The world’s cities are beginning to clean up their act
Cities are not generally known for their cleanliness. Huge numbers of people living together in small spaces, traffic filled streets and industrial activity can all combine to create distinctly dirty urban environments. However, with often catastrophic levels of air pollution, fossil fuel energy sources and large amounts of waste, many modern cities are facing a backlash from residents and campaigners. D/SRUPTION takes a look at five cities and regions hoping to make a positive environmental change.
1) California targets carbon free energy
California has a history of being environmentally conscious. In May, The California Energy Commission unanimously voted to approve new energy efficiency standards, requiring solar panels to be installed in all newly built homes from 2020. What’s more, in August, the state assembly passed a bill mandating the transition to a fully renewable energy grid by 2045. Whilst this move may seem drastic, California currently generates a significant 30 per cent of its energy from renewable sources, with a target to increase this to 50 per cent over the next decade. Impressively, the state has also bucked the general trend of authorities failing to meet emissions standards, by achieving its 2020 target four years early.
2) Hamburg leads the way with wind
Hamburg is a leading centre for renewable energy industries and research institutions, and is considered to be the world’s capital of wind energy. The Hamburg Metropolitan region has committed to producing 35 per cent of its electricity from renewables by 2022, with wind taking a starring role in the line up. Germany’s second largest city is also committed to improving air quality – in May the authorities banned the most polluting diesel vehicles from two major streets. Whilst the German government and automotive manufacturers have typically tried to avoid bans on diesel on economic grounds, this move is a positive step to curbing harmful nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions which damage respiratory health.
3) London cracks down on air pollution
London has some of the most polluted air of any city in the world. In 2018, air pollution levels reached their yearly legal limit less than one month into the year. This may sound alarming – but, incredibly, it was the first time the capital had lasted almost a month before the legal limit was reached. For city authorities, however, this small improvement is not enough. At the end of 2017, the Mayor of London introduced a £10 toxicity charge to older and more polluting vehicles travelling in central London. In April 2019, this will be replaced by an Ultra Low Emissions Zone, requiring diesel vehicles to meet much tougher emissions standards. This is expected to reduce NOx emissions by 50 per cent in central London. There are also plans to modify polluting buses and taxis in the city.
4) Copenhagen: Europe’s green capital
Copenhagen is renowned for its green credentials, frequently topping lists of the most environmentally friendly cities in the world, and winning the award for European Green Capital in 2014. Cycling is one of the most popular ways to get around Copenhagen, with 50 per cent of inhabitants cycling to school or work. Not content to stop there, the city is committed to improving cycling even more as it continues to develop bicycle routes. This includes a network of cycle superhighways – dedicated cycle paths specifically designed for commuters. A target to clean up air quality will see all of the city’s diesel buses replaced by electric versions in 2019, and the wider Copenhagen Municipality is part of a tree planting scheme which aims to plant 100,000 trees between 2015 and 2025. If that wasn’t enough, the city hopes to become the world’s first carbon neutral capital by 2025.
5) Bogotá, the cyclist’s city
Every Sunday and public holiday in Bogotá, main roads are closed to vehicles and opened up to cyclists and pedestrians under the city’s Cyclovías scheme. The capital also has around 400km of cycle paths, and each year on 1st February the entire metropolitan area goes car free. Thanks to action from former mayor Enrique Peñalosa, Bogotá’s public transport system was overhauled in 1998 with the opening of a new bus network – TransMilenio. Since the inauguration of this bus system, air pollution levels in the city dropped by 40 per cent, accompanied by a 32 per cent decrease in travel times. Taxes were also increased on carbon based fuels, a rehabilitation undertaken of the city’s parks and public spaces, and a tree planting scheme carried out – which has increased tree coverage in the capital by 71.4 hectares since 2008.
By improving air quality, instituting environmentally friendly transportation systems and adding to green spaces, cities can transform themselves into healthier, happier places to live. These changes are becoming a must for municipal authorities, who are facing soaring health conditions as a direct result of environmental pollution. As cities across the world begin to clean up their act, any urban area which fails to do so will also encounter economic stagnation – with residents and businesses leaving to seek out greener urban environments. Inhabitants of polluted cities will soon decide that the grass really is greener elsewhere.
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