[Green Growth:Korea`s New Strategy (9)]Cities in the age of low carbon, green growth

2010-03-30 18:22

The following is the ninth in a series of articles focusing on the Korean government`s "green growth" strategy. The series will also introduce the increasing efforts of major advanced countries of the world to promote a green economy. - Ed.

Korean society and government have recently embraced a low carbon, green growth strategy by funding both climate change mitigation and adaptation projects, mainly through a "Green New Deal" that focuses on a four-river restoration and renewable energy projects. Many other nations also have similar new agendas to address how climate change is affecting their environment.
Now that we are finally moving in the same direction toward investing in greener economies and renewable energy, we must also convene on similar strategies for urban planning, transforming our cities into low carbon, green cities.


Until recently, human communities were relatively small, the industrial revolution had not yet occurred, and our land use actions and emissions did not pose a global threat to the ecological systems that sustain us and other life on earth. But now change is happening at an unprecedented speed. A climate expert from Canada recently announced that, by summer 2013, global warming of the Arctic will melt the ice sheet entirely. Some forward-thinking leaders in island nations are investing in a second homeland for their people to move to when their islands are submerged by rising sea levels.
The problem of global climate change was created largely by industrialized cities. Approximately 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are produced by cities. Our propensity to gather into urban areas and industrialize has gotten us into this mess. Now we need to use these same principles of space efficiency, organization and technical innovation to urbanize in a way that is sustainable.
Urban areas are continuing to grow at a rapid rate in Korea, as they are in many parts of the Asia-Pacific region. We must design energy efficient and harmonious physical structures, as well as the economic, social and ecological aspects of each city to accomplish the sustainability of human activities and environment in dense urban areas. In this regard, the connection of urban planning with global challenges has emerged, and eco-city, sustainable city and low carbon green city movements, all with similar goals of energy conservation, renewable energy and revegetation, are being promoted in Korea.

Evolution of the eco-city or sustainable city

The idea of eco-city grew from the perception that the problems of the urban environment could be understood by recognizing its complex relationship with organisms in nature, which ranges from metabolism, food chains, the heat island phenomenon in cities, to atmospheric pollution, water pollution, and the decrease of biodiversity.
The city itself can be viewed as a living organism, with analogous systems. Transportation networks are the circulatory system; sewers are the urinary tract; and so on. A healthy city, just like a healthy body, must be able to process pollutants effectively or limit their intake for longevity. Figure 1 shows one aspect of eco-cities - a rainwater collection system in vegetated green belts that helps to purify water as it travels through the system.
The idea of a sustainable city has grown from the perception of a sustainable agenda - that the conservation of the global environment is a significant issue, and, therefore, extensive strategies via collaboration with each nation need to be suggested. Its main purpose is to recognize the responsibilities toward the future generations of our world via a wide framework of Sustainable Development: therefore, it concerns a wide range of aspects of society from economic, societal, and cultural structures to the mechanisms of production and consumption, as well as the environmental aspect. Supporters of the sustainable city follow sustainable developmentalism, and argue that the environment should be the foundation for humans to live in it; at the same time, they allow a long-term, continuous economic development throughout the conservation and utilization of the environment as a crucial resource.
As well, they continue to argue that we need to understand the environment as a limited resource, and to create a city that can sustain itself from the present generation into the future. It is characteristic that the idea of sustainable city seeks to consider a city not only as a living organism, but as a societal, economic, cultural, traditional and even a spiritual system.
The projects of a sustainable city include those related to ecology or energy issues as well as culture, and public welfare projects for the socially disadvantaged.

Climate action planning for low carbon green growth

Meanwhile, the low carbon, green city is an idea that has recently appeared as a way to fight climate change. The low carbon, green city intends to systematically incorporate mitigation and adaptation measures to enable the city to respond to climate change through a well-planned and designed urban environment. Through such a plan, green cities can improve the energy efficiency and water use within a city, and promote the development of green fields and wind power, all of which are part of the climate agenda.
The concept of the low carbon, green city also decreases the cost of transportation energy, and can prevent development in the places that are ecologically sensitive or vulnerable. This idea is based on the principles of green growth, and the image of the ideal city - which takes the idea of environmentally sustainable development - reflects "low carbon green growth."
Cities begin their process of transformation into low carbon, green growth with a climate action plan. The basis of this plan rests on a thorough understanding of the carbon cycle and how the city`s inputs and outputs affect this cycle as shown in Figure 2.
Therefore, the green city considers the plan for making a climate agenda as a key mission, and seeks to contribute to the creation of jobs and revitalization of the local economy, by raising both the ecological and economic efficiency.
The projects of green cities include the creation of wind passages, transportation planning, the dispersion of heat through site planning, the utilization of new renewable energy sources, efficient energy use and supply, the restriction of automobile movement in downtown areas, systems of interconnection between modes of public transportation, pedestrian-friendly streets, bicycle-oriented projects and the recycling of waste materials for district heating purposes.

