The struggle for sustainability in everything we do is a struggle being waged primarily by the world’s cities, with the construction industry as a close ally.
A report released recently by the Carbon Disclosure Project outlines the initiatives many cities are taking to curb their emissions of greenhouse gases, and the figures are impressive.
One group of 59 large cities — including Toronto — make up an organization called C40 Cities, which among them have literally hundreds of policies and projects to limit emissions, and many of those involve construction.
They’ve already done a lot by taking such steps as capturing methane from urban landfills, installing more-efficient outdoor lighting and requiring more energy efficiency in the choice of building materials and methods. That’s why the group expects to reduce emissions by 248 million tonnes a year by 2020 — the equivalent of taking 44 million passenger vehicles off the road for a year.
Now they’ve raised the bar. This past spring the group began to focus its initiatives on seven areas: energy, transportation, waste management, sustainable communities, water drainage and infrastructure, finance and economic development, and measurement and planning.
Of those seven areas, the first five involve construction — lots of construction.
The energy sector alone, for example, includes “building retrofits, outdoor lighting and other city infrastructure (including district and distributed energy) and city-owned utilities.”
The C40 is an interesting group. It was formed in 2005 when representatives from 18 megacities got together to find ways they could fight climate change. From that first meeting, under Ken Livingstone, then the mayor of London, the group grew. Former Toronto Mayor David Miller was its chairman for a while, and then passed the leadership to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The problems cities face are immense. As the world population grows, as more people migrate to cities, as worries grow over global food security, it’s the cities that have to come up with solutions to a widening array of problems. They often have help from senior governments, of course, but outdated tax structures can keep cities impoverished, without the means of raising enough money to build light-rail transit projects, for example. That means they have to go, cap in hand, to provincial and federal governments, pleading for financial help.
As our cities grow, and as carbon emissions warm the globe, we need more energy generation, more water treatment, more waste treatment, more infill development, more health care facilities, more, more, more of just about everything.
That’s why it’s nice to have a group like the C40, where members share ideas, report successes and failures, and give flight to their imagination as they try to climb out of the huge environmental hole we’ve dug for ourselves.
The construction industry has a reputation for being conservative, wedded to the old ways, slow to adopt change, and I suppose there’s some truth in that. But in recent years — and especially in the last decade or so — the industry has taken environmental concerns to heart. Some of that concern has come from within; some of it has come from the industry’s customers, the purchasers of construction.
The cement/concrete and steel industries have greatly improved their environmental performance, new building codes have enabled more innovative materials and techniques, and the industry is much cleaner, or “greener” than in our fathers’ day.
So it’s nice to see the industry and our cities in what amounts to a partnership, working toward sustainable environments, especially after the recent Rio+20 Earth Summit, where national governments from something like 130 countries laboured mightily and brought forth …nothing.
So the message is clear. It’s the cities that must carry the load.
By the way, if you want to know more about the C40 Cities group, they’re at www.c40cities.org
Korky Koroluk is an Ottawa-based freelance writer. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org