New Resources Help Leaders Plan Sustainable Cities

Resources Help Urban Planners, Policy Makers Coordinate Visions 

The World Resources Institute and Johnson Controls have launched an initiative that brings together their policy and technical expertise to help rapidly growing cities in developing countries plan a low-carbon infrastructure to promote sustainability and fight climate change.

Non-profit policy research organization World Resources Institute (WRI) and building energy systems firm Johnson Controls recently launched a new initiative that aims to improve energy efficiency in rapidly growing cities around the world.

sustainable cities and climate change
Aversion and mitigation strategies are part of civic leadership in the age of climate change.

The Building Efficiency Initiative (BEI), which combines the United States-based firm’s expertise in providing building efficiency solutions and WRI’s on-the-ground experience in building livable cities, will provide practical resources to city planners and industry partners on how to accelerate their energy efficiency programs, both organizations said.

The initiative will conduct research, facilitate discussion among experts, and engage with local practitioners in WRI’s global partner cities. “Specifically, the Initiative will engage public and private sector innovators to develop, test, and scale energy efficiency solutions like new finance models, and promote better approaches for integrating distributed energy systems at the building and community level,” Jennifer Layke, BEI’s director noted in a blog.

BEI supports the Energy Efficiency Accelerator Platform of the United Nation’s Sustainable Energy for All Initiative, which targets to double the rate of energy efficiency improvement around the world by 2030, WRI and Johnson Controls added.

Cities will account for 70 percent of the world’s population by 2030, nearly 20 percent higher than it is today.

If not properly planned, urban development choices could lock-in cities in decades of high-carbon infrastructure or buildings that use up huge amounts of energy, the institute explained.

The World Bank has estimated that cities worldwide account for around two-thirds of global energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions.

In a recent study of three cities in Southeast Asia – Da Nang in Vietnam, Cebu in Philippines and Surabaya in Indonesia, the financial instiution said improving energy efficiency is not just good for the environment, it is also good for economic growth as it supports local economic development through productivity gains, reduced pollution, and more efficient use of resources.

“With the extraordinary global shift toward an urban environment, success in sustainable development will largely be determined in cities. This new initiative will focus on the opportunities and challenges that rapid urbanisation presents, especially in major developing countries,” said Dr Andrew Steer, president and chief executive officer of WRI.

Johnson Controls vice president Chuck Harvey said that his firm has been tracking data and analysing technologies, policies, and building energy practices through the US-based Institute for Building Efficiency which the firm established since 2010.

“Working with World Resources Institute and its network of global partners, we can jointly scale innovative energy efficiency policies and solutions,” added Harvey.

Johnson Controls and WRI found that the potential for sustainable and efficient buildings is enormous in urban areas of emerging economies. An International Energy Agency forecasted that 60 percent of buildings in China by 2020 have yet to be built.

The partners noted that there are six critical barriers to the adoption of energy efficient programs by building owners:

  • lack of information and awareness on options that may be available when it comes to building efficiency
  • lack of technical knowledge to evaluate their options
  • uncertainty about how to measure or understand the energy efficiency performance
  • inability to meet financial criteria (return on investment rates)
  • lack of capital funds to invest in energy efficiency
  • landlord/tenant split incentives (the landlord does not have a reason to invest in efficiency if the tenant is the one paying the energy bills)

BEI, which is part of WRI’s sustainable urban development initiative Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, can help urban planners develop policies and improve the design of tomorrow’s cities, including through more efficient buildings and energy systems, stressed WRI and Johnson Controls.

“We are excited to work closely with Johnson Controls and other partners to develop innovative and practical recommendations on building efficiency that support a strong, low-carbon pathway for greener cities,” said Dr Steer.


Rockefeller Foundation Seeks Resilient Cities

Is Your City Resilient

The 100 Resilient Cities Challenge seeks to find 100 cities that are ready to build resilience to the social, economic, and physical challenges that cities face in an increasingly urbanized world.

