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Action towards Resource-efficient and Low Carbon Cities in Asia

Action towards Resource-efficient and Low Carbon Cities in Asia

Prof. Sivanappan Kumar

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By Shawn Kelly / AIT

   
(Bangkok) In the age of climate change, big cities contribute mightily to greenhouse gas emissions. And though Asia is home to many of the world’s most populated mega cities, around the region small and medium-sized cities are pushing forward with strategies for achieving low-carbon management and development, aided by scientists at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT).

Call it a club, of sorts: one guided by scientific principles, whose membership believe in slowing the pace of global warming and finding mitigation and adaptation solutions for their citizens. AIT’s regional effort to build a “low-carbon society” through a project called Action towards Resource-efficient and Low Carbon Cities in Asia is focused on fast-growing cities of half-a-million or less.

The two-year project spans Lao PDR, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, partnering with the cities of Luang Prabang, Hue, Danang, Chau Doc, Kurunegala, Matale, Kandy, Chiang Mai, Rayong, and Nonthaburi. All have vowed to introduce improved resource efficiencies and low-carbon frameworks inside their boundaries. The initiative is funded by French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME), SDCC/AIT-France and the participating cities.

“Asia is the center of global growth in the 21st century, and the small and medium-sized cities will be the large cities of tomorrow,” said Low Carbon Cities (LCC) project leader Prof. S. Kumar of AIT, explaining that smaller urban centres can still avoid the unsustainable growth patterns and planning mistakes characteristic of larger Asian metropolises.

Overall, the project involved capacity building of municipal authorities and their partners in greenhouse gas emissions estimation and the development of city-level climate and energy plans, as well as estimation of emissions at city level, and small pilot activities for mitigation of emissions, Prof. Kumar said.

Each city conducted a greenhouse gas inventory of assets and services for the first time, using methodologies developed by ADEME such as the Bilan Carbone TM tool. It “opened the eyes” of senior municipal administrators to low carbon planning options, cities’ representatives told a project Experiences Sharing Workshop in Bangkok on February 11-12, 2013.
 
Dr. Amararatne Yakupitiyage, Acting Dean, AIT School of Environment, Resources and Development, welcomed the participants on behalf of AIT. Prof. Chettiyappan Visvanathan, Principal Investigator, LCC, EEMP-SERD, AIT, said the two-day event provided opportunities for municipal governments, academic organizations, international organizations, public and private enterprises and project partner cities to join hands for planning and networking for new initiatives in the future, and to share their results.

Workshop sessions included Action Plans by Cities to Address Climate Change; Sharing Experiences from Asia; Opportunities for Funding; The Way forward; and Towards Low Carbon Society.
   
 
One spin off project is "Sustainable urban tourism through low carbon initiatives: Experiences from Hue and Chiang Mai" sponsored by Sustainable Mekong Research Network (SUMERNET:
http://www.sumernet.org/ ).
    
    
THINKING REGIONALLY
 

Dr. Dominique Campana, Director of International Affairs, ADEME, who opened the conference, believes international cooperation is essential to extending the low-carbon movement across the region, so partnering with AIT to connect with public and private sector partners in Thailand and the rest of Asia is a natural fit.

Indeed, by “thinking regionally” the project is “moving towards creating a low carbon society in Asia with new normative frameworks, standards and growth strategies for green urban growth,” said Donovan Storey, chief, Sustainable Urban Development Section, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok.

Dr. P. Abdul Salam, leader, Green Growth Thematic Area, AIT, added: “This is really a strong attempt to bring the smaller municipalities into the forefront of this critical issue of green growth and low carbon urban planning.”
 
Mr. Storey said that while the Asia-Pacific region is home to numerous mega-cities half of the urban population actually lives in cities of less than one-half million. Across the region, the growing urban carbon footprint is happening in the small and medium-sized towns, he confirmed.

According to UNESCAP, globally, cities account for 67% of all energy use and emit 71% of all greenhouse gases. Meanwhile, half a billion people will move to cities in the next decade, and the challenges will be enormous. “These smaller cities are not ‘sexy’ so to speak, but they are where future growth is happening and where there are opportunities for alternative development patterns,” Mr. Storey said.
 
 
CALCULATING CARBON FOOTPRINTS
   
With a population of 260,000, suburban Nonthaburi on Bangkok’s northern flank has focused on activities to mitigate GHG emissions by reducing energy consumption at city buildings and creating awareness about low carbon initiatives, Mr. Permpong Pumwiset, the municipality’s chief of environment and public health, said.

A greenhouse gas audit indicated that administrative buildings, schools, sewage pumping stations and health clinics consumed the most electricity, thereby emitting the highest levels of GHGs. After replacing 200 sets of fluorescent lamps with LED, the municipality reduced carbon emissions by 41 tons per year, saving 67,737 kilowatts of energy and 240,000 Baht in electricity charges.

“We are now talking with factories and department stores in the municipality to encourage reduced energy consumption through heightened awareness and improved infrastructure, such as changing to more efficient air conditioning,” Mr. Permpong added.

Simple car-pooling and public bicycle-riding are also ideas being explored by the city, as is cooperating with local communities and public schools to promote recycling and composting of organic matter. Bangkok’s neighbor will be emphasizing energy conservation and public awareness campaigns, he said. 
 
