Promoting Decarbonization and Decoupling with Synergy for Resilient, Carbon-neutral and Nature-positive Cities
Dear Vice President Taj Hamad, dear guests, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon!
Thank you for your active engagement and wonderful exchanges. On behalf of the Global Forum on Human Settlements (GFHS), I wish to extend our heartfelt gratitude to all our partners who have contributed to this Annual Session and sincere thanks to all speakers, moderators and participants.
Against the backdrop of the three-year COVID-19 pandemic and the Russo-Ukrainian War, the world is now confronted with many crises and challenges pertaining to climate change, energy, economy and food security. Last month, little headway was made in cutting emissions at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27). We are forced to make trade-offs and compromises between various crises, with the energy and economic crises taking precedence over the global climate crisis. The international community is paying close attention to the ongoing UN Biodiversity Conference (COP 15), anticipating that an ambitious global biodiversity framework for the next decade will be adopted tomorrow.
A total of 24 leading organizations joined GFHS 2022 as co-organizers and collaborators, including ten major UN agencies, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the World Economic Forum (WEF). More than 80 outstanding speakers, moderators and commentators worldwide have engaged in exchanges and discussions with informative insights. Worldwide, an online audience of about 100,000 has joined the event via live streaming. The forum attendees’ in-depth discussions, feasible solutions and suggestions for policy-making in relation to the ten key issues centered on the Session theme will be subsequently compiled and shared with you in an outcome document.
Achieving carbon neutrality is a long and complex process. In line with the principle of building the new before discarding the old, China will advance initiatives to reach carbon peak and carbon neutrality and, at the same time, guarantee a secure national energy supply. From a global perspective, the most urgent tasks to address the climate and biodiversity crises are decarbonization and decoupling (Economic development is not at the cost of large consumption of resources). We need to promote decarbonization and decoupling more effectively with synergy: the former equals the latter, and the latter promotes the former. In other words, tackling climate change helps to conserve the environment and biodiversity, while a well-protected biodiversity assists in mitigating climate change.
Built on the speeches and discussions over the past two days, I have some reflections and thoughts regarding the goal of building resilient, carbon-neutral and nature-positive cities via synergistic promotion of decarbonization and decoupling, in line with the starting point of " conservation first, systematic implementation of policies, synergy and efficiency enhancement ". Hereby, I would like to highlight six priorities for your reference. I look forward to your comments.
1. Sustainable urban planning. Urban planning, instead of energy systems and infrastructure, determines the amount of carbon a city emits and the amount of energy it consumes since it is developed on a macro and holistic level and implemented prior to anything else. The TOD-based sustainable urban planning, endorsed by Smart Growth Theory, New Urban Agenda and IGMC Standards, favors compact, appropriately dense and multi-centered cities with mixed-function communities. Such urban planning enables 800 meters living circle or 15 minutes city. As stated in Article 98 of the New Urban Agenda: “We will promote integrated urban and territorial planning, including planned urban extensions based on the principles of equitable, efficient and sustainable use of land and natural resources, compactness, polycentrism, appropriate density and connectivity, and multiple use of space, as well as mixed social and economic uses in built-up areas, in order to prevent urban sprawl, reduce mobility challenges and needs and service delivery costs per capita and harness density and economies of scale and agglomeration, as appropriate.” Compactness results in fewer municipal infrastructures, including shorter roads and pipe networks, fewer buildings and shorter commuting time. Good, people-oriented urban planning and design should stand the test of time. To be specific, the lifespan of built environment is extended, while demolition, new construction and renovation are minimized. When it comes to urban planning, it is better to prevent problems beforehand than to pay for expensive remedies once they happen. This is where sustainable urban planning and design comes into play. It can minimize energy and resource use, improve the quality of urban life and enhance city resilience. At the same time, it can reduce land waste, lessen habitat encroachment and disturbance and foster a harmonious and peaceful relationship with nature. As suggested by experts during the Annual Session, the compactness and resilience of cities, particularly in coastal cities, should be assessed for the sake of the climate crisis. This topic merits more discussion.