We can’t predict the next disruption or catastrophe. But we can control how we respond to these challenges. We can adapt to the shocks and stresses of our world and transform them into opportunities for growth. If your city applies for the 100 Resilient Cities Challenge, it could be one of 100 cities eligible to receive funding to hire a Chief Resilience Officer, assistance in developing a resilience strategy, access to a platform of innovative private and public sector tools to help design and implement that strategy, and membership in the 100 Resilient Cities Network.

sustainable resilient cities
Sustainable cities are resilient cities. The Rockefeller Foundation seeks role models and best practices.

The deadline to apply is September 10, 2014. The Finalists identified during the 2014 100 Resilient Cities Challenge will be eligible to receive:

  • Funding in the form of a grant to hire a Chief Resilience Officer;
  • Technical support to develop a holistic resilience strategy that reflects each city’s distinct needs;
  • Access to an innovative platform of services to support strategy development and implementation. Platform partners come from the private, public, and nonprofit sectors, and will offer tools in areas such as innovative finance, technology, infrastructure, land use, and community and social resilience;
  • Membership in the 100 Resilient Cities network to share knowledge and practices with other member cities.

The actual form and amount of awards will be determined at the discretion of 100 Resilient Cities.

For more information and application information, visit:

Obama Announces Billion-Dollar Climate Change Challenge

Plan Lacks Substance, Vision

Speaking at the commencement ceremony at the University of California Irvine on Saturday, President Barack Obama continued his advocacy to curb carbon emissions by committing $1 billion in competitive funding measures to address the effects of extreme weather, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

President Obama announces climate change task force
President Obama announces a climate change challenge that sounds more like an Olympic swimming event than urban planning and resiliency.

“The climate change deniers suggest there’s still a debate over the science, there’s not,” Obama said in his remarks. He compared those who reject the view that human activity is contributing to rising temperatures to someone who thinks the moon is made of cheese.

In May the White House unveiled a climate change report stressing urgency and a call to action. The effects of climate change globally are resulting in extreme weather, sea levels rising, seasonal allergies and a host of detrimental effects.

The report called “Weather from the White House” was aimed to start a conversation between the president and “local and national meteorologists.”

With average temperatures in the US rising, two degrees since 1895, and the expectations of 10 more degrees by 2100, the sea levels could rise by more than six feet putting coastline cities in jeopardy.

The report predicted economic and human repercussions from the changing climate and underscored “the need for the American people to prepare for and respond to [the] far-reaching implications.”

The president’s report is a compilation of the largest collection of US climate data ever assembled and included the work of approximately 300 experts.

The report recognized that the data has been accumulating for years and, “it is notable that as these data records have grown longer and climate models have become more comprehensive, earlier predictions have largely been confirmed resulting in the following according to the report”:

In addition to causing changes in climate, increasing levels of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels and other human activities have a direct effect on the world’s oceans. Carbon dioxide interacts with ocean water to form carbonic acid, increasing the ocean’s acidity. Ocean surface waters have become 30% more acidic over the last 250 years as they have absorbed large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This ocean acidification makes water more corrosive, reducing the capacity of marine organisms with shells or skeletons made of calcium carbonate (such as corals, krill, oysters, clams, and crabs) to survive, grow, and reproduce, which in turn will affect the marine food chain.

Still, public reception of scientific evidence for global warming remains mixed among some political segments. Climate change is not a hot topic during elections, even though it should be. And some lawmakers refuse to accept the science and the Obama administration’s approach that it is a threat to the economy and life as we know it.

“The president’s plan is nuts,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said earlier in June.

In Saturday’s speech to university students, Obama acknowledged the challenges of making even incremental changes to policies in Washington; however, progress on climate change is a worthy goal and should not be put off for future generations to address.


Massachusetts Investing $50 Million To Defend Coastlines From Rising Sea Level

Grants Available To Cities, Towns

The Patrick Administration has announced a grant program to reduce or eliminate risks associated with coastal storms, erosion and sea level rise through natural and nonstructural approaches called green infrastructure. The grants, available to cities, towns and nonprofit groups, are part of the Patrick Administration’s US$50 million investment in climate change initiatives.

climate change coastal cities
Rising tides have coastal communities nervous. Massachusetts is trying to outrun the next storm and the rising tide.

