Construction Kenya’s INSIGHTS advises as to how to build sustainable cities for the good of all. Still, in an era of rapid urbanisation, we witness increasing demand for additional housing, infrastructure, transport and green spaces. We can only agree on how all around the world thinkers can help tackle these challenges.
How to build sustainable cities
More than 66% of humanity projected to live in urban areas by 2050.
In the next thirty years, more than two thirds of humanity is projected to live in urban areas with most of the urban population growth expected to happen in lower income nations.
With that in mind, there is an urgent need for planners to ensure that urban areas are inclusive, safe, sustainable and resilient enough to meet the anticipated population growth.
But what makes a city liveable? While there is no single magical bullet, cities can make themselves more habitable by adopting a range of social and technological measures.
Here are 10 ways to build more sustainable cities:
1. Clean energy
Although most cities can generate clean energy, their high level of power consumption means the metropolises are unlikely to be self-sufficient in terms of energy production.
However, cities can lower their carbon footprints by, among other things, converting sunshine into electricity; using timber from local forests to produce low-carbon energy for heating and electricity generation; and using solar to heat buildings and water.
Converting waste into energy is also a great step towards improving a city. The Indonesian city of Sodong, for example, has implemented an air-filled waste disposal system that uses pipes to suck trash from homes into processing centres that automatically sort the material to recycle and turn it into renewable energy.
London Heathrow, one of the busiest airports in the world, uses “springy” tiles to harness the kinetic energy in foot traffic and convert it into electricity.
Such innovations can help cities to become more sustainable.
2. Efficient buildings
Buildings consume most of a city’s energy intake while emitting large quantities of carbon. Cities should encourage the design and construction of efficient buildings – which are often more cost-effective and functional compared to installation of costly devices for clean energy production.
Creating efficient buildings involves the insulation of walls, windows, and roofs, and operating energy-efficient lighting and heating systems.
Passive House in Darmstadt, Germany, is a great example of energy efficient building. The ultra-low energy house is so highly insulated that it requires no heating or cooling.
Singapore and New York have shown the world how small initiatives such as painting roofs white and planting trees can reduce city temperatures by up to 2°C – thereby cutting a city’s energy consumption.
In Scandinavian and eastern European countries, hot water for heating is distributed to buildings through insulated pipes underneath the streets. The water is heated using energy generated from extremely efficient power stations that generate both heat and electricity.
3. Efficient transportation
While vehicles, trains and aeroplanes facilitate the smooth running of a city, the transport systems can cause traffic congestion, poor air quality and gas emissions.
To minimise the number of cars on the road, some cities have formulated ideas that can be adopted in other parts of the world.
The Scottish city of Edinburgh, for example, has developed one of the largest car-sharing clubs in the UK, which allows members to use cars only when they need to.
Singapore and London have designed high-quality bus and underground rail systems, as well as low-emission areas where only electric vehicles are permitted.
In Copenhagen, Denmark, cycle commuting is highly encouraged with cyclists given priority at traffic lights throughout the city.
4. Urban agriculture
The food we eat comes with a carbon footprint, which is worse if the produce travels hundreds of miles to reach us. It is therefore a great idea to encourage urban farming to ensure local sourcing of foodstuffs.
Urban farmers such as US-based Aero Farms are already embracing vertical farming solutions to produce food in cities. Vertical farming produces crops on stacked layers, often on skyscrapers, instead of on a single layer in either an open field or a greenhouse.
Advances in lighting and automation, as well as other factors such as reduced use of pesticides, enable vertical farmers to make higher profits than traditional farmers.
5. Sharing spaces
City residents around the world are reducing the carbon footprint of consumption through sharing of resources. It is increasingly common to find inhabitants engaging in carpooling, lodging rental and shared ownership of facilities such as gyms and lounges.
6. Design for social integration
Once considered the world’s most dangerous city, Colombian city of Medellin has transformed itself by focusing on architecture and design.
The city has adopted the use of shared spaces and improved public transport to blur economic boundaries and create a sense of connection among its residents.
