Simon Birkett is on a mission to reduce the toxic levels of air pollution in his beloved London. A former HSBC banker, Simon was inspired to take on the cause full-time after his early retirement in 2009. You could say that he loves his city too much to give up on it.
“I had one vision,” he says. “To make my neighbourhood an exemplar for healthy air in London.” Beyond his immediate neighbourhood of Knightsbridge, he hopes to get all of London to fully comply with the World Health Organization’s air quality guidelines.
“That is still the mission,” he says. “But now I have a bigger vision: London and the rest of the world.”
One day in 2015, eight years after he had started his Clean Air in London campaign, Simon was invited to join the steering group for the UN’s Global Environment Outlook (GEO) process – a series of expert meetings that result in reports to inform the UN’s work to protect the environment. He was hooked by the discussions and engagement with environment experts from a variety of disciplines and geographies, all with one goal – a more sustainable future for the planet.
Around the same time, Simon was setting up the Knightsbridge Neighbourhood Forum, which had the opportunity to produce the first neighbourhood plan in central London under new legislation. A major challenge in that work, Simon says, is that the vitally important climate targets set for 2030 or 2050 seemed “unreal and unrealistic”. What he sought, and found in September 2015, were concrete targets and a framework around which he could organize the local plan: the newly agreed UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Some have called the Knightsbridge neighbourhood plan ambitious. But, he says, “it is achievable. We had five themes, ten objectives and 42 policies. And every single policy can contribute to one or more of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.”
He had made the connection, he said, between the lofty global goals agreed to by every nation on the planet, and the meaningful impact of these goals at the local level.
“I never would have thought of the SDGs unless I had been involved in the GEO process. Through this, I have learned a lot. Now things all fit together to achieve meaningful outcomes.”
Simon says he is now a true believer in the SDGs, especially at the city level. “We need to get people working towards them, as well as getting the data. We need people signed up.”
Simon says he will not rest until he has achieved his objective: turning London into one of the world’s cleanest and most innovative sustainable cities. Lobbying the British Parliament, the Mayor’s Office, the European Union and the World Health Organization have all been part of that strategy.
At a briefing session over breakfast with London’s deputy mayor on environment and energy, Simon said, the deputy mayor asked if there were any questions. He saw his opportunity.
“Have the Sustainable Development Goals been embedded in the mayor’s plan?” he asked. There was silence. Simon smiled at the memory.
“The deputy mayor said, ‘Can you do that?’” And I said, “‘Hey, we’ve done it in a neighbourhood plan. You can do it in the London Plan!’”
Simon expects the alignment of the final London plan to the SDGs “to cause massive change. This could have a seismic effect… all European cities will want to keep up with London.”
Simon wants London to develop a model that can inspire New York, São Paolo, Bangkok, Shanghai, Johannesburg, and Nairobi – as well as other cities in Europe. He says Mayor Sadiq Khan and the Deputy Mayor will lead the way.
Having a global framework with the SDGs allowed him to speak a global language. But he insists that the real work has to be happen at the neighbourhood and city level. GEO6 is already articulating the need for urgent, sustainable and equitable action.
“You have to combine political leadership with technology and lifestyle changes,” he says. “Then, you can crack this problem.” Meanwhile, in his spare time, Birkett has drafted the legalisation for a new ‘Clean Air Act’ that would make clean air a human right in the United Kingdom.
UN forum spotlights cities, where struggle for sustainability ‘will be won or lost’
Although cities are often characterized by stark socioeconomic inequalities and poor environmental conditions, they also offer growth and development potential – making them central to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and a main focus of the third day of the United Nations High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Wednesday.
Through the inherently integrated nature of urban development, the 11th Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) impacts a wide range of 2030 Agenda issues from sustainable consumption and production to affordable and clean energy along with health, sustainable transportation, clean water and sanitation. Basically, life on land.
According to the UN, cities are where the struggle for global sustainability “will either be won or lost.”
“Urbanization is one of the most important issues when it comes to sustainable development,” Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of UN-Habitat, told journalists at UN Headquarters in New York.
“We must make sure we do it right if we are to achieve the SDGs and move towards a world where we see an end to poverty, the protection of our planet and everyone enjoying peace and prosperity,” she added.