“As we face the challenges associated with climate change and sea level rise, we need to implement effective approaches for protecting our coastal communities while preserving the natural resources that define our Massachusetts coastline,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Rick Sullivan.

“These grants demonstrate the Patrick Administration’s commitment to innovation and infrastructure, by promoting local pilot projects that reduce erosion and storm damage, minimize impacts to shoreline systems and neighboring properties and protect or enhance natural habitat.”

“Green infrastructure projects offer a range of benefits to our communities and the shoreline itself, including storm damage and flooding protection, habitat for aquatic and terrestrial species and support for the recreational values of natural systems,” said Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Director Bruce Carlisle. “The Green Infrastructure for Coastal Resilience Pilot Grants will help advance the use of these emerging techniques in Massachusetts by providing coastal property owners the opportunity to stabilize their shoreline while enhancing the natural benefits of our coast.”

Earlier this year, Governor Patrick announced a strategic plan to address the present and future impacts of climate change in Massachusetts. The investments will assess and address vulnerabilities in public health, transportation, energy and the built environment.

The latest announcement is part of US$10 million in investments for critical coastal infrastructure and dam repairs. The plan also includes a US$40 million municipal resilience grant program that will enable cities and towns to harden energy services at critical sites using clean energy technology.

Administered by CZM, the Green Infrastructure for Coastal Resilience Pilot Grants Program will provide up to US$1.3 million in funding and technical resources for natural approaches addressing coastal erosion and flooding problems.

Grants can be used for planning, feasibility assessment, design, permitting, construction and monitoring of green infrastructure projects that use natural approaches instead of hard structures such as seawalls and groins.

Potential projects include building and enhancing dunes and beaches by adding sand, planting beach grass and other erosion-control vegetation, building natural oyster or mussel reefs, restoring salt marshes or implementing bioengineering techniques that stabilize eroding shorelines.


Cities Sued By Insurance Company Over Climate Change

Failure To Prepare For Heavier Rainfall Leads To Landmark Case

Last month, Farmers Insurance Co. filed nine class-action lawsuits arguing that local governments in the Chicago area are aware that climate change is leading to heavier rainfall but are failing to prepare accordingly. The suits allege that the localities did not do enough to prepare sewers and storm water drains in the area during a two-day downpour last April. In what could foreshadow a legal reckoning of who is liable for the costs of climate change, the class actions against nearly 200 Chicago-area communities look to place responsibility on municipalities, perhaps spurring them to take a more forward-looking approach in designing and engineering for a future made different by climate change.

Chicago flood
Chicago floods are on the rise. Farmers Insurance says Chicago failed to prepare when warned.

“Farmers is asking to be reimbursed for the claims it paid to homeowners who sometimes saw geysers of sewage ruin basement walls, floors and furniture,” reported E&E News. “The company says it also paid policyholders for lost income, the cost of evacuations and other damages related to declining property values.”

Andrew Logan, an insurance expert with Ceres, told E&E News that there is likely a longer-term agenda in mind with this latest effort, and that the company “could be positioning itself to avoid future losses nationwide from claims linked to floods, sea-level rise and even lawsuits against its corporate policyholders that emit greenhouse gases.”

While these suits are the first of their kind, Micahel Gerrard, director of the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School in New York, told Reuters that there will be more cases like them attempting to address how city and local governments should manage budgets to prepare for natural disasters that have been intensified by climate change.

“No one is expected to plan for the 500-year storm, but if horrible events are happening with increasing frequency, that may shift the duties,” he said.

Insurance companies are becoming increasingly concerned, and more vocal, about the rising costs of climate change. With large fossil fuel companies reluctant to take greenhouse gas mitigation efforts in the face of potential profit losses, the behemoth insurance industry could provide a counterbalance to the energy industry when it comes to incentivizing near-term emissions cuts, or at least adaptation to the effects of climate change.

“Most insurers, including the reinsurance companies that bear much of the ultimate risk in the industry, have little time for the arguments heard in some right-wing circles that climate change isn’t happening, and are quite comfortable with the scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels is the main culprit of global warming,” reported the New York Times.