7. Mobility on demand
Smartphone-assisted traffic management and car routing can reduce time and fuel wasted trying to navigate through congested cities.
Likewise, self-driving vehicles and carpooling can increase efficiency by maximising use of vehicles and reducing the need for space to park idle cars.
8. Nature-based solutions
Nature-based solutions to urban problems can help cities to tackle climate change while reducing disaster risks.
New York City’s greened rooftops and streets that can better manage storm water runoff and improve urban climate are a great example of natured-based solutions.
Another great example is China’s introduction of the concept of ‘sponge cities’, cities with open spaces that can soak up floodwater and prevent disaster in ecologically friendly ways.
9. Pocket parks
In densely populated cities such as San Francisco, local authorities have put in place small green spaces that help to increase green cover while providing recreation space to residents.
Most pocket parks re-use spaces that previously served other purposes — for example, rehabilitated street parking spaces or a public right-of-way that was earlier used for transportation.
10. Pervious concrete
Pervious concrete is a mixture of cement, coarse aggregate, water and admixture, with little or no fine aggregates. It is designed to allow water to penetrate the asphalt for absorption by the earth. This can help cities to tackle flash floods and worsening quality of water in river courses and so on.
Hailed as one of the most promising sustainable material today, pervious concrete has outstanding potential to counteract these adverse impacts while providing necessary structural integrity, thus supporting continued urbanization.
As a response to a millennial scarcity of water that characterises the new world as impacted by climate change, the author proposes that Blue is the new Green.
With its dominant ochre colour and millennial water scarcity, the water situation in the MENA region would not require specific down-to-earth Blue vs Green solutions for all water, energy, and food security key to MENA stability are getting rarer by the day. Anyway, here is Adam Smith, the managing director at Polypipe Middle East.
Blue is the new green
“We must come together as an industry to actively encourage the design and installation of safe and reliable water management systems”
Sustainable water management is both an art and a science. It is a practice that involves using the Earth’s most precious resource – water – in a way that safely meets current social, economic and environmental needs without compromising the ability to meet those needs in the future. Essentially, it means ensuring that supply of clean water is meeting demand, using a water delivery process that is as efficient as possible.
It allows for a ‘source control’ water strategy – capture, store, treat and re-use – rather than a traditional linear system, in which water is treated as a waste product. This multifunctional approach supports the creation of Green Infrastructure.
The process of sustainable water management can have a deep impact in society on so many levels, helping to address sustainability initiatives on a global scale. For example, the UN has outlined 17 Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by 2030. Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities, seeks to make cities more inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable through measures that include improving water quality and quantity. Sustainable water management systems can play a key role in this transformation.
In fact, given the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the role of sustainable water management has become more important than ever before. Perspectives on urban life are shifting from a traditional view towards smarter cities that place wellbeing and sustainability at their core. A more circular economy, that prioritises urban resilience, allows for the creation of safe and reliable public health systems. These systems can actually reduce the indoor transmission risk of diseases and eliminate leaks and toxic odours that can be harmful to human health.
Adam Smith, the managing director at Polypipe Middle East
So, what makes a water management system ‘sustainable’? First and foremost, it’s important to recognise that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. I believe that we must come together as an industry to actively encourage the design and installation of safe and reliable water management systems, based on the specific needs of the project or location. In my experience with Polypipe Middle East, the key is early-stage engagement, working collaboratively along the supply chain from conception to delivery to understand the unique needs of each project.
However, there are some basic principles of sustainable water management that pertain across applications. The basic tenet is using methods to safely capture, store and reuse water. The process of capturing water and then reusing it allows us to save on our usage of potable water, instead of wasting it. This is the sustainable water management cycle – a process that more closely mimics the natural water cycle of the Earth’s ecosystem.
Systems that function based on our natural water cycles are called Sustainable urban Drainage Systems (SuDS). These systems are integrated into our buildings and infrastructure to capture storm, surface or AC condensate water, and use it passively to irrigate surrounding areas. These systems are capable of collecting stormwater runoff at the source for filtration or reuse, removing the need for traditional long drainage networks.
