Cities and Climate Change: Urban Sustainability and Global Environmental Governance

Cities and Climate Change: Urban Sustainability and Global Environmental Governance

Cities and Climate Change: Urban Sustainability and Global Environmental Governance

Cities and Climate Change: Urban Sustainability and Global Environmental Governance

Synopsis

Climate change is one of the most challenging issues of our time. As key sites in the production and management of emissions of greenhouse gases, cities will be crucial for the implementation of international agreements and national policies on climate change. This book provides a critical analysis of the role of cities in addressing climate change and the prospects for urban sustainability.Cities and Climate Change is the first in-depth analysis of the role of cities in addressing climate change. The book argues that key challenges concerning the resources and powers of local government, as well as conflicts between local goals for economic development and climate change mitigation, have restricted the level of local action on climate change. These findings have significant implications for the prospects of mitigating climate change and achieving urban sustainability. This book provides a valuable interdisciplinary analysis of these issues, and will appeal to students and researchers interested in sustainability at local and global scales.

Excerpt

Climate change is one of the most challenging scientific and political issues of our time. The rapid collapse of the Larsen B ice shelf in Antarctica, the possible disappearance of the island of Tuvalau as sea levels rise, the decision of the reinsurance firm Munich Re to increase premiums and threats to European water supplies as a result of glacier retreat in the Alps are just some of the issues which are associated with climate change. Despite uncertainty as to whether any direct links can be drawn between current climatic events, recent trends in climate variables, such as temperature and precipitation, and predictions of global climate change, a consensus has emerged that 'something' needs to be done (see Box 1.1). However, questions as to what should be done, by whom, and when, remain highly contested.

Box 1.1: What is climate change?

Climate change (also known as 'global warming') refers to an increase in mean annual surface temperature of the earth's atmosphere, due to increases in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), CFCs and nitrous oxide (N2O). According to the IPCC, concentrations of these gases have increased dramatically since 1750, due primarily to human activities such as the combustion of fossil fuels (Houghton et al. 2002). These gases absorb long-wave radiation and disrupt the earth's energy balance, which in turn influences the climate system. The IPCC reports that the average global surface temperature increased 0.6°C during the twentieth century (Houghton et al. 2002). This temperature increase has been linked to a number of observed changes in the global climate, including: a 0.1-0.2 metre rise in global average sea level; a 10 per cent decrease in snow cover since the late 1960s; more frequent, persistent and intense El Niño episodes since the 1970s; and more frequent and severe droughts in parts of Africa and Asia (Houghton et al. 2002).

Sceptics suggest that there is insufficient evidence to demonstrate that changes to the climate outside the scope of natural variability have taken, or will take, place. The IPCC argues in contrast that 'the balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on the global climate' (Houghton et al.1996:5). In 1999, the Chairman of the IPCC suggested that it is no longer a 'question of whether the Earth's climate will change, but rather when, where and by how much' (Watson 1999). On the one hand, some hold the belief that changes will be gradual, incremental and within societal control. On the other hand, the IPCC suggest that significant changes in global average temperatures and regional climatic conditions are to be expected, and that there is the possibility of unpredictable alterations to the climate system (Grubb 1999; Houghton et al. 1996).

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