Bicycle comeback amongst initiatives to help Hangzhou cut air pollution
The city of Hangzhou in eastern China was once described by the Italian explorer Marco Polo as the, “finest and most splendid city in the world”. Today it is once again on the map thanks to a range of initiatives to cut air pollution and increase the livability of the city.
Indeed, many cities across China have suffered from the effects of air pollution. To remedy the situation, China introduced an Air Pollution Action Plan in 2013 to reduce dangerous particulate matter (PM) 2.5 levels.
For the city of Beijing, the solution has been to drastically eliminate the use of coal: the city closed its coal-fired power stations and banned people in surrounding areas from burning coal for heat. The city’s efforts were so effective that, while in 2013, Beijing ranked as the 40th worst city for PM 2.5 by the World Health Organization, it ranked in 187th place in 2018. As part of nationwide efforts to curb air pollutants, other cities in China followed suit and dramatically reduced their PM 2.5 levels.
The new 2018-2020 Three-year Action Plan for Winning the Blue Sky War, announced in July 2018, is the successor of the original air pollution action plan. It calls for a reduction of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide by more than 15 per cent compared with 2015 levels by 2020.
Hangzhou’s bike-sharing success
The bustling city of Hangzhou, home to nearly 10 million people, is world-famous for being home to the high-tech industry, including the world’s leading e-commerce group, Alibaba.
However, like other cities in China, Hangzhou has had to tackle the scourge of air pollution. Since most of the Hangzhou’s PM 2.5 pollution comes from vehicle emissions, Hangzhou city authority started China’s very first public bike-sharing scheme. Launched in 2008, the primary purpose of this initiative was to a provide a convenient public service for short journeys in the city. They ended up with two knock-on benefits: less traffic and a reduction in air pollution.
In 2017, when the number of bikes hit a peak, a total of 10 companies, including commercial ones, operated more than 882,000 bikes. The number of bike trips is estimated in the range of hundreds of millions since 2008.
Furthermore, the integration of the public bike-sharing scheme with other public transport in the city has increased its attractiveness and ease-of-use. “This healthy transport has made our city better and its air quality is good,” says Tao Xuejun, general manager of the Hangzhou Public Bicycle Service.
China was known as the “Kingdom of the bicycle” in the 1980s. With economic progress, many people moved to motorized forms of transport. The re-emergence of the bicycle in Hangzhou since 2008 may have been somewhat unexpected but its contribution to helping reduced air pollution is undeniable.
In 2017, the Hangzhou bike-sharing scheme won an award from the Ashden charity which said that “the combination of convenient and free bicycles, well separated bicycle lanes and good public transport appears to have led to reduced use of cars and their associated congestion, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions”.
“Hangzhou is a great example of how cities can introduce initiatives like bike sharing to encourage people to get out of their cars and reduce air pollution,” says Rob de Jong, Head of UN Environment’s Air Quality and Mobility Unit. “We really need to encourage city governments and planners around the world to design cities for people, and not cars – leading to safer and cleaner living spaces”.
Switching to non-polluting vehicles an international priority
Tackling air pollution by removing cars from the road is the focus of UN Environment’s Share the Road Programme. The Programme is centered around the concept that everyone begins and ends their journeys as pedestrians, and in cities, some people rely almost exclusively on walking and cycling. Yet, investors and governments continue to prioritize road space for cars. To make the switch to more eco-friendly means of transport, UN Environment supports governments and other stakeholders in developing countries to systematically prioritize and invest in infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists.
Bike-sharing schemes have not been without criticism, however. As the number of bicycles grew rapidly across China, many found their way to massive dumps, as companies went bankrupt because of insufficient demand. Vast piles of impounded, abandoned or broken bicycles have become a familiar sight in many big cities.
Hangzhou itself has had to cut the number of bikes. Cities around the world are learning from this example and ensuring they have full control over the number of bikes released into the city within their bike-sharing schemes.