They are also effective at coping with water stress. Many cities in the region do not possess the necessary infrastructure to cope with increased rainfall. Stormwater travels fast, causing high volumes to flow into urban areas in a short space of time, potentially overwhelming drainage systems or collecting in puddles and becoming stagnant, which can create public health issues.
Flooding is not only an inconvenience but a serious danger to human life. For property planners, architects, developers, contractors and local municipalities involved in urban development, it is essential to ensure that infrastructure is becoming better equipped for rainfall.
This is where SuDS come in – they are effective at maximising sustainability and profitability of projects. They play a key role in creating greener infrastructure and supporting a circular economy model by helping to better manage resources, reduce wastewater and offering innovative ways to encourage biodiversity and enhance water management in urban spaces.
Another global trend that enables sustainable water management is the creation of green or blue roofs. Green or blue roofs are starting to be incorporated into the region as not only a sustainable way to manage water, but as positive urban ‘green spaces’ that can offer social and economic benefits.
By adding these to the empty roofs of buildings, we can convert an unused rooftop into a multifunctional space that supports health, wellbeing and sustainability.
First and foremost, they can reduce the risk of flooding by 80%. They also help to combat another challenge in the region which is Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect. This is a phenomenon that causes cities to have warmer temperatures due to dense concentrations of concrete and increased human and industrial activities.
By using green spaces that absorb heat, green roofs can directly reduce cooling loads and costs, potentially reducing AC energy usage by up to 75%.
These spaces can become green sanctuaries in the urban jungle that are our cities. They can be integrated with health and wellness amenities as well as spaces for urban farming to increase biodiversity. All in all, they can impact a building’s carbon footprint, moving us closer towards making our spaces zero net carbon and also helping us to increase LEED ratings and even property value.
For businesses operating in the construction industry in the Middle East today, it is clear that a genuine commitment to sustainability is becoming essential. There is knowledge and intent to increase sustainability, however, often the mechanism to implement it lacks. This, fortunately, is changing, as we see the emergence of more robust legislation and regulation, in line with national and global goals for sustainable development.
The key aspect of supporting sustainability is implementing solutions that safely addresses challenges in the region and help us create resilient cities.
The future of our industry is not just product driven. The barriers we must overcome are not in innovation, technology or product manufacturing. The solution is collaboration.
I believe industry leaders must come together to encourage collaboration in the construction industry by promoting good practices and educating communities on the importance of safe and sustainable systems.
We must look beyond our current economic model to redefine growth. Why is this change necessary?
As societies globally move towards a more circular economy, we too must start to build for the future needs of our planet and our people by helping to close the gap between production processes and the Earth’s natural ecosystems.
By embracing sustainable systems, we can create smarter, greener cities. Implementing sustainable systems, not just for water management, but across our cities is what will enable us to make an impact on our communities, one building at a time.
There are principles on all transboundary waterways, be they surface or of the aquifer type and they are taken into account in the United Nations Watercourses Convention Article 5, as the Convention states that utilization of an international watercourse equitably and reasonably accounts for all relevant factors and circumstances, including :
Geographic, hydrographic, hydrological, climatic, ecological and other elements of a natural character
The social and economic needs of the watercourse in the concerned States
The population dependent on the waterway in the concerned State;
The effects of the use or uses of the watercourse in one State on other States;
Existing and potential uses of the watercourse;
Conservation, protection, development and economy of the water resources of the watercourse and the cost of measures taken to that effect; and
The availability of alternatives, of comparable value, to a particular planned or existing use. The availability of other options, of equal value, to a specific intended or existing service.
The following essay by Raquella Thaman is a summary of her recently published monograph (under the same title), which appears in Brill Research Perspectives in International Water Law. In effect, the author reviews possible Implications for the Future Directions of International Water Law and concludes that the need for concerted global intervention to maintain the livability of Earth and increase resilience in the face of the rapidly changing availability of resources is vital.
The picture above is for illustration purpose and is that of the Nile bassin (the other watercourse controversy) with indication of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) location.