However this acceptance of the scientific consensus is yet to infiltrate the industry’s actions at large. A recent Ceres survey found that only 23 of the 184 insurance companies currently have a comprehensive strategy to deal with climate change.

“Every segment of the insurance industry faces climate risks, yet the industry’s response has been highly uneven,” said Ceres president Mindy Lubber, in a statement with the report. “The implications of this are profound because the insurance sector is a key driver of the economy. If climate change undermines the future availability of insurance products and risk management services in major markets throughout the U.S., it threatens the economy and taxpayers as well.”

Last year a study for the Federal Emergency Management Agency found that sea level rise is projected to increase coastal flood-hazard areas in the U.S. by 55 percent by 2100. If adaptation measures are not implemented, the study projects that the number of coastal flood-insurance policies will increase by 130 percent over the same time period. While flood insurance is overseen by the controversial National Flood Insurance Program, this is an example of the increased role of insurers in the face of climate change as well as the increased burden on insurance companies and taxpayers to cover the costs.

In another sign that the insurance industry may be ready to galvanize action, Lloyd’s of London, the world’s oldest and biggest insurance market, recently called on insurers to incorporate climate change into their models.

“Insurers have an important role to play in mitigating the impact of the changes in climate which have already occurred, through closer coordination with other industries, notably construction,” wrote John Nelson, chairman of Lloyd’s of London, in an op-ed for The Guardian. “There need to be policies to drive up standards and make sure we have resilient homes, that we use better materials. All these and strong forward planning will be key to this effort. Here, too, governments must play their role in enshrining standards in legislation.”

According to the Munich Re insurance group, global weather-related losses and damage have risen from an annual average of about $50 billion in the 1980s to close to $200 billion over the last decade.

While climate change models try to anticipate changes decades in advance, insurers are responsible for selling policies one year at a time. A report last year from the Geneva Association, an insurance industry research group, encourages companies to use forward-looking models when addressing areas impacted by climate change, rather than the more traditional historical precedent.

“In the non-stationary environment traditional approaches, which are solely based on analyzing historical data, increasingly fail to estimate today’s hazard probabilities. A paradigm shift from historic to predictive risk assessment methods is necessary,” reads the report.


UN Climate Report Charts Ways To Fight Global Warming

Cities Must Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Become more Resilient To Weather Global Warming

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) mitigation report, released Sunday in Berlin, explores some 1,200 scenarios to avert the worsening effects of global warming by 2100. The proposals  range from planting more trees to relying much more on nuclear power.

climate change solutions
Cities must share sustainability resources for maximum impact. Urban forestry and global reforestation can play a pivotal role in a sustainable future for our children.

“This report is a wake-up call about global economic opportunity we can seize today as we lead on climate change,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in a statement. “This report makes very clear that we face an issue of global willpower, not capacity.”

Sunday’s report is the third in a series of UN reports on climate change released in the past year that paint a picture of “virtually certain” climate change, driven by increasing emissions—80 percent of them from the burning of fossil fuels—which is already melting the Arctic, acidifying oceans and harming crops. (See also: “New Climate Change Report Warns of Dire Consequences.”)

The report urges global action before 2020. The alternative, it says, is paying more later when temperatures rise to dangerous levels, and running more severe risks of climate change, which include rising seas, acidified oceans, longer heat waves, and severe crop failures.

“The longer we wait, the more costly things will be,” said Stanford University economist Charles Kolstad, a lead author of the IPCC report. “It is possible to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions, that’s clear. But it will be a challenge.”

Overall, global greenhouse gas emissions—largely caused by burning coal, oil and natural gas—need to be cut 40 to 70 percent by mid-century, the report says, for humanity to face better than 50-50 odds of dodging the worst effects of global warming. (Related: “Clean Coal Test: Power Plants Prepare to Capture Carbon.”)

To hit those emission reduction goals, the report calls for a tripling or quadrupling of “low carbon” power sources such as nuclear, solar, or renewable energy around the world.

Many of the report’s proposals involve “overshooting” emissions targets in early decades and turning to technologies that effectively remove carbon dioxide, the most significant greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere in later decades to have any realistic chances of working.