Other initiatives in Hangzhou to reduce air pollution
Conscious of the risk air pollution poses to health, Hangzhou has implemented many other measures to improve air quality. It expanded its metro system to reduce traffic and invested in thousands of electric buses and taxis.
The city also developed an innovative battery-swapping mechanism for the its electric taxi fleet, allowing one electric taxi to travel for 230 kilometers on two to three fully charged batteries every day. Hangzhou’s goal is to reach a total fleet of 1,000 electric taxis, ultimately aiming at a zero-emission taxi fleet.
Climate Smart Agriculture Can Help Balochistan bounce back
Climate change brings disaster to the province Balochistan, which is an arid region located in west of Pakistan. The drought-stricken region struggling to increase its agricultural productivity, faced a backlash due to catastrophic floods. The predominantly agriculture-based territory reached the dead zone as farmers had stopped farming, shepherds kept their animal numbers low, which put people’s lives on stake, as it increased food insecurity. This highlighted the need to start a policy debate for climate smart agriculture.
Climate smart agriculture is an approach that is making the planet prosperous again. It is an ambition to increase the integration of food security with enhance resilience in productivity. It is a sustainable agriculture practice that promotes soil health, water management, and biodiversity conservation with economic benefits. Its practices like, cover/tunnel farming, drip irrigation, crop livestock systems can help Balochistan to go green and integrated again. These practices can sequester carbon in soil and can fight the impacts of climate change more efficiently.
Climate change is affecting the province in various ways. The region of Balochistan is characterized by extreme aridity, with annual precipitation levels below average, causing severe droughts, which is leading to a catastrophic impact on the province’s agriculture and livestock.
Flash floods in Balochistan becomes the new common during the monsoon season as a result of heavy rainfall, with the most significant in 2022. These floods have a detrimental impact on the environment, causing soil erosion, depletion, and the loss of fertile topsoil. The soil is already deficient in minerals and cannot endure further depletion, requiring several hundred years to recover and cannot support agricultural growth.
In an interview with wealthPk, Dr. Hanif-ur-Rehman AP from university of Turbat said, that high efficiency irrigation system (HEIS) can play an efficient role in climate effected regions like Turbat, Makran, Kech where farmers had traditionally cultivated the crops for source of income. The use of drip, rain guns, Centre pivot, and sprinkler have the ability to bring back the lush green pastures that have turned barren.
Climate smart agriculture could not only fetch the lost agriculture but also increase the productivity rate by making the rest of the region green. Balochistan accounts for only 6% of cultivable land for agriculture which not only failed to meet food security needs but also added little in Pakistan’s 25% agriculture GDP.
Balochistan people despite having less literacy are very conducive to cultivating lands with new cultivation techniques. In late 1990s and 2000s when the entire western part of the province was severely hit by droughts, people brought the techniques of less resilient tunnel farming to moist the soil. They grow crops beneath protective plastic tunnels. This technique helps them cope with their immediate needs but it fails to produce yield on a massive scale. Cultivation in proper climate resilient tunnels usually requires 10 to 20 acres of area or economically 3 acres feasible, and the tunnels are created by using steel pipes, or aluminum pipes that support plantations that are usually 3 to 12 feet in height and 5-10 feet wide.
The drip irrigation technique also has enormous potential for minimizing production costs by moderating the input use of water, fertilizers and pesticides. Drip irrigation keeps the field capacity constant by enabling the crops to easily take in water and nutrients, which result in uniform growth of plants and enhances the quality that produces well. Drip irrigation distributes water through a network of valves, pipes, emitters, and tubing that can save 50-70% of irrigation water which can not only resolve the water scarcity issue of Balochistan, it also can produce efficient, extensive production of crops such as apples, cherries, tomatoes, and citrus.
The province also needs to move towards an integrated crop-livestock system (ICLS), which is sustainable, productive, and climate resilient compared to intensive specialized systems. ICLS have increased over time in arid regions but still, Balochistan lags behind due to lack of skills by producers, lack of investment, lack of sustainable awareness and market competition. Livestock production is the largest sector of the province’s economy. It is nearly impossible to have a dream of economic development for the rural masses without prior attention to Livestock and crop management.