2. Sustainable waste management. The generation and transportation of the predecessor of waste consumes energy, utilizes resources and emits greenhouse gases. During the subsequent waste treatment, such as collection, transfer, landfilling, or incineration, more gases are emitted and more land is utilized, resulting in environmental contamination. According to the FAO, 8-10% of urban greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to unconsumed food. Through sustainable consumption and production and a dynamic circular economy, it is possible to decrease waste at its source and recycle it in order to save energy and resources as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to the traditional 3Rs of reduce, reuse, and recycle, some experts have proposed a new set of 3Rs: the replacement of conventional plastics with bioplastics when unavoidable; more research and education on bioplastics; and more regulations on promoting bioplastics and their end-of-life disposal. The Global New Generation of Waste Lithium Battery Safe and Precise Separation Solution developed by a Shenzhen-based company was a highlight at this Annual Session. The underlying technologies enable a safe, waste-free and intelligent separation of raw materials, including electrolytes, with a recovery rate over 96%. Such a world-leading solution provides sought-after technical assistance for resource regeneration for the closed-loop development of the new energy industry.
3. Efficient and stable transition to renewable energy. Energy-related activities are the primary source of greenhouse gas emissions, taking up around 80% of all emissions. Therefore, achieving carbon neutrality necessitates a shift to renewable energy sources. However, financial, technological and natural endowment constraints will hinder the transition. Reports indicate that by 2030, about half of China's electricity will still be generated from coal. Still, from 2050 to 2060, China's installed wind power capacity will grow to 69–71%, accounting for 56–60% of the country’s total power generation. In his remarks, Academician Zhou Xiaoxin outlined five requirements for the operational performance of future power systems, including flexibility, resilience, stability, reliability and cost-effectiveness. Also, he proposed the concept of an Integrated Energy Production Unit (IEPU) and its framework as a solution to the energy supply of a high proportion of renewable energy generation under normal and extreme weather conditions. Academician Liu Ke claimed that in order to reach carbon neutrality, green methanol should replace coal and fuel economy. Main strategies included using green power and coal to make green methanol, storing, transporting, and consuming wind and solar energy in the form of green methanol and refueling green methanol with existing liquid infrastructure. All of these innovative ideas are very valuable.
In light of the natural endowment, geographical distribution, and storage and transportation costs of renewable energy, it is necessary to integrate its supply and consumption sides. Cities should place equal emphasis on the import (centralized) and local production (distributed) of renewables amid the transition. Locally generated energy sources can complement one another, e.g., solar, wind, biomass, geothermal and air. Numerous measures can help to save energy, like applying waste heat, storing thermal energy during off-peak hours, combining heating, cooling and power, storing power and interactive charging between electric vehicles and grids. As for energy import, the supply should come from various sources, i.e., different regions or countries, to prevent unduly reliance on a single source. The severe energy crisis currently affecting the EU illustrates excessive dependence on single form of energy supply. Tailored renewable energy systems can be installed on the facades and rooftops of buildings and in the streets, parking lots, parks and communities according to their distinct needs. Besides, virtual power plants and electrified end-use consumption can also be developed. With such measures, cities and communities can produce energy and consume it. That exemplifies the notion of a self-sufficient green city that we have promoted.
Here are two examples. EUREF-Campus in Berlin, Germany, the first net-zero-carbon smart city district in Europe, converted a century-old gas plant into a net-zero park using renewable energy. The Campus prioritizes energy conservation, effectively utilizes diverse energy resources and employs different energy-saving measures concurrently. It has been meeting the CO2 climate targets set by the Federal Government of Germany for the year 2050 since 2014. When the GFHS 2013 was successfully held in the Campus, all attendees were impressed by this model of city renovation.
Jinan Elite City, developed by China Green Development Investment Group, is a mixed-use green community with a construction area of over 5.4 million square meters. The community features the largest distributed photovoltaic power generation project for commercial complexes in Shandong Province, which has a roof area of about 11,000 square meters and an installed photovoltaic capacity of 1184kW. It has served as a model for transition to renewable energy.
