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Building for green growth in Thailand

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Thailand seems likely to emerge as a model of green building in Asia, a region that is urbanizing more rapidly than any other in the world. Last month, the country took a significant step by submitting two Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change: greening Thailand’s low- and middle-income housing, and greening the country’s government buildings.

UN Environment’s technical assistance and stakeholder engagement were instrumental in helping the country work out how to promote sustainable, energy-efficient buildings to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while ensuring affordable housing for its citizens. The assistance was provided via NAMA for the Building Sector in Asia, a project of the International Climate Initiative. The project supported Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam to design government-led interventions to boost investment in energy-efficient buildings.

The project brought together ministries, local authorities, representatives from the construction sector, civil society and developers through a series of country-specific workshops and training sessions to address barriers to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and stimulate action in the building sector.

Thailand is the first of the four countries involved in the project to register a NAMA in the official registry maintained by the UN Climate Change Convention.

“Thailand’s government, leading the way, aims to truly transform the building market and see green growth for years to come,” said Isabelle Louis, Deputy Director of UN Environment Asia and the Pacific Office. “This project facilitates regional action for our collective future—heralding an era of Asian leadership on global climate commitments,” she added.

Thailand’s new commitments will help to reduce poverty, create jobs and promote access to energy at the local and national levels. Both proposed actions will support Thailand’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the Paris Agreement of 20 per cent emission reductions from business-as-usual by 2030. Thailand has translated these international commitments into national policy. Their climate actions will help accomplish the national goal, outlined in the Energy Efficiency Plan, of reducing energy intensity by 30 per cent by 2036, compared to 2010 levels, as well as their comprehensive Climate Change Masterplan, which sets out commitments through 2050.

By commissioning nationally built low- and middle-income housing, retrofitting government buildings, and instilling national green building specifications, Thailand will push the country’s housing and construction markets to move towards greener standards. The projects will address design aspects of new buildings and retrofits, including materials, energy and water-efficient appliances, and research and market stimulation to lower the costs of green construction.

The new commitment on housing will slash Thailand’s projected emissions by 304 kt of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, while the government building commitment will cut emissions by 1.6 kt of carbon dioxide equivalent annually. The action related to government building could have an even higher potential for emissions reductions, as the project may be extended to all 639 government buildings, which would bring the total impact to 98.8 kt of carbon dioxide per year. This is equivalent to taking approximately 60,000 cars off the road each year. Thailand expects to complete the government buildings retrofit by 2022 and the housing developments by 2023.

NAMAs, first introduced in the UN Climate Change Convention’s Cancun Agreements, are actions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions relative to business-as-usual emissions in developing countries. They are prepared under the umbrella of a government initiative, aligned with the country’s national development goals, and supported by finance, technology and capacity building.

UN Environment

Urban Development

Rebuilding Cities to Generate 117 Million Jobs and $3 Trillion in Business Opportunity

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COVID-19 recovery packages that include infrastructure development will influence the relationship between cities, humans and nature for the next 30 to 50 years. With the built environment home to half the world’s population and making up 40% of global GDP, cities are an engine of global growth and crucial to the economic recovery.

Research shows that nature-positive solutions can help cities rebuild in a healthier and more resilient way while creating opportunities for social and economic development. The World Economic Forum’s new Future of Nature and Business Report found that following a nature-positive pathway in the urban environment can create $3 trillion in business opportunity and 117 million jobs.

“Business as usual is no longer sustainable,” said Akanksha Khatri, Head of the Nature Action Agenda at the World Economic Forum. “Biodiversity loss and the broader challenges arising from rapid urban population growth, financing gaps and climate change are signalling that how we build back can be better. The good news is, there are many examples of nature-based solutions that can benefit people and planet.”

Cities are responsible for 75% of global GHG emissions and are a leading cause of land, water and air pollution, which affect human health. Many cities are also poorly planned, lowering national GDP by as much as 5% due to negative impacts such as time loss, wasted fuel and air pollution. However, practical solutions exist that can make living spaces better for economic, human and planetary health.

The study, in collaboration with AlphaBeta, highlighted examples of projects deploying nature-positive solutions and the business opportunities they create.

Cape Town: Cape Town was just 90 days away from turning off its water taps. Natural infrastructure solutions (i.e. restoring the city’s watersheds) were found to generate annual water gains of 50 billion litres a year, equivalent to 18% of the city’s supply needs at 10% of the cost of alternative supply options, including desalination, groundwater exploration and water reuse

Singapore: Singapore’s water leakage rate of 5% is significantly lower than that of many other major cities thanks to sensors installed in potable water supply lines. Globally, reducing municipal water leakage could save $115 billion by 2030. Returns on investment in water efficiency can be above 20%.

