A City-wide Plan To Tackle Emissions And Pollution

A 10 point plan for cities and towns to achieve net zero

Global warming is the single biggest threat we face as citizens, as public officials and as businesses - beyond even Covid-19. Indeed, Coronavirus is a symptom of climate change. If we want to tackle the real problem, our post pandemic strategies must include plans to tackle global warming. We need to get beyond Covid as quickly and as safely as possible so we have enough energy (preferably not the ExxonMobil kind of energy) and resources left to deal with the real issue - the climate crisis!

To support this we’ve decided to publish our net zero climate change framework for towns and cities to a wider audience. This article is high level - a simple ten step plan and a list of methods and initiatives that can help develop comprehensive region-specific approaches to cutting emissions and achieving net zero.

A handful of countries have started developing national approaches to reducing greenhouse gases but the actions need to happen are at the local level, with buy in from local communities. Local councils and municipalities can move faster than central government. Which in a number of countries will be the only way to get things moving. Sadly, the tortoises won't win this one. We're too short of time!

The 10 point plan is designed to inform local leaders and citizens while stimulating debate. It’s been forged from the work we’ve done over a number of years with municipal leaders, business managers and environmental experts in developing more holistic approaches to greener, healthier, environmentally sound cities and towns.

City leaders need to set a clear net zero target and time frame up front. Most will be focused on achieving net zero emissions by a certain date before 2050. Hopefully quite a bit before. You should outline your definition of emissions so as, for example, to include or not, all greenhouse gasses including Methane, Halogens and Nitrous oxide and not just Carbon dioxide. Further, over time, you’ll most likely want to stretch the target as ultimately you should be aiming for a fuller drawdown of greenhouse gases so as to get ourselves back to pre-industrial levels of warming and not a less ambitious net zeroing of 1 degree or 1.5 degrees warming above pre-industrial levels.

Cities should structure their net zero plans into a distinct category of projects and actions. Larger cities may want to appoint a leader and separate project teams for each category. Category leaders should report to whoever is leading the project overall in the city organisation and ideally the city leader. Measurement is vital so be clear about how you plan to measure the likely business case/impact for each category or initiative and set six monthly rolling targets for each prior to adoption.

10 Point Net Zero Framework for Cities (with project categories):

1. An action plan for the people. The only way a city will be able to pull off aggressive targets such as net zero emissions by 2030 will be to get as many of their citizens as possible to change their behaviors. We’ve developed a universal 10 point climate change action plan for individuals and households which is practical yet comprehensive.

2. An action plan for businesses. Alongside an action plan for your citizens you should adopt and market an action plan for business. Getting businesses, small medium and large, to buy into a straight forward, universal net zero climate change plan for their business could make a big difference.

3. Energy: strategies should include approaches and targets for wind turbines, microgrids, geothermal, solar farms, rooftop solar, wave and tidal, biomass, micro wind, in-stream hydro, waste to energy and energy storage.

4. Food: to include a plant-rich diet, reduced food waste, green/clean cooking stoves and cookware, nutrient management, composting, conservation agriculture and irrigation.

5. Women and girls: women have a key role to play in the environmental movement as more often than not they influence household decisions, purchases and practices. They are generally more responsible for gardens and small holdings and they spend considerable time educating children and informing their values. They are also ultimately responsible for family planning. Educating women and girls in net zero strategies and environmental approaches should prove highly worthwhile.

6. Buildings and infrastructure: the following components are essential to your plans - net zero buildings, walkable cities, bike infrastructure, green roofs, LED lighting, heat pumps, smart glass, smart thermostats, district heating, landfill methane, insulation, retrofitting, water distribution and building automation.

7. Land use: make sure to include forest protection, new forests and tree planting, coastal wetlands, bamboo, peatlands, perennial biomass, local community land management, rewilding and afforestation. Develop community learning initiatives e.g. wildlife gardening techniques and centres of excellence like a rewilding town centre park. One of the Letts Group projects in southwest England has developed a forty acre rewilding municipal park model which government and business leaders can visit (see DSP).

8. Transport: transport is a key opportunity for any climate conscious city plan. Take a look at mass transit, high-speed rail, shipping and boats, electric vehicles, ridesharing, electric bikes and e-scooters, cars, aeroplanes, trucks, remote working and learning and trains. Think through natural capital approaches that could, for instance, combine incentives for good practices as well as taxes or charges for the most polluting behaviours. Education and supportive, positive economic policies are the key.

9. Materials: this is an area often overlooked but, done right, can make a significant difference to effective net zero strategies. For proven eco materials strategies look at household recycling, industrial recycling, alternative eco-friendly cement, refrigeration, recycled paper, bioplastic and water saving in homes.

10. New eco innovations: there are a number of new innovations and trends that, as they mature, could make a significant difference to achieving and enhancing climate friendly action plans in the medium term. We believe the following deserve your attention: artificial foods, the 'artificial leaf' project, autonomous vehicles, living buildings, direct air capture, smart highways and roads, hyperloop, smart grids and building with wood.

We hope you’ve found this 10 point plan useful. If you have, then we urge you to share it with your community and local leaders. Sadly, we’re running out of time - but we have a small window of opportunity to do something about climate change. If your town or city has started taking action to reduce carbon emissions we would love to hear about it.

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