“One of the most important contributions of the report is simply in laying out a road map,” said Kelly Levin of the World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C., a longtime IPCC report observer. “There are a ton of solutions.”

Global Road Map

Since everyone shares the air and because everyone can pollute it, the report says that emissions policies need to involve the entire international community to be effective. But efforts in global cooperation on climate change, like the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, have produced mixed results at best

“None of that is going to happen on its own,” said Harvard University’sRobert Stavins, another IPCC report lead author, “so public policy is required at the international level.”

A 1992 United Nations agreement broadly obligated the world to keep global warming temperature increases below “dangerous” levels, usually seen as 3.6°F (2°C), the point at which costly climate effects kick in.

The toll would be felt largely by poor farmers who live in dry and monsoon-dependent regions around the world that look to be hardest hit by warmer temperatures, and who have the fewest resources to deal with crop losses.

“The report makes clear a transition to clean energy and different behavior in how we use energy is needed to stay below that 2-degree [Celsius] increase,” said Levin.

Climate Containment

Without new power technologies spreading worldwide, avoiding the 3.6°F increase in temperatures over pre-industrial levels looks “very challenging,” said report author Leon Clarke of the the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Joint Global Change Research Institute.

Two technologies in particular look promising. One is growing forests expressly to pull carbon out of the air, an idea known as afforestation.

The other idea is to generate electricity from burning renewable energy sources, such as sawgrass or genetically engineered algal fuels, and stuffing their greenhouse gas emissions underground, a technique known as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage.

Both technologies exist, but scaling them up for worldwide use looks daunting, Clarke said.

Even if the world aims for less ambitious emissions cuts and allows more global warming, Clarke added, people will have to turn to such technologies. Otherwise, temperatures will keep rising.

In any case, the world will have to shoot for zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2100, the report’s analysis suggests.

The report also points to energy efficiency and changes in how cities are built and managed as ways to limit emissions. For instance, roofs could be painted to absorb less heat, and more mass transit systems could reduce the need for emissions-spewing vehicles.

International Cooperation

Sponsored by the World Meteorological Organization and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the report comes amid a long-lasting slowdown in economic growth after 2008’s recession that has raised questions about how the world might come together to tackle climate change.

In coming decades, China will overtake the United States, the biggest emitter historically, in total greenhouse gas emissions, said Harvard’sStavins.

That might create an opening for international agreements to go forward on limiting climate change, he suggested, as developing nations see they are bearing more responsibility for global warming.

Otherwise, Stavins sees small agreements on regional levels, among different cities, states, or provinces pursuing steps to cut emissions as the “de facto” world response to climate change. “There really is a lot of skepticism about a big world agreement,” he said.

MIT economist John Reilly, who was not an author of the climate report, agreed: “It is too easy to wait and let someone else hurt their economy by going first.”

The report is aimed largely at world leaders attending next year’s international climate summit in Paris, which is expected to pick up the problems left unresolved at the last such global summit, in 2008 in Denmark, in particular, making climate mitigation plans for after 2030.

Written by more than 400 experts and reviewers from 57 nations over the past four years, the IPCC reports are essentially vast reviews of the latest climate research.

The last round of such reports, released in 2007, won a Nobel Peace Prize, which was shared by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.



Green Spaces Can Improve Mental Health and Productivity

Green Is Good For Communities and Companies

Green space in towns and cities could lead to significant and sustained improvements in mental health, finds a new study published in the journal of Environmental Science & Technology.

Analyzing data that followed people over a five year period, the research has found that moving to a greener area not only improves people’s mental health, but that the effect continues long after they have moved.

Sustainable and resilient cities
Green spaces are important to sustainability and livability.

The findings add to evidence that suggests increasing green spaces in cities – such as parks and gardens – could deliver substantial benefits to public health.

The research is one of the first studies to consider the effects of green space over time and has used data from the British Household Panel Survey, a repository of information gathered from questionnaires filled in by households across Great Britain.

Using data from over 1,000 participants, the research team at the University of Exeter Medical School focused on two groups of people: those who moved to greener urban areas, and those who relocated to less green urban areas.