While SDG 11 pledges to make cities and human settlements safe, inclusive, resilient and sustainable by 2030, local and national authorities are making uneven progress towards achieving that goal, according to the UN.
A new report by UN-Habitat and partners tracking SDG progress since their 2015 adoption coincides with the first review of SDG 11 at the HLPF.
At the current rate of expansion, over 700 cities will have populations of more than one million by 2030.
While cities can be powerhouses of economic growth and development, without proper planning and regulation, they could, among other things, suffer soaring levels of poverty, crime and pollution, says UN-Habitat.
“Cities are the spaces where all SDGs can be integrated to provide holistic solutions to the challenges of poverty, exclusion, climate change and risks,” affirmed Ms. Sharif.
Leilani Farha, UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, told the HLPF that although there are no global homeless statistics, “housing conditions are fraught.”
She underscored that some six billion people are inadequately housed worldwide and that close to 900 million people are living in informal settlements and encampments in both the global North and South.
“If we do not find housing solutions, no State will be able to meet their Agenda 2030 commitments because without access to adequate, secure and affordable housing there is no equality, there is no end to poverty, to health and well-being, to sustained access to education, to employment,” she added.
Established in 2012, the HLPF meets annually under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). It is the main United Nations platform on sustainable development and it has a central role in the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs at the global level. The Agenda with its 17 Global Goals were adopted in 2015 by UN Member States and aim to protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.
Meanwhile in the afternoon, New York City took the distinction of becoming the first city in the world to report directly to the international community on its efforts to reach global benchmarks in addressing poverty, inequality and climate change by 2030.
Among other accomplishments, its Voluntary Local Review (VLR) showcased significant achievements in cleaner air and water, record job and wage growth, and tripling the number of children in free pre-Kindergarten.
“We encourage cities and communities to join the urgent discussion about what is working on the local level, and how we can address the shared challenges that remain on the way to reaching the Global Goals,” said Penny Abeywardena, NY Commissioner for International Affairs.
Moreover, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared Wednesday, 11 July 2018, as Global Goals Day in New York City, to welcome HLPF participants and express local solidarity with efforts worldwide to achieve the goals.
Applauding the Mayor’s leadership and New York on the SDGs, Secretary-General António Guterres noted that the UN recently launched the Local2030 platform for cities and local governments to pursue new pathways for low-emission growth and climate action, poverty alleviation and inclusion of the most vulnerable residents.
“This Voluntary Local Review is a first step towards such progress and I urge other cities and local governments to follow suit,” he said.
New financial instrument to make Brazilian cities more energy efficient
A new financial instrument will allow Brazil to increase its investment in urban infrastructure and make the country more energy efficient. The Financial Instruments for Brazil Energy Efficient Cities – FinBRAZEEC will catalyze resources from the private sector and climate funds to create new markets in the areas of efficient street lighting and industrial energy efficiency.
“With this project, CAIXA has the opportunity to develop innovative financing mechanisms that will attract new investors,” said Antonio Gil Padilha Bernardes Silveira, executive director of sanitation and infrastructure at Caixa. “We will work to support the development, implementation and financing of projects for public lighting in Brazilian municipalities and industrial energy efficiency.”
Brazil’s public sector funding declined in 2015 and 2016, exacerbating the gap in infrastructure financing and highlighting the urgency of bringing private funds into the financing equation. The country’s high urbanization rates (86% in 2018) make investments in urban energy efficiency crucial to address the 2030 SDG’s Energy Efficiency and National Determined Commitments (NDC) goals.
FinBRAZEEC will help Brazil increase investments in urban energy efficiency and meet the goal of improving energy efficiency in the electricity sector by 10% by 2030, set as part of its Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris Agreement on climate change.
“The FinBRAZEEC project offers one of the first genuine project financing structures in the Brazilian market”, said Martin Raiser, the World Bank Director for Brazil. “Its innovative financing model will help us unlock investment potential in the street lighting and industrial energy efficiency sectors, which had previously been identified as particularly promising for market based solutions. But we hope the example will encourage similar approaches also in other areas”.