After floods, the crops fields are destroyed due to which livestock become the main source of food for many rural households that make the rural farming through livestock less practicable. It can only be enhanced by administration policies through capital funding, educational services and markets to subsistence farmers.
CSA is a method that includes several elements entrenched in local settings rather than a collection of practices that can be used everywhere. CSA requires the adoption of technologies and policies, and it refers to behaviors both on and off the farm.
According to FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) of the United Nation 2023 report, Local farmers are the foremost holders of knowledge about their environment, agro-ecosystems, crops, livestock, and climatic patterns. Therefore, the adoption of Climate Smart Agriculture should be aligned with the local farmers’ knowledge, needs, and priorities. . Farmers of Balochistan have shown a keen interest in drip irrigation, tunnel farming technique but the high cost of imported pipes, emitters, plantation of aluminum tunnels from china has become their hindrance.
Mainstreaming CSA in Balochistan requires critical stocktaking and promising practices by financial and institutional enablers that can create an initial baseline for discussion and investment from the globe. If the government of Balochistan supports the farmers through public funding or by joint ventures with farmers for covering the startup costs, the techniques can be very useful not for food security but also for economic benefits on a constant level. According to a report on Climate smart practices, the CS techniques could not only help to save water up to 50-70%, reduce the fertilizer use by 45%, increase yield up to 100-150%, reduce the production cost by 35%, but could also mature the crops with better quality for uneven topography.
Human History and the Wonder of the Horse
Imagine a person accustomed to traveling at 3 to 4 mph, who discovers a means (the horse) to speed up to 5 times that pace with occasional thrilling bursts doubling even that.
At 15 mph, it is then not unreasonable to assume a 1000 mile range for a week on horseback allowing for breaks and sleep at night. It must have expanded enormously the horizons of those early Kazakhs who first domesticated the horse some 6000 years ago.
If the Kazakhs roamed west, the Mongols, a few thousand years later, roamed back and began a vast empire that eventually included all of China. Ties with Russia were close but as a hegemon, until a few centuries later when the Russians threw off the yoke.
As Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping shake hands forging a new treaty, China is once again a more powerful economy, the largest in the world, while Russia’s is more akin in size to Italy’s.
If the horse made the vast Central Asian steppes explorable, its remarkable navigational skills ensured the rider would eventually be able to return home.
Apparently horses are sensitive to the earth’s magnetic field, and not unlike homing pigeons can find their way home. Confirmatory tests have shown that when magnets are slung over their withers, they get completely lost. Observers have also noted that, in pasture. they tend to stand north-south aligned with the earth’s magnetic field.
Up until the advent of the internal combustion engine, horses were used for all kinds of transportation. Where the rail line ended, horses took over. They hauled freight in covered wagons; pulled stagecoaches in the Wild West and elegant carriages in Europe; they were a cowboy’s bread and butter, and personal transportation for anyone who could afford one; horses in the cavalry delivered the punch generals were seeking in battle; in racing, they provided thrills for the audience and excitement for punters — such is true also today, and with all the special attention given to the triple crown races, the casual observer might forget the weekly calendar of racing events across the country.
Horses for courses is a common saying for they are bred for speed in short races and stamina for long steeplechases like the famous Grand National in England.
Hark back to the wagon drivers of old, when on lonely long journeys the driver could talk to his horses — like dogs they are able to understand and develop quite a vocabulary of human words plus silent signals from the reins and legs of the riders.
And pity the poor trucker now and his lonely cross-country trips — not much to say to a noisy diesel engine! The only chance to talk he gets is when he takes a break to eat, rest and sometimes sleep at truck stops along the way.
With all that horses did for humans, one can wonder what they got out of it. Apparently they form close bonds with their owners, and as with dogs, the feelings are mutual.
