. The brewer has said it will save up to Sh18 million annually for the next 25 years.

Emerging phenomenon

Another important area that will need to be restructured for environmental purposes in cities is public transport. There are signs that this is feasible after the RATP State-owned public transport operator in France launched a fully electric bus on Monday. Replication of such a model will lead to a great decrease in the use of carbon fuels. At a personal level, electric cars are also now an emerging phenomenon in the developed world.

World Bank notes that the way many cities are physically constituted gives little room for flexibility. Once a city is built, its physical form and land use patterns can be locked in for generations, leading to unsustainable sprawl. Consequently, the bank recommends that both National and County governments must engage in intensive policy coordination and investment choices to build cities that “work”—inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

The writer is executive director, Centre for Climate Change Awareness—[email protected]

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