4. Green, low-carbon and smart buildings and communities. Compared to other industries, the building sector generates the most carbon dioxide throughout its life cycle. Data from China Building Material Test & Certification Group Co., Ltd. show that in 2018, the building sector was responsible for 51.3% of all carbon emissions in China, of which building materials manufacturing accounted for 28.3%. To transition to a green and low-carbon building sector, we must actively develop green buildings, passive ultra-low energy structures and prefabricated buildings. We also need to promote green and low-carbon building materials and construction techniques vigorously. To incentivize users to conserve energy, tiered pricing for electricity, water and heating and smart management practices like blockchain technology can come to play. High-quality built environments and more robust and adaptable buildings contribute to longer lifespans of structures and infrastructure, which can conserve energy and resources. Carbon-fixing materials like wood and bamboo should be used more in construction. To prevent wasting energy and resources on unnecessary construction and demolition, we should, instead, focus on renovating existing buildings to increase their performance. Buildings are vital in developing distributed renewable energy systems in urban areas. They can help to generate a variety of energy sources, including solar, wind, geothermal, water and air, and can integrate electric vehicles into a smart microgrid system to store energy. Buildings can also develop all-dimensional greening and urban agriculture, which absorb carbon emissions and cut the energy needed to transport food. Numerous successful examples in this regard include Forest City in Malaysia, Central Mansion in China, Jinan Start-up Area for Growth Drivers Transformation in China, Sara Culture Center in Sweden and Parkroyal Collection Marina Bay in Singapore.
5. People-oriented public space and resilient infrastructure. People-oriented urban public spaces encourage walking, cycling, personal activities and social interaction in the public. Accordingly, the demand of driving and the carbon emitted by cars decrease. The city becomes more inclusive as a result. During the Annual Session, experts pointed out that linear, networked and all-dimensional greening was essential to establish green and healthy buildings and communities. In his speech, Professor Jan Gehl stressed the value of building people-oriented public spaces with human-scale design. He described humans as a slow, linear, horizontal, max 5 km/h walking creature and people are interested in each other. Walking and public life are important aspects of well-functioning human settlements. He added, to the effect that, the wind is changing. The principle of people-centered planning is being applied more and more globally. Looking after people is the first and the simplest and cheapest you can do in urban planning; it creates better cities for all, and it is for cities in all parts of the world. Bravo!
Urban infrastructure construction requires careful planning, higher standards and enhanced seismic and disaster resilience. Compact cities with distributed infrastructure appear to be more resilient. Nature-based green infrastructure can optimize water resource management, lessen floods and purify domestic wastewater, fostering peaceful and harmonious coexistence between the city and the natural environment. Ecological restoration through landscaping can increase resiliency in coastal cities and improve public spaces. The world’s most extraordinary infrastructure is the biosphere. Land, woods, oceans, the atmosphere, rivers, lakes, plants and animals should all be respected and used properly. We should not drain or waste them recklessly. Such a rule of thumb is the essence to build a nature-positive city per the knowledge and experience of the indigenous people.
6. Sustainable urban food system. According to a 2021 joint study released by the FAO, the world’s food systems are responsible for more than one-third of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. While the share of greenhouse gas emissions from the various stages of food production declines, that from food distribution — most notably cold storage — increases. On the way to a sustainable urban food system, healthy food and urban agriculture should be strongly supported. Moreover, more vegetarian and organic food should be provided in the market, while initiatives to reduce food waste should be promoted to the public. The safety and quality of food concern the public. Urban agriculture and rooftop farming, which recycle the nutrients from domestic waste and sewage, are already well-established in several cities. The quality of the living environment in those cities has improved as more carbon is sequestrated by plants. The Sky Vegetable Garden system, developed by the Sichuan-based KeDao Agriculture, effectively uses organic waste to raise food quality and safety. In Shenzhen, a 17,000-square meter farm on the rooftop of the Software Industry Base produces copious amounts of organic vegetables and fruit while providing nearby employees of Tencent, Baidu and other companies with a green public space for leisure.
Other significant issues have been elaborated on at this Annual Session. Numerous innovative opinions and practical approaches have been explored, including the importance of adopting hydrological early warning systems, the tools to reach zero climate disasters, implementing local leadership and boosting financing for climate action at the local level. I wish I could cover them all in my speech. However, due to time constraints, I have to make a difficult choice to only review and share the six priorities mentioned above, leaving out other great ideas.
Taken together, we need jointly advance decarbonization and decoupling effectively. Of the 8 billion people on the planet, 4.5 billion live in urban areas. Against this backdrop, cities should be able to produce energy and resources while consuming them.
Therefore, it is necessary to change the linear resource flow into a circular one and shift to renewable energy sources steadily and efficiently. Only by doing so can we accomplish the goal of building resilient, carbon-neutral and nature-positive cities and effectively address numerous crises related to climate, energy, economy, food and biodiversity. Let's work together for a shared greener and safer urban future.