Under the project, which includes a US$ 200 million project IBRD loan combined with Green Climate Fund (GCF) and Clean Technology Fund (CTF) resources, the World Bank will partner with Caixa Econômica Federal (CEF), the second largest state-owned financial institution in Latin America and the fourth largest bank in Brazil, as the financial intermediary and borrower of IBRD and climate funds. CEF will lead the syndication of commercial lenders and will establish a Guarantee Facility that will provide partial credit guarantees to the commercial lenders participating in the syndication.
“The creative approach of FinBrazeec’s new financial instruments galvanizes the experience of the World Bank in strengthening a truly domestic, modern and de-risked infrastructure asset-class market for investors,” according to Antonio Barbalho, Practice Manager for Energy, Latin America and the Caribbean. “The World Bank developed a cutting-edge financial and risk mitigation product, opening new windows of opportunity for supporting infrastructure investments,” adds Barbalho. The instrument encompasses best practices in infrastructure project preparation and provides flexible features to mobilize private finance while managing and mitigating risks.
FinBRAZEEC is expected to mobilize more than US$ 1.1 billion for urban energy efficiency investments in Brazil. In addition to the US$200 million IBRD loan, it will count on US$180 million of counterpart funds, as well as US$195 million in climate funds from the GCF and US$25 million in climate funds from CTF. The Project’s goal is to leverage US$ 730 million in commercial debt and equity, making it an excellent example of the World Bank’s strategy of Maximizing Financing for Development.
The Project will also benefit from a strong technical assistance program, supported by a US$ 4 million GCF grant, as well as nearly US$1 million in Bank-executed funds from the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP) and the Global Infrastructure Facility (GIF). These funds will be used to increase CEF’s capacity to implement the innovative financial products and support sub-project pipeline development.
Act Now for a More Prosperous and Livable Dhaka
Through swift measures to develop East Dhaka, Bangladesh has a unique opportunity to relieve the flooding, congestion, and messiness that are clogging the capital’s growth and affecting the quality of life of its people, says a new World Bank report released today.
The report, Toward Great Dhaka: A New Urban Development Paradigm Eastward, lays out a strategic vision for the city to unlock its development potential. Inspired by the success of Pudong, Shanghai, but based on localized economic modeling and simulations, the report recommends three critical interventions to develop East Dhaka. This area is mainly rural at present, but it is located within a few kilometers of the most valuable parts of the city.
The three interventions are: building the eastern embankment along the Balu River to mitigate flooding; developing transport links and public transit to ease congestion; and creating a world-class business district with sound policies to attract firms and residents eastward.
The report analyzes how these interventions could propel Dhaka toward becoming a global city and a stronger economic powerhouse for Bangladesh. If adopted, average income per capita in Dhaka could reach $9,200 by 2035 compared to less than $8,000 on current trends.
“Dhaka’s residents currently face many difficulties, as the city’s infrastructure development has not kept pace with the substantial growth of its population and traffic” said Martin Rama, the World Bank’s Chief Economist for South Asia. “Developing East Dhaka with a strategic approach will result in a more prosperous and livable city. But action must be taken now, to avoid replicating the messy urban development of the past, and to mitigate environmental and social risks. Fixing East Dhaka in the future will be much more expensive and difficult.”
Dhaka’s population has increased from 3 million in 1980 to more than 18 million today, with 3.5 million residents currently living in slums that lack basic services. Average driving speed has slowed from 21km/h to less than 7km/h, and 3.2 million working hours are wasted everyday due to congestion. Social costs will worsen without a different approach to urban development, as Greater Dhaka will be home to 25 million people by 2035 on current trends.
“Because of its vast size and proximity to the city center, East Dhaka represents a golden opportunity that few megacities in the world have. But seizing this opportunity requires a clear mandate by authorities, good collaboration between agencies, and concerted implementation” said Qimiao Fan, the World Bank’s Country Director for Bangladesh. “As a long-term development partner, the World Bank stands ready to work with the government and the people of Bangladesh to transform the dream of a great Dhaka into a reality.”
The three interventions proposed in the report could enable Dhaka to comfortably host an extra 5 million inhabitants, and to create 1.8 million additional jobs, compared to a continuation of business as usual. The interventions would cost about $15 billion, but they could lead to $53 billion in increased economic activity per year by 2035. They would also result in an improved quality of life for Dhaka’s inhabitants, and alleviate many of the challenges the city currently faces.
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