Race to zero in Asia and the Pacific: Our hopes in the climate fight
The latest synthesis report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change makes for grim reading: Every fraction of a degree of warming comes with escalated threats, from deadly heatwaves to severe hurricanes and droughts, affecting all economies and communities. It is a reality that the people of Asia and the Pacific know only too well. “The worst April heatwaves in Asian history” last month was just a taste of the worsening climate impacts we will continue to face in the years to come.
Our latest report highlights that the sea level is creeping up in parts of the region at a slightly higher rate than the global mean, leaving low-lying atolls at existential threat. Annual socioeconomic loss due to climate change is mounting and likely to double in the worst-case climate scenario. Inequity is yet another threat as climate change sweeps across the region. Asia and the Pacific already accounts for more than half of global greenhouse gas emissions and the share is growing.
But there is another picture of hope in our region: 39 countries have committed to carbon neutrality and net zero between 2050 and 2060. The cost of renewable energy is falling almost everywhere, with installed capacity growing more than three-fold in the past decade. Electric vehicles are entering the market en masse as countries such as China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea and Thailand have made electric mobility a priority.
This momentum needs to accelerate like a bullet train. Because nothing short of a breakthrough in hard-to-abate sectors will give us a good chance of stopping catastrophic global warming.
Accelerating a just and inclusive energy transition
The recent energy crisis has kicked renewable energy into a new phase of even faster growth thanks to its energy security benefits. There is opportunity now to leverage this momentum and turn it into a revolutionary moment.
Cross-border electricity grids can be the game changer. ESCAP has simulated different scenarios for grid connectivity and scaling up renewables. It shows that a green power corridor, cross-border power grid integration utilizing renewables, can help to remove the last hurdles of the transition. We are working with countries to chart a path to improved regional power grid connectivity through cooperation.
Achieving low-carbon mobility and logistics
The exceptional growth of electric vehicles has proved that electric mobility is a smart investment. And it is one that will help stave off carbon dioxide emissions from transport, which has stubbornly increased almost by 2 per cent annually the past two decades.
Through the Regional Cooperation Mechanism on Low Carbon Transport, we are working with the public and private sector to lock in the changeover to low-carbon mobility, clean energy technologies and logistics. This is complemented by peer learning and experience sharing under the Asia-Pacific Initiative on Electric Mobility to accelerate the penetration of electric vehicles and upgrading public transport fleets.
Building low-carbon industries through climate-smart trade and investment
The net zero transition is not complete without decarbonizing the industrial sector. The region accounts for nearly three quarters of global greenhouse gas emissions in manufacturing and construction.
Binding climate considerations in regional trade agreements can be a powerful tool. While climate-related provisions have entered regional trade agreements involving Asian and Pacific economies, they offer few concrete and binding commitments. To unlock further benefits, they will need to be broader in scope, deeper in stringency and more precise in obligations.
As foreign investment goes green, it should also go where it is needed the most. It has not been the case for any of the least developed countries and small island developing States in the region.
Financing the transition
The transition can be only possible by investing in low- and zero-emission technologies and industries. Current domestic and international financial flows fall well short of the needed amount. The issuance of green, social and sustainability bonds is rapidly growing, reaching $210 billion in 2021 but were dominated by developed and a few developing countries. Both public and private financial institutions need to be incentivized to invest in new green technologies and make the uptake of such technologies less risky.
Linking actions and elevating ambitions
The code red to go green is ever so clear. Every government needs to raise their stake in this crisis. Every business needs to transform. Every individual needs to act. A journey to net zero should accelerate with a fresh look at our shared purpose.
At ESCAP, we are working to bring together the pieces and build the missing links at the regional level to support the net-zero transition work at the national level. The upcoming Commission session will bring countries together for the first time in an intergovernmental setting – to identify common accelerators for climate action and to chart a more ambitious pathway. This is the start of an arduous journey that requires cooperation, understanding and determination. And I believe we have what it takes to get there together.
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