As I have previously stated in these articles, the science underpinning our understanding of climate change is irrefutable. Only the most selfish and pathological Luddites can believe, or act as if, human action is not increasing global atmospheric carbon and that this is not significantly altering our planet’s environment so as to make it hugely expensive, if not impossible, to maintain most human existence. Clearly, our actions are making our Earth much less habitable for humanity which is a global Tragedy of the Commons, whereby a relatively few short-sighted, anti-social people are over-exploiting and destroying our environment, which shared by the whole of humanity.
At least one city, Copenhagen, is trying to shine a light and show the way forward in how to avoid this tragedy and has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2025. Over 70 other cities around the world have made similar pledges to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. However, we must be clear that to resolve our climate change problem in the longer term we actually need to have cities become carbon negative.
Because cities are now home to over 50% of the world’s population, and consume more than 65% of global energy production and account for 75% of all carbon emissions they are central to reducing global warming. Generally, these carbon neutral focused cities are trying to greatly reduce the amounts of energy that they need and to make what they do need in renewable ways. They are closing down their fossil fueled power stations and replacing them with batteries, solar panels and wind farms, and hydroelectric and tidal power generators. They are changing building codes to make their new, and existing, built environments more energy efficient. They are reorganizing their cities to be more livable and more suited to walking and cycling. They are encouraging or mandating electric vehicles, wider use of electric public transport and ride sharing to minimize car and truck emissions. Very importantly, these cities are leading by example by upgrading their own government buildings and vehicle fleets and running strong community and school education campaigns to explain what they are doing, and why they are making these changes.
China and other Asian countries are recognizing the problems of global warming and starting to take initiatives, but more examples of strong leadership and benchmarks to show what can be achieved in this field are needed. As a compact, wealthy city that hosts a large number of tourists Macau has a great opportunity to show how the region can become carbon neutral and can effectively “spread the word” of what we achieve. I strongly believe that technological and social pathfinder cities can gain great direct benefits. They can also gain important indirect benefits in terms of reputation and the ability to give advice and assistance to others that later want to follow a similar path.
Currently, we are falling behind many Chinese cities that have partially, or fully, electrified their buses and mandated only electric scooters. China has also established targets and incentives for a large proportion of its private vehicle fleet to become electric. It is also building many nuclear power stations to reduce its overall carbon emissions, albeit creating other potentially severe environmental problems.
If Copenhagen, a city of about 800,000 people spread out over 180km2, can soon become carbon neutral, why can’t Macau? It just takes a bit of vision, and the will to make changes.