In the last five years, Melaka has made great strides toward building a sustainable, green city.
By 2020, the government-run 7248ha Melaka World Solar Valley aims to power most of the daily activities of manufacturers, housing developers, farmers and other stakeholders.
Recently, a public-private partnership installed 100,000 LED street lamps along the Alor-Gajah-Melaka Tengah-Jasin Highway, which will improve road safety and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
The urban landscape has also changed. Walkable neighbourhoods with mixed-use development have increased foot traffic and reduced car use.
The Melaka River, long a polluted backyard drainage canal, is now a popular gathering place and tourist attraction.
Melaka’s transformation is the result of meticulous planning, a comprehensive approach supported by government policies and projects, private sector engagement and citizen initiatives.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is proud to have worked with Melaka to develop its roadmap, the Green City Action Plan.
In addition to a technical assistance grant to underwrite the plan, which was completed in 2014, ADB also helped Melaka implement it, including by structuring bankable projects for solar energy and street lighting, setting up a database to track indicators in environment and economic growth, and conducting training in urban development, environment planning and knowledge sharing.
The Melaka projects are the first to be implemented under the Green Cities Initiative of the Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle (IMT-GT), an ADB-supported sub-regional cooperation programme focused on the development of 32 provinces in these three countries.
It aims to help states and provinces discover and use their relative comparative advantages to work together in the sub-region.
So far, four other cities – Songkhla and Hat Yai in Thailand; Medan and Batam in Indonesia – have developed similar plans.
A “green” city means an area that is resilient and inclusive, manages its natural resources well, promotes low carbon growth to remain competitive and improves the livelihoods of all citizens.
With each green city plan, countries are moving away from business-as-usual economic growth models to forge a clear, concise vision for a city’s future based on factors such as comprehensive analysis and consensus among key stakeholders.
These plans present a paradigm shift, where cities pursue integrated urban development and environmental planning as they make a transition to a cleaner, greener and more prosperous future.
The initiative is very relevant, because cities are the primary drivers of economic growth across countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), producing about 70% of the region’s gross domestic product.
Almost 300 million people in Asean already live in cities, and another 90 million people are expected to move in by 2030, pushing up the urban share of the population to nearly 45%.
Urbanisation is placing a growing environmental strain on cities, such as air, water and noise pollution, traffic congestion and inadequate solid waste management.
Tackling these challenges will require city governments to integrate social and environmental considerations into locally customised economic development plans.
It will require innovation, testing and application of new ideas, learning and sharing of lessons, and development of new approaches to emerging challenges.
The Green Cities Conference, to be held on Oct 1 in Melaka, will bring city leaders together to collaborate on green growth strategies.
It also seeks to continue to support the Green Cities Network established under the IMT-GT and the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asean Growth Area.
ADB strongly supports the network of Asean green cities, which serves as a platform for knowledge sharing.
Coinciding with the 25th anniversary of IMT-GT, the conference also provides a window for action following Melaka’s success in transforming into a green city.
It’s time now for policy makers to make their own Green City Action plans a reality. The implementation process requires strong coordination between multiple government agencies, the private sector and communities.
It will also require a management approach easily adaptable to project monitoring, data analysis and citizen feedback.
ADB stands ready to provide knowledge and financial support to further develop competitive, inclusive and green cities across Asean.
The living air purifiers cities need more of
In our all-too-hectic urban lives, a city park is a great place to unwind. Trees and green spaces have mental health and well-being benefits, on top of being great for relaxation and recreation.
Trees also help reduce air pollution. According to the study Tree and forest effects on air quality and human health in the United States, particulate matter, which is particularly damaging to lungs, is retained on tree surfaces, while leaves act as filters, absorbing polluting gases.
But the study also warns that while trees can mitigate the effect of air pollution, deposits of air pollutants on leaves can also affect photosynthesis “and therefore potentially affect pollution removal by trees”. As with everything, balance is key.
The cooling effect of trees
Trees can also significantly cool temperatures in cities. In hot climates, tree cover can reduce energy expenditure on air conditioning, while driving down the consumption of air polluting fossil fuels that power these cooling systems. Experimental investigations and modelling studies in the United States have shown that shade from trees can reduce the air conditioning costs of detached houses by 20–30 per cent.
“Trees could reduce temperatures in cities up to 8°C, lowering use of air conditioning and related emissions by up to 40 per cent,” says Simone Borelli, an Agroforestry and Urban/Periurban Forestry Officer with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
“When part of a wider landscape mosaic, large green patches within and around cities would also reduce emissions through avoided sprawl and excess mobility requirements,” he adds.
Urban tree-planting has to be done right. Species planted should be ones that are most effective at trapping pollution, typically those with large leaves. Officials also need to account for things like wind patterns and tree spacing. If water is scarce, they’ll want to consider drought-tolerant varieties, and avoid trees that increase pollen and allergies.
Action is all the more important given that urbanization is accelerating—the proportion of people living in cities will be 60 per cent in 2030 and 66 per cent in 2050. Nearly 90 per cent of this increase will occur in Africa and Asia. To address the impacts of this rapid growth and the related challenges, a large-scale effort is needed.
Building the Great Green Wall of Cities
Nearly 8,000 km long and 15 km wide, the Great Green Wall is an African-led movement of epic proportions initiated in 2007 to green the entire width of northern Africa, a semi-arid region extending from Senegal to Djibouti. A decade in and roughly 15 per cent under way, the initiative is slowly bringing life back to some of Africa’s degraded landscapes, providing food security, jobs and a reason to stay for the millions who live along its path.