The fate of the Mesopotamian Marshes of Iraq provides us with a case study on the functional deficits of the existing body of international water law in managing conflict over transboundary watercourses. This monograph argues that international collaboration over transboundary watercourses is imperative for maintaining peace and stability and should force us into thinking of new ways to address these newly emerging and growing challenges in the field.
Water is a transient and finite resource. Moving through the hydrologic cycle, each molecule may find its way from a transboundary watercourse on one continent to a municipal water supply on another, and then back again. It is often said that every drop we drink has already been consumed by one life form or another.
One of the more perilous side effects of climate change is its threat to the water supply of hundreds of millions of people. In many regions the seasonal absence of rain has historically been compensated for by meltwater from glaciers and winter snowpack across international borders in distant mountain ranges. When these glaciers disappear, so will the water supply during the dry season.
As these pressures increase, the need for effective legal regimes to address the sharing of transboundary watercourses likewise increases. In some cases, the existing law governing the utilization of this ephemeral resource has proven inadequate to prevent conflict and ensure access to water and its benefits for people and ecosystems no matter where they lie along the length of the watercourse.
The history and ecology of the Tigris-Euphrates Basin, and the issues surrounding Turkey’s recent impoundment of water behind the Ilisu Dam on the Tigris, provide an example highlighting such challenges. While the need for collaborative approaches to sharing transboundary watercourses is evident, barriers to such collaboration are complex and sometimes deeply entrenched. Additionally, the responsibility of the international community for helping at risk communities maintain access to adequate water supplies cannot be overlooked.
The first few chapters of the monograph set forth the context of the problem. Chapter one briefly introduces the hydrologic cycle and current state of Earth’s ecological systems underlying the need for new developments in international water law. The second chapter is an overview of the Tigris-Euphrates river basin including its hydro-geography, climate and early history of water use. The third chapter describes the significance of the Mesopotamian Marshes themselves as a harbinger for the well-being of the people of Iraq. The fourth chapter examines the water projects that affect the Tigris-Euphrates Basin including controversy surrounding Turkey’s most recent filling of the Ilisu dam and the flooding of Hasankeyf.
Chapter five of the monograph outlines the law governing the Tigris-Euphrates Basin. The stance of the Tigris-Euphrates Basin states and their seeming embrace of outdated and conflicting approaches to resource allocation are examined. Existing agreements between the states, both colonial era and post-WWII, and the application of the UN Watercourses Convention are then examined. Finally, other approaches to managing conflict over ecological conditions are examined including a brief analysis of the Rhine Salt Case and the human right to water recognized by the UN General Assembly in 2010.
Chapter six discusses the topic of collaborative water management using the illustrative example of the Senegal River Basin. Three examples of conflict over transboundary watercourses, one historical and two current, are then provided in order to illuminate some of the barriers to collaboration. The first is a nineteenth century dispute between the United States and Mexico over the water of the Rio Grande, which resulted in the production of the Harmon Doctrine. The second provides an example of upstream hydro-hegemony in an overview of the problems arising from China’s development of the upper Mekong River and its impact on those living in the lower Mekong Basin. The third example outlines the problem of downstream hydro-hegemony in the dispute between Ethiopia and Egypt, its downstream neighbor on the Nile, over the building of Ethiopia’s Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
In conclusion, the need for concerted global intervention to maintain the livability of Earth and increase resilience in the face of the rapidly changing availability of resources will be explored and the clear need for a unified collaborative approach to such intervention reiterated.
The monograph is dedicated to Ms. Fadia Daibes Murad (1966-2009); in recognition of the courage, rigor, and dynamic intellect with which she advocated both for fairness in access to water resources and for gender equity in Palestine and the Middle East.
Ms. Thaman is an attorney and teacher in California. She can be reached at r_thaman @ u.pacific.edu.
Sustainable water management key to scaling up bioenergy production
To avoid a substantial increase in water scarcity, biomass plantations for energy production need sustainable water management, a new study shows.
The picture above is for illustration and is of Divdiscourse‘s Limiting water stress risks.
