• Running out of time, indeed!

During the UN Climate Change Conference 2018, COP24, currently underway in Katowice, Poland, PM Imran Khan’s Advisor on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam said “we are running out of time” in the global bid to forestall climate change.

During COP24, Aslam has reaffirmed Islamabad’s support of the Paris Agreement – especially considering the country ranks eighth on Germanwatch’s index of countries most affected by climate change – and even got superstar and environment activist Arnold Schwarzenegger to say yes to coming to Pakistan.

As COP24 gets global heads together and get as many of them to stick to a global action plan, a critical question would be on developing new models for a ‘carbon-free economy’.

A prominent contribution in this regard is Life After Carbon: The Next Global Transformation of Cities, written by John Cleveland and Peter Plastrik underlining the city as a unit taking on climate change for urban development in a bid to reduce the carbon footprint. The book underlines efforts to create the most livable cities with the least climate fallout.

Life After Carbon unveils itself in three sections, beginning with the climate laboratories – 25 of them that the book draws inspiration from – then examining the ideas that impacted the way modern cities were constructed, and then highlighting the work needed to pull off the requisite urban transformation. The book’s contents are neatly divided in these three broad sections.

Life After Carbon starts by elaborating how cities have incorporated innovation in their response to climate change by promoting bicycling and walking, streamlining movements for various vehicles, channelising buildings’ energy consumption, recycling waste, mining wastewater for heat, promoting solar, in addition to complete redesigns of buildings, public squares, coastlines and other structures.

‘Urban climate innovation labs’ are thoroughly discussed as cities that are acting on climate change challenges and reinforcing their commitment for the same. There are three characteristics that bind them: commitment to achieving long-term climate change goals, targeting of urban systems for large-scale change and initiating of experiments to see what works.

The road ahead requires a change in context, highlighting of the green and strong decision-making. Those ahead of the game are focusing on climate-oriented businesses and efforts to reduce consumption

Shifts in transport modes to reduce driving to ensure car-free zones and periods are crucial in the pattern of innovation clusters and waves that the book wants to build on. It cites the example of Copenhagen to dissect what makes a ‘better city’ going into the future. The book also uses Star Wars to drive home its idea of a ‘rebel alliance’ that would transform the world’s modern cities.

But what exactly do these transformational ideas do? They encourage voluntary action, send price signals, offer choices and issue requirements – to point out a few.

‘Today, cities that are aggressively following a climate-innovation pathway are abandoning the very ideas that made them modern and got them this far. They are turning to a set of new ideas… transformational ideas that are embedded within the hundreds of climate innovations emerging in lab cities and spreading from city to city.’

The book then elaborates the advantages of going carbon free and how cities are changing their role from the reign of the fossil-fuel global economy. A major challenge is streamlining the consumption of energy, which is embedded in lifestyles of modern cities.

Life After Carbon argues that that cities can use energy and resources more efficiently to generate a revamped urban abundance, which needs to be sustainable, holistic and widely shared. It also urges compact lifestyles.

‘Urban compactness offers an efficiency advantage that builds on density, one that many cities had before they were designed for the automobile and that innovation lab cities are busy reclaiming. Compactness refers to the proximity of stores, jobs, and amenities to where people live—a development pattern that shortens routine travel distances and changes how people travel.’

The book emphasises upon the cities to restore the natural system power in order to uplift urban life. Here it cites the example of Melbourne where “every tree’s life matters.” The impetus to expand the use of green infrastructure stems from there factors: performance, cost effectiveness, and cobenefits.

Going forward, Life After Carbon underlines, that cities should be able to cultivate the inhabitants’ capacity and adapt accordingly in order to meet the requirements of the future. It is all about survival and “staying in the game” which the authors maintain as the necessary goal.

The road ahead requires a change in context, highlighting of the green and strong decision-making. Those ahead of the game are focusing on climate-oriented businesses and efforts to reduce consumption which bolsters the circular economies all the while promoting green infrastructure, biodiversity and biophilic immersion.

The authors seek city livability driven by climate action and aggressive performance expectation. They call out to ‘champions of big change’, which can of course be found in the private markets. New governance models, technical capacities and expanded financial resources need to be developed.

‘New ideas are taking hold in cities. They feed our needs and nourish our desires. They provide us with a new story about our future together. They fire our imaginations. They are transforming our cities.’