Suzhou: Suzhou Industrial Park’s green development in China has seen its GDP increase 260-fold, partially through green development. The park accommodates 25,000 companies, of which 92 are Fortune 500 companies, and is home to 800,000 people. The park has 122 green-development policies, including stipulations on optimizing and intensifying land use, improvement of water and ecological protection, and the construction of green buildings. As a result, 94% of industrial water is reused, 100% of new construction is green, energy is dominantly renewable and green spaces cover 45% of the city.

San Francisco: San Francisco requires new buildings to have green roofs. The “green” roof market is expected to be worth $9 billion in 2020 and could grow at around 12% annually through 2030, creating an incremental annual opportunity of $15 billion.

Philippines: The loss of coastal habitats, particularly biodiverse and carbon-rich mangrove forests, has significantly increased the risk from floods and hurricanes for 300 million people living within coastal flood zones. A pilot project in the Philippines, one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change, is monetizing the value of mangroves through the creation of the Restoration Insurance Service Company (RISCO). RISCO selects sites where mangroves provide high flood reduction benefits and models that value. Insurance companies will pay an annual fee for these services, while organizations seeking to meet voluntary or regulatory climate mitigation targets will pay for blue carbon credits. Overall, restoring and protecting mangrove forests in human settlements can reduce annual flood damage to global coastal assets by over $82 billion while significantly contributing to fighting climate change.
The report identifies five complementary transitions to create nature-positive built environments and outlines the business opportunities and potential cost savings for programmes targeting urban utilities for water, electricity and waste, land planning and management, sustainable transport infrastructure and the design of buildings.

Office space the size of Switzerland
Global examples call out areas to be improved. For example, an estimated 40 billion square metres of floor space is not used at full occupancy during office hours – an area roughly equivalent to the size of Switzerland. The COVID-19 upheaval has prompted a surge in flexible and remote working models in many countries – greater application of such models could help reduce the need for private office space in the future.

Governments’ role to raise and steer finance
The report calls for both government officials and businesses to play their part in raising and steering finance for sustainable urban infrastructure. “Regulations in areas including urban master planning, zoning and mandatory building codes will be critical to unlocking the potential of net-zero, nature-positive cities and infrastructure,” said Khatri. “We are at a critical juncture for the future of humanity. Now is the time to treat the ecological emergency as just that. A net-zero, nature-positive path is the only option for our economic and planetary survival and how we choose to use COVID-19 recovery packages might be one of our last chances to get this right.”

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Urban Development

City Climate Finance Gap Fund Launches to Support Climate-smart Urban Development

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Today, the City Climate Finance Gap Fund (“The Gap Fund”) was launched jointly by ministers and directors of the Governments of Germany and Luxembourg together with the World Bank, European Investment Bank, and Global Covenant of Mayors. It paves the way for low-carbon, resilient, and livable cities in developing and emerging economies by unlocking infrastructure investment at scale.   

The Gap Fund will support city and local governments facing barriers to financing for climate-smart projects. Filling a gap in available project support, the Gap Fund offers technical and advisory services to assist local leaders in prioritizing and preparing climate-smart investments and programs at an early stage, with the goal of accelerating preparation, enhancing quality, and ensuring they are bankable.

With a target capitalization of at least €100 million, the Gap Fund will accelerate investments supporting cities in developing and emerging economies, as they determine goals and objectives for low-carbon and well-planned urbanization. The Gap Fund investment is aiming to unlock at least €4 billion of final investment in climate-smart projects and urban climate innovation.

“What cities do today will forever shape our climate tomorrow,” said Mari Pangestu, World Bank Managing Director for Development Policy and Partnerships. “Cities in developing countries urgently need resources to realize their climate ambitions. Through the Gap Fund, the World Bank is supporting low-carbon, resilient, inclusive, healthy, creative, and sustainable communities for all.”

Cities are on the frontlines of the climate emergency and currently account for around 70 percent of global CO2 emissions. Urban centers’ share of emissions is expected to grow as 2.5 billion people migrate from rural to urban areas by 2050. Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, it was estimated that more than $93 trillion in sustainable infrastructure investment was needed by 2030 to meet climate goals. As cities strive to recover from the economic impacts of COVID-19, investments in clean energy, climate-resilient water and sanitation, and urban regeneration projects will play an important role in eliminating pollution, improving local food systems, and creating green jobs. They will also lead to cleaner, healthier, and more equitable communities – conditions that can help prevent future pandemics.

Climate investment projects are an indispensable opportunity to improve lives of the millions who live in cities around the world. However, cities frequently lack the capacity, finance, and support needed for the early stages of project preparation – especially in developing and emerging economies. This leads to impasses where cities cannot move project ideas to late-stage preparation and implementation. This hurdle is frequently overlooked by national and international support – a challenge the Gap Fund will seek to overcome.