Bioenergy is frequently considered one of the options to reduce greenhouse gases for achieving the Paris climate goals, especially if combined with capturing the CO2 from biomass power plants and storing it underground. Growing large-scale bioenergy plantations worldwide, however, does not just require land, but also considerable amounts of freshwater for irrigation – which can be at odds with respecting Earth’s Planetary Boundaries. An international team of scientists has used their most detailed computer simulations to date to calculate how much additional water stress could result for people worldwide in a scenario of conventional irrigation and one of sustainable freshwater use.
“Irrigation of future biomass plantations for energy production without sustainable water management, combined with population growth, could double both the global area and the number of people experiencing severe water stress by the end of the century, according to our computer simulations,” says lead author Fabian Stenzel from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), who developed the research idea for this study while participating in the Young Scientists Summer Program (YSSP) – IIASA’s flagship initiative for mentoring young scientists. “However, sustainable water management could almost halve the additional water stress compared to another analyzed scenario of strong climate change unmitigated by bioenergy production.”
Both political regulation and on-farm improvements needed
“Sustainable water management means both political regulation – such as pricing or water allocation schemes – to reduce the amounts of water taken from rivers as well as on-farm improvements to make more efficient use of the water,” explains study coauthor Sylvia Tramberend, a researcher in the IIASA Water Security Research Group. “This could include cisterns for rainwater collection or mulching to reduce evaporation. Moreover, sustainable water management includes the preservation of reliable river flows to ensure undisturbed ecosystems in and alongside rivers. Up- and downstream river management may in fact require international cooperation calling for more transboundary river management, as well as between different water users – that’s the challenge ahead for integrated water resource management.”
Largely unmitigated global warming together with population growth would increase the number of people under water stress by about 80% in the simulations. Enhanced use of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage could limit climate change: When plants grow, they take up CO2 from the air and build it into their trunks, twigs, and leaves. If this biomass is burned in power plants and the CO2 is captured from the exhausts and stored underground (carbon capture and storage (CCS)), this can eventually help reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere – scientists call this ‘negative emissions’.
In many scenarios, these are seen as necessary for meeting ambitious climate mitigation targets if direct emission reductions proceed too slowly, and to balance any remaining greenhouse gas emissions that are difficult or impossible to reduce, for instance potentially in aviation, certain types of industry, or in livestock production.
Water scarcity remains a huge challenge
“According to existing scenarios, biomass plantations could increase by up to 6 million km2 if global warming is to be limited to 1.5°C by the end of the century, the more ambitious of the two temperature targets of the Paris Agreement,” says coauthor Dieter Gerten from PIK. “We used these scenario inputs to run simulations in our high resolution global vegetation and water balance model to explore the freshwater implications. While substantial irrigation implied in a bioenergy plus CCS scenario including population growth suggests a 100% increase in the number of people facing water stress, combining it with sustainable water management brings the number down to 60%. This, of course, is still an increase, so challenging tradeoffs are on the table.”
Regions that already suffer from water stress today would be most affected in the climate change scenario, like the Mediterranean, the Middle East, northeastern China, South-East and southern West Africa. In the bioenergy plus CCS scenario without sustainable water management, high water stress extends to some otherwise unaffected regions, like eastern Brazil and large parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. Here, large biomass plantation areas in need of irrigation are assumed in the scenario analyzed.
Sustainable Development Goals and Planetary Boundaries must be taken into account
Climate mitigation is one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) the world has agreed to achieve. The water–energy–environment nexus studied in this research highlights that pathways to sustainability must consider all affected SDGs.
“The numbers show that either way, sustainable water management is a challenge to be addressed urgently,” says coauthor Wolfgang Lucht, head of PIK’s Earth System Analysis research department. “This new study confirms that measures currently considered to stabilize our climate, in this case bioenergy plus CCS, must take into account a number of further dimensions of our Earth system – water cycles are one of them. Risks and tradeoffs have to be carefully considered before launching large-scale policies that establish biomass markets and infrastructure. The concept of Planetary Boundaries considers the whole Earth system, including but not limited to climate. Particularly the integrity of our biosphere must be acknowledged to protect a safe operating space for humanity.”