Suggestions for creating low carbon green cities

Many cities around the world have recently established and presented their climate action plans. This movement is a reflection of the efforts to meet global trends and standards related to climate and energy while simultaneously generating economic growth.
In order to lead Korean cities toward becoming green cities, the creation of these urban climate action plans should be mandatory; as such a framework is indispensable for transforming the green cities project into the "Green New Deal" project.
First, it is suggested that the response to climate change in cities needs to be integrated into national, regional and local plans, so as to make such a response the gist of national business planning. The long-term and short-term plans for making low carbon green cities has not been systematically developed yet, and, therefore, what is required is to develop the overarching objectives and the associated steps necessary to bring about low carbon, green cities.
Second, it is necessary to connect city and site planning with the introduction of new, renewable energy technologies. Accomplishing the goal of making low-investment, high-efficiency cities requires the introduction of a total city energy system. In doing so, the preparation and evaluation of the degree of city-energy density must be undertaken. Through this process, the feasibility and legitimacy of the site where the new renewable energy technology is introduced needs to be reviewed in advance, because its efficiency can be high when two approaches - both the active solar energy approach and passive solar one - are integrated with each other.
Third, the rule of evaluating the effects of climate change in cities may be suggested as one element of the city climate action plans. The United States considers climate change as a form of environmental pollution, and has recently been preparing both mitigation and adaptation measures after evaluating how proposed projects may influence the climate.
Fourth, urban planning guides should be devised based on the carbon footprint concept and approach. In particular, it is necessary to include the carbon index and its standard in the city laws, and to make carbon footprint analysis mandatory. To reduce a city`s carbon footprint, measures include planting trees to create carbon offsets, developing "rainwater cities," and creating marshes within the city may be suggested as well.
Fifth, it is necessary to prepare a strategy for new urban development, which could integrate the various plans for climate-friendly land use, environmental conservation and transportation systems. This needs to be approached at the unit building, site and city levels. What needs to be done in this process is to systematically establish a mechanism of planning that includes variables such as land use, climate change, biodiversity and disaster management, and to develop an organization that can coordinate the issues of city climate and energy, mainly because the image of the city sought by the eco-city and sustainable city needs to be included into the low carbon green city. The kinds of urban forms listed below may give a functional legitimacy to the process of climate-friendly urban planning: these include water circulation systems and the urban form, conservation of energy/resources and urban form, biodiversity and urban form, and wind passages and urban form.
Sixth, the economic operation means and social, governance-oriented approach may be utilized. Under the incentives of various economic supports and restrictions (i.e. congestion fee) and the participation of the people whose are invested in the project, low carbon, green cities could be constructed in the right place that set benchmarks nationally and internationally.
Seventh, it is necessary to develop and use resources efficiently, as well as employ energy-efficient technologies. Technology is the key to transforming cities into places where less dependence on the environment, and particularly on carbon-emitting fuels and practices, is required. In the new approach of constructing the low carbon, green city, rapid technological development may potentially be expected in certain fields. The technologies and technological developments that may be expected include methods of analyzing the carbon circulation process, new renewable energy technologies, the use of LEDs, and control of non-used energy in the city (i.e. the embodied heat in sewage disposal water, factory production processes, and in buildings) and its utilization within the city-energy system. To accomplish these technological developments, active research and development is needed to make the Carbon Neutral City, progress pilot projects, and accumulate and circulate the related information.

Time to act

It is time to connect urban planning with the challenges of climate change. We do have effective ways to both decrease our carbon footprint and adapt to climate change through urban planning techniques that incorporate energy conservation, use of renewable energy, and ecological restoration. Now we need to formulate and implement climate action plans that incorporate these techniques at all levels, spanning from global to local, to reach our goals for sustained prosperity for ourselves and all future generations
Climate change is the great moral imperative of our era, as stated by Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general of the United Nations, at the World Economic Forum that was held in Davos, Switzerland, on January 29, 2009. We must act together as a global society on this with hope and courage.
By Kim Kwi-gon

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