They found that, on average, movers to greener areas experienced an immediate improvement in mental health that was sustained for at least 3 years after they moved. The study also showed that people relocating to a more built up area suffered a drop in mental health. Interestingly this fall occurred before they moved; returning to normal once the move was complete.

The authors adjusted their data to remove effects from other factors likely to affect mental health over time ?” such as income, employment and education – as well as factors related to personality. Lead researcher, Dr Ian Alcock, believes the study’s results could have important implications:

“We’ve shown that individuals who move to greener areas have significant and long-lasting improvements in mental health. These findings are important for urban planners thinking about introducing new green spaces to our towns and cities, suggesting they could provide long term and sustained benefits for local communities.”

In 2012 the World Health Organisation cited depression as the leading cause of disability worldwide, and this study builds on research that has found natural environments could act as vital resources to improve health and wellbeing.

Yet up until now, scientists have been unsure how these effects vary over time. Co-author of the paper, Dr Mathew White, says this research has provided an important insight into the mechanism:

“We needed to answer important questions about how the effects of green space vary over time. Do people experience a novelty effect, enjoying the new green area after the move, but with the novelty then wearing off? Or do they take time to realise the benefits of their new surroundings as they gradually get to know local parks? What we’ve found suggests that the mental health benefits of green space are not only immediate, but sustainable over long periods of time.”


UN Asked To Make Sustainable Cities A Priority

Sustainable Cities Critical In Fight Against Climate Change

As chair of the Group of 77 and China, Fiji has called on world leaders to give urgent attention to the sustainability of cities. The message was relayed to world leaders at the United Nations in New York by Fiji’s Ambassador Peter Thomson in his address at the Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals yesterday.

UN and sustainable cities
Fiji asks UN to promote sustainable cities.

An Information Ministry statement yesterday said the subject under current debate by the OWG was Sustainable Cities, Human Settlement and Sustainable Transport. Thomson explained that the 133-member Group of 77’s approach to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Post-2015 Development Agenda was firmly aimed at eradicating poverty and advancing sustainable development. He told the OWG that the grim reality of approximately one billion people living in urban slums highlighted the gravity of the challenges they faced.

Thomson said the Group of 77 encouraged governments and UN Habitat to use planned city extension methodologies to guide the sustainable development of cities in order to prevent slum proliferation, enhance access to basic urban services, support inclusive housing, enhance job opportunities and create a safe and healthy living environment for all urban dwellers.

He also pointed out that the world’s urban areas were expected to expand by 60 percent before 2030, representing unparalleled opportunities to transform the social and economic fabric of nations.

“Today 50 percent of the world’s seven billion people are urbanized, with projections showing that some 70 percent will live in cities by 2050,” he said.

He said the SDGs must address the multi-dimensional challenges of urban dwellers in order to provide access to basic services, improve the lives of slum dwellers, strengthen urban resilience and protect ecosystems.”

Thomson also called for interaction between nations at the international level, as well as between central and local governments at national levels, to fulfill their roles as governmental stakeholders on sustainability.


Transforming Cities A Matter Of Survival For Millions

Can Sustainability Movement Outrun Climate Change?

By Rob Garris, Director for Bellagio Programs, Rockefeller Foundation

Leading figures from governments, civil society, and corporations from around the globe gathered in August 2013 at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center to imagine a different kind of future for the world’s cities.

Sustainable and resilient cities
Sustainable and resilient cities a critical leap forward.

In a series called “Visionaries Unbound,” we have partnered with The Economist Intelligence Unit and subject matter experts in each of the Foundation’s four issue areas to design a series that will:

•Engage global experts in future-visioning exercises

•Build new high-level contacts among thought leaders on each issue, across sectors and geographies

•Generate understandings of future trends that will drive the Foundation’s work

•Generate insights that will shape the long-term strategies of all participants

Co-organized with the University of Pennsylvania, the first event addressed the future of transforming cities. Now available, this report offers a vision of a different kind of urbanization, one that can accommodate the estimated two billion people who will move to cities in coming decades, and do so in ways that build resilience and expand opportunities for their most vulnerable residents. Participants were asked to look to the future and at the intersection of markets, governance, and civil society to envision new trends and solutions for the challenges and opportunities arising from the planet’s dizzying pace of urbanization.