The Gap Fund is an initiative of the governments of Germany and Luxembourg together with the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy (GCOM), in partnership with several other key players in the climate finance arena (including C40, ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, and Cities Climate Finance Leadership Alliance). It will be implemented by the World Bank and the European Investment Bank. The Gap Fund was announced at the UN Climate Action Summit 2019 as a key initiative of LUCI, the Leadership for Urban Climate Investment, which promotes financing for ambitious urban climate action until 2025. Core donors to the Gap Fund are Germany (€45 million – including €25 million from the Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, and €20 million from the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development) and Luxembourg (€10 million).

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Principles for Making Inclusive Aerial Mobility a Reality in Cities

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Credits: NASA / Lillian Gipson

World Economic Forum and the City of Los Angeles released a first-of-its-kind roadmap to support the roll-out of urban air mobility (UAM) in cities, founded on seven key principles of implementation that protect the public interest.

UAM is a new form of transport that has the potential to add an aerial dimension to cities’ transportation networks, improving connectivity and sustainability of transport infrastructure, but only if the right policies are in place. This next generation UAM resembles transit in the sky with piloted or autonomous flights of people or goods movement.

The Principles of the Urban Sky can guide city and industry leaders as they develop policy and infrastructure to ensure UAM is implemented in a way that is safe, sustainable and inclusive. These principles will be used for implementing UAM in Los Angeles.

“The current pandemic has created new challenges for transport networks and infrastructure around the world,” said Christoph Wolff, Head of Shaping the Future of Mobility at the World Economic Forum. “As we build back better, these principles provide an ethical framework for planning new modes of aerial transport at the same time as we reinvest in current forms of transit.”

The collaboration between the World Economic Forum and City of Los Angeles has led to the creation of principles that the community believes are fundamentally important to long-term success and the adoption of UAM globally. Witnessing the need for a great reset after the COVID-19 pandemic, Los Angeles city leaders saw the importance of designing a future transport system that can be value-based while supporting the creation of new jobs in the region.

“Our city’s strength stems from our creativity, our innovative spirit and our willingness to test new ideas on our streets – and in our skies – that will inspire and change the world for the better,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. “Even in the face of COVID-19 today, our eyes are fixed on the horizon of a reimagined tomorrow, where Urban Air Mobility is a central part of a safe, sustainable, equitable future.”

The Principles of the Urban Sky identifies and outlines seven key components deemed critical for a scalable policy framework:

Image: World Economic Forum

Developed over the past nine months by a working group of more than 50 manufacturers, service providers, infrastructure developers, academics, community organizations and government planners these principles aim to help policy-makers in Los Angeles and elsewhere improve quality of life with safer, cleaner, quieter and more accessible transport.

As cities and regions struggle with congestion, pollution and ageing infrastructure, policy-makers are exploring how state-of-the-art aerial platforms can be part of a multi-modal solution. Already, innovative companies are developing highly automated, electric flight in low-altitude airspace, but are seeking a clear policy environment to support deployment and implementation. This exciting frontier in travel will need not only creative technologies, but also novel approaches to policy-making to become a reality.

Comments from the industry

“Early, collaborative engagement between the aerospace industry and forward-thinking cities is critical to fully realizing the benefits of aerial mobility solutions,” said Igor Cherepinsky, Director of Sikorsky Innovations. “Defining the core principles that will underpin an operational framework is an important first step, and as a founding member of the working group we look forward to continuing these important discussions.”

“In releasing the Principles of the Urban Sky and sharing them with the global community, the World Economic Forum and City of Los Angeles are demonstrating the leadership society needs to address current and future mobility challenges,” said Pam Cohn, Chief Operating Officer, Urban Air Mobility Division of Hyundai Motor Group. “How people move around in 10 years will be different from how people move around today. We look forward to working with the World Economic Forum, the City of Los Angeles and other partners to ensure UAM planning and development efforts worldwide are inclusive, safe, sustainable and people-centred.”

“Uber applauds the World Economic Forum and the City of Los Angeles for bringing together industry, local government, and other stakeholders to develop foundational principles to inform a community focused policy framework for urban air mobility,” said Eric Allison, Head of Uber Elevate. “Uber Elevate’s vision is to provide a complementary mode of transport that can seamlessly integrate with existing transport systems to offer an efficient and clean alternative to driving in congested urban environments. These principles demonstrate both the industry and local government’s commitment to work together to realize the potential of sustainable urban aviation.”

With a view towards sharing this roadmap with cities worldwide, this collaboration between the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office and the World Economic Forum has been coordinated with technical and operational efforts led by Los Angeles Department of Transportation in conjunction with national authorities. What’s clear is that parallel strategic and operational planning are necessary for any city preparing for the roll-out of UAM and that this preparation must start well ahead of the first commercial deployments.

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