Climate Change: 70% of global CO₂ comes from cities

The Economist cover image for the May 23rd 2020 edition
The Economist: ‘A new opportunity to tackle climate change: Countries should seize the moment to flatten the climate curve

COVID-19 has not made Climate Change go away. That said, the lockdown of cities has had an immediate effect on our climate: Production slowed down. Traffic on the streets vanished. Planes grounded. Satellite pictures over China show that pollution decreased within the first week after the lockdown. Skies are clearer than ever before.

Thousands of people lost their lives in the course of the pandemic. At the same time, lives were saved as the air quality has improved. The COVID-19 crisis will – hopefully – find an end. But the climate challenge is still underway.

The question is: How would the world look like, if we managed climate change with a similar sense of urgency?

The past weeks showed that we are able to react fast. Citizens adjusted their behaviour and stopped travelling. Companies turned activities to virtual instead of in-person. And governments mobilised resources as quick as they could.

CO2 city blog post cover

Change should start in cities

COVID-19 or not, cities make up the bulk of the global CO₂ emission. And that won’t decrease by itself. Quite the opposite in fact: with increasing urbanisation, the impact of cities on climate change will grow. Cities will expand to make space for the many people living in them. This will have a double-effect on our climate:

  1. With more people living and commuting in the city, more CO₂ will be emitted. The condensed emission above cities can lead to ozone holes.
  2. 60% of the buildings we need by 2050 are not yet built. More people living in cities requires more buildings. In addition to that, the lifespan of buildings decreased in the past 50 years due to poor construction materials. So more buildings have to be (re-)constructed which adds an extra chunk of CO₂. The construction industry alone accounts for 40% of CO₂ emission. This will accelerate climate change and resource depletion even further.

Opportunities for Urbantech

In the Urbantech Program, we look for solutions that make buildings more energy-efficient, long lasting – and better for the people that live in them. For example, indoor climate sensors can prevent the building interior from being affected by, for example, mould. Energy meters can help household and commercial entities to reduce their energy consumption. Optimisation tools can advance the CO₂ efficiency on construction sites. Collaboration platforms can mitigate the risk that construction parts have to be re-built. Advanced materials lead the future into long lasting building materials. The list goes on. Have a look at some of the cool ideas the 2019 cohort worked on. And meanwhile, we’re busy evaluating 200+ applications for the 2020 programme. In other words: there is plenty more to come – in our quest to accelerate the development of sustainable cities. 

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