They drew from their experiences in real estate markets in Asia, planning new eco-cities in China, catalyzing new livelihoods for urban migrants in Bangalore, participatory mapping of informal settlements in Mumbai, financing sustainable infrastructure in South Africa, revitalizing the economy of Barcelona, and many other types of innovative work. Participants used these experiences to envision ways to, for example, tap into the underutilized space on rooftops in slums, incentivize sharing of proprietary data to strengthen entrepreneurship in Bangalore, and envision a flexible and inclusive long-term land utilization plan for Lusaka. Collaborations were cemented during the event. Participants from Bangalore and Lusaka upon returning have already presented the insights from the Bellagio discussions to governing authorities in their home cities, and are optimistic that real action may emerge in coming months. The conversations at Bellagio also centered around a new form of urban innovation that is shaped by long-term inspirational visions, but draws on decentralized, short-term, adaptable action driven by public, business and civil society actors.

Working with the Economist Intelligence Unit, we have just launched the Visionaries Unbound digital hubwhere over the course of coming months you will find a series of articles, videos and events that offer compelling insights and activities across sectors on building a more resilient and equitable world. We welcome you to browse materials just posted on The Future of Transforming Cities, and to check again in 2014 for news on planetary health, ecosystems, and livelihoods.


U.N. Launches Green Climate Fund With Little Support From Rich Nations

Event Underscores Urgency Of Climate Change, Resiliency

The Green Climate Fund, designed as the United Nations’ most important funding body in the battle on climate change in developing nations, launched its headquarters on Wednesday in South Korea, but uncertainty over finances clouded the event.

UN Green Climate Fund
UN Green Climate Fund unveiled this week.

The launch was largely symbolic, as the Fund, set up by developed nations to channel most of the $100 billion they aim to spend each year by 2020, is not expected to be fully operational until the latter half of next year.

Rich nations, reluctant to stress their already fragile economies, have not paid up as scheduled. Now the Fund has just $40 million at its disposal, a sum promised by South Korea that must also cover administrative expenses.

“The Fund is on track to start its resource mobilization next year with a rapid and substantial initial capitalization, so that we can get the money flowing to the countries in greatest need,” said Jose Maria Sarte Salceda, co-chairman of the fund’s board.

The Fund will help pay for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and projects in poor nations to protect communities at risk from the effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels, prolonged droughts and damage to food crops.

BeFunky_earth day.jpgRich nations promised in 2010 to provide $10 billion per year in fast-start climate finance over 2011 to 2013, and scale funding up to $100 billion annually by 2020.

But inflows have fallen far short of expected levels, with new finance even dropping by more than two-thirds in 2013 from 2012, Britain’s Overseas Development Institute says.

For example, it said in a recent report, “Funding in response to German flood damage in 2013 was four times higher than funding to help developing countries adapt to climate change since 2003.”

Most of the climate finance that has emerged so far will be distributed by national governments or private funds run by multilateral organizations such as the World Bank.

Germany and Sweden have shown a willingness to contribute, Executive Director Hela Cheikhrouhou told reporters at Wednesday’s opening ceremony, with Sweden intending to pay $45 million into the fund.

“The office opening is both a symbolic and practical demonstration that the Fund is ready for business,” she said in a statement, but added it would become fully operational around the second half of next year.

The fund was set up at UN climate talks in Mexico in 2010 in recognition that climate change has historically been caused mainly by greenhouse gas emissions in developed countries.

At climate talks in Poland last month, developing nations pushed for a detailed plan to scale up funds, and proposed a target of $70 billion in 2016, but failed to win over developed countries.

The finance aspect remains a sticking point in efforts to agree a new global pact on climate change that nearly 200 nations hope to clinch in Paris in December 2015.

Major emerging economies such as India say they do not want to commit to targets for capping carbon dioxide emissions before the developed world has delivered on its promises on climate finance.

“What is wrong with the Global Climate Fund is that there is no money there,” Indian Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan told a news conference during last month’s talks in the Polish capital of Warsaw.