Mr. Sengkeo Kangnasone, an engineer with the Luang Prabang Urban Development Administration Authority, said the project was instrumental in reducing levels of bio-organic wastes generated by restaurants, hotels and households in the northern Lao PDR town. The next step will be increase the geographical coverage to include 6-7 more districts in the inner city, he believes.

In Sri Lanka, officials from Kandy, Matale, and Kurenegala all expressed enthusiasm for the initiative, based on positive initial results. “This project has given us the opportunity to assess the carbon emissions within the municipal boundary and helped us to prioritize actions and measures to achieve our quest to become a low-carbon city in Asia,” said Mr. Anuradha Gamini Peramunage, Mayor, Kurenegala, Sri Lanka.

“Before this study we could not calculate GHGs,” echoed Mr. Mr. Nguyen Tien Hoang, Lecturer/Assistant Dean, Hue University of Sciences, Vietnam. “Now we know most of Hue's emissions are from motorbikes so hopefully this data can help our planners to develop a bus system running on ethanol.”
 

LOW-CARBON WAY FORWARD

AIT energy expert Dr. Brahmanand Mohanty is unequivocal that green growth must involve long term urban transformation above and beyond GHG reduction pilot programs that sensitize people to climate change issues.

“Successful cities will be those that achieve total low-carbon transformation, and these are the places that are likely to be livable, efficient, competitive and sustainable,” he said.

The AIT visiting faculty and Regional Adviser for Asia-ADEME suggested thinking far beyond climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies, calling on Asia’s mayors to consider where they want their city to be positioned 40-50 years from today.

The challenge will be to manage a city on a low carbon trajectory that maximizes low-carbon energy sources, enhances efficiency in delivering urban services, and moves to low-carbon intensity for a given unit of economic output. True urban sustainability needs to be supported by the ‘three-P’ pillars or people, planet and profit,” he said, which will lead to clean, smart, sustainable, inclusive and resilient cities.

Other climate change analysts agreed. A “quantum leap forward” in thinking is needed to achieve low- carbon cities, and this will involve completely reconsidering how cities are designed, how they move people, how they operate buildings, how they produce, transport and consume, and the way they manage water and solid wastes, Mr. Storey stressed.

Ultimately, achieving a low-carbon society for Thailand and Asia’s low and medium-sized cities will mean “breaking the nexus of economic growth being linked to increased carbon emissions,” he said.

Cities are the future engines of growth for all of humanity, and Thailand’s cities cannot compromise on economic advancement, advised Dr. Mohanty. A real solution will be found when they achieve increased GDP growth without increasing GHG emissions.

With plenty of work ahead, the ten cities have gained unique insight about resource depletion and greenhouse gas emission issues. Careful consideration was also given to engaging citizenry, including the poor and women, as low-carbon activities were promoted. The cities are now moving forward to formulate low-carbon policies, strategies and initiatives that favor equitable and socially fair growth, and sustainable production and consumption practices, Prof. Kumar said.

Indeed, in a written message to the conference, Nonthaburi, Thailand, Mayor Somnuk Thanadechakul sounded an optimistic note in summing up the future challenge: “This project is a small step towards [achieving a] low carbon city and we will keep going to make our city suitable for sustainable living.” 
 
Other participating expert speakers included: Mr. A. R. Subbiah Director, Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning System for Africa and Asia (RIMES); Mr. Fouzi Benkhelifa, Associate Director, EXPLICIT; Mr. Donovan Storey, Sustainable Urban Development Section / Environment and Development Division, UN-ESCAP; Ms. Mahallah Adalia, Projects and Operations Coordinator for Southeast Asia, ICLEI; Mr. Agus Nugroho, Program Coordinator, Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI)-Asia; Mr. Tomoyuki Kawabata Senior Representative, JICA; Mr. Sergi Bosque Garcia, Consultant / Representative for Asia and the Pacific, Factor CO2; Ms. Naeeda Crishna-Morgado, Carbon Footprint Specialist, GMS/ADB; Ms. Sutthiya Chantawarangul, Programme Officer; Delegation of the European Commission to Thailand; Dr. Brahmanand Mohanty, Visiting Faculty AIT / Regional Adviser for Asia – ADEME.
 
Faculty of AIT School of Environment, Resources and Development involved in LCC who organized and facilitated sessions at the workshop included: Prof. Sivanappan Kumar, Principal Investigator, Green Growth Thematic Area-SERD, AIT; Prof. Chettiyappan Visvanathan, Principal Investigator, LCC, EEMP-SERD, AIT; Dr. P . Abdul Salam, Leader, Green Growth Thematic Area-SERD, AIT; Dr. Charles Marpaung, Principal Investigator, Green Growth Thematic Area-SERD, AIT; Dr. Kyoko Kusakabe, Principal Investigator, Green Growth Thematic Area-SERD, AIT. 
 
Mr. Olivier Drean, Secretary-General of the Steering Committee, SDCC-AIT/France Network, chaired the session on Sharing Experiences from Asia.

Mr. Pravakar Pradhan, Researcher, SERD, AIT, and Ms. Pujan Shrestha, Researcher, SERD, AIT, organized the workshop.