An initiative of this nature in urban areas is being developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization and other partners in preparation for the UN Climate Summit in September 2019. It aims to create up to 500,000 hectares of new urban forests and restore or maintain up to 300,000 ha of existing natural forests in and around 90 cities of the Sahel and Central Asia by 2030. Once established, this “Great Green Wall of Cities” would capture 0.5–5 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide per year and stock carbon for centuries.
On 1 March 2019 the UN General Assembly established the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030, which should give further impetus to tree-planting efforts.
“UN Environment promotes the planting of trees as a key way to mitigate climate change and boost land-based biodiversity, 80 per cent of which is in forests,” says Tim Christophersen, head of UN Environment’s Freshwater, Land and Climate Branch, and Chair of the Global Partnership on Forest and Landscape Restoration. “We are working with partners across the planet to boost tree planting for ecosystem restoration. There is scope for planting one trillion more trees, in addition to the 3 trillion that already exist on Earth. But it has to be done right; planting indigenous trees, supported by local communities, is a good way to go.”
Let the stones gather some moss
In those forest ecosystems, trees are not alone in cleaning the air. An ambitious project by Greencity Solutions in Berlin, Germany, seeks to marry high-tech applications with another natural air purifier: moss.
“The ability of certain moss cultures to filter pollutants such as particulate matter and nitrogen oxides from the air makes them ideal natural air purifiers,” says Greencity Solutions.
“But in cities, where air purification is a great challenge, mosses are barely able to survive due to their need for water and shade. This problem can be solved by connecting different mosses with fully automated water and nutrient provision based on unique Internet of things technology,” it explains.
Or by planting more trees that will provide the cover and humidity, that will help moss take hold and grow.
New study expected to chart Melaka’s pathway to urban sustainability
Within the framework of the ‘Sustainable City Development in Malaysia’ project, which seeks to address the country’s urban challenges and which is being implemented by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), executed by the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT), and supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the ‘Melaka Sustainability Outlook Diagnostic: Pathway to Urban Sustainability’ was launched today. The report is the result of an assessment performed by the World Bank’s Global Platform for Sustainable Cities (GPSC) in which Melaka actively participates. The study will inform the Melaka State’s Structure Plan and its long-term planning document; it will also offer key recommendations for the State to chart its own pathway to urban sustainability.
The diagnostic consists of an overview report containing a policy brief, an executive summary and a benchmark assessment as well as six supporting reports that cover each of the diagnostic’s dimensions, namely Reinforcing Melaka’s Economic Success; Integrating Environmental Plans; Enhancing Housing and Services; Shaping a Compact, Efficient, and Harmonious Urban Form; Shifting Melaka’s Mobility Modal Split; and Demonstrating Fiscal Sustainability.
One of the report’s recommendations calls for the State and the City of Melaka to obtain a credit rating; accordingly, both entities already agreed to undergo a formal rating assessment with UNIDO’s support. Depending on the assessment’ result, they could tap capital markets to finance future infrastructure projects. Moreover, another recommendation calls for the City of Melaka to complete a climate-smart capital investment plan for which the city indicated its willingness, with UNIDO coordinating local and national inputs to raise funds.
Being one of most urbanized countries in Asia, 75 percent of Malaysians reside in urban areas and over 90 percent of the national economic activities are conducted in cities. Rapid urbanization has created tremendous economic opportunities for the country, but has also put enormous pressure on its urban infrastructure and services.
Make Dhaka Walkable
When it comes to urban mobility, Global South cities suffer significant challenges such as lack of transport equity and poor accessibility for the urban poor. On the March of 25-28, 2019, the Share the Road Programme (a partnership between UN Environment and FIA Foundation) participated in a workshop dubbed ‘make Dhaka walkable’ held in Dhaka, Bangladesh, organized by the Sustainable Transport Equity Partnerships (STEPS) – a global alliance of researchers and practitioners including the Walk21 Foundation, UN Environment and the University of Leeds. The organizations are committed to identifying the essential steps decision makers and multi-disciplinary teams of experts must collectively take to meet the needs of people walking. STEPS aims to promote urban transport systems that can meet the travel needs of low income, city populations in the Global South.
Despite walking making up to 75% of all journeys, the conditions in which people walk in Dhaka are often unsafe and unpleasant. In order to highlight the needs of pedestrians in Dhaka, the meeting brought together engineers, planners, civil rights activists, NGOs, social scientists and many more for a real interdisciplinary perspective of the transferability of global walkability practices.
The opening workshop included representatives from Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority (DTCA), Road Transport and Highways Division, Ministry of Road Transport and Bridges, University of Asia Pacific and others to help push the local walking agenda forward.
One of the gaps identified through the STEPS programme is the severe inadequacies of non-motorized transport in transport policy in the Global South. The Share the Road programme shared knowledge on the experience of non-motorized transport in Nairobi -the small initiatives needed to make big differences, the need to have NMT users included in the planning of road construction projects, and the importance of securing a percentage in transport budgets. The vital and economic aspects of walkability projects cannot be ignored.
Having discussed the ‘eight steps to walkable Dhaka’ facilitated by Walk21, the workshop was brought to a close by Professor Jamilur Choudhury from University of Asia Pacific who gave some personal reflections on the development of transport policy and walking in the city, and stated his commitment to moving the walkability agenda forward locally.
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