Stenzel, F., Greve, P., Lucht, W., Tramberend, S., Wada, Y., Gerten, D. (2021). Irrigation of biomass plantations may globally increase water stress more than climate change. Nature Communications DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-21640-3
The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) is an international scientific institute that conducts research into the critical issues of global environmental, economic, technological, and social change that we face in the twenty-first century. Our findings provide valuable options to policymakers to shape the future of our changing world. IIASA is independent and funded by prestigious research funding agencies in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe. www.iiasa.ac.at
A major intrusion of sand and dust from the Sahara transformed skies and the landscape over Europe on the weekend of 6-7 February, with far-reaching impacts for the environment and health. It once again highlighted the importance of accurate forecasts and warnings of this transboundary hazard.
The event was accurately predicted by the Barcelona Dust Forecast Centre, which acts as WMO’s Sand and Dust Storm Warning Advisory and Assessment System’s (SDS-WAS) regional centre for Northern Africa, Middle East and Europe (NAMEE). The system seeks to provide operational forecasting and warning advisory services for various regions of the world in a globally coordinated manner in order to reduce the impacts on the environment, health and economies.
“We knew about the event in advance. The models were really good in predicting the event,” said Sara Basart, at the Barcelona Supercomputing Centre, which serves as the operational hub.
The sand and dust storm started on 5 February in northern Algeria, reducing visibility to 800 meters. The dust particles were transported through the atmosphere to southeast Spain and on to southern and central Europe, turning the sky yellow, coating buildings and cars with sand and dust and covering snow on the Pyrenees and Alps mountain ranges with sand.
On 8 February, the dust intrusion reached the eastern Mediterranean. There was also high dust surface concentration over Africa’s Sahel region, which is one of world’s worst affected regions.
“It is not just a case of having dirty windows or cars. Sand and dust storms cause much wider problems than that,” said Slobodan Nikovic, a member of the Global SDS-WAS Steering Committee and the chair of the regional steering group of the SDS-WAS NAMEE Node.
Over the last decade, scientists have come to realize the impacts on climate, human health, the environment and many socio-econimic sectors.
WMO Members are at the vanguard in evaluating these impacts and developing products to guide preparedness, adaptation and mitigation policies. The WMO Sand and Dust Storm Project was initiated in 2004 and its Sand and Dust Storm Warning Advisory and Assessment System (SDS-WAS) was launched in 2007. WMO is also part of a UN coalition to combat sand and dust storms.
More than 20 organizations currently provide daily global or regional dust forecasts in different geographic regions, including 7 global models and more than 15 regional models contributing to SDS-WAS. It integrates research and user communities (e.g., from the health, energy, transport, aeronautical, and agricultural sectors).
“Reaching the last mile is extremely important. We need to pay more attention to the communication of this product,” says Alexander Baklanov, of WMO’s Atmospheric Environment Research division, Science and Innovation department.
WMO is therefore overseeing and monitoring the progress of the implementation of early warnings of sand and dust storms as part of WMO’s multi-hazard early warning system.
The other major challenge is to ensure that the warnings are available in countries most impacted, including in West Africa.
WMO is collaborating with the Spanish national meteorological agency AEMET and the Barcelona Sand and Dust Warning Advisory Center to improve warnings in Burkino Faso, one of the countries hardest hit. With funding from the Climate Risk and Early Warning Systems Initiative (CREWS), Burkina Faso has implemented a web page for Sand and Dust Warnings for the country, and will be extended for several other West African countries. AEMET is deploying a network of aerosol Particulate Matter (PM) instruments, which are important for health applications, given the correlation between sand and dust storms and respiratory problems, as well meningitis in the extended meningitis belt which spans 26 countries from Senegal to Ethiopia.
Originally posted on Jayson Casper: Man walking past voting wall, Marrakesh, Morocco For the first time in his life, Rachid Imounan cast a vote—and overturned Morocco’s Islamist-oriented government. He is not alone. Turnout surged to 50 percent as liberals routed the Justice and Development Party (PJD), which led the North African nation’s parliament the past…
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