Thematic axes Global Challenges

Peter Newman opens the cycle "Facing climate change" promoted by the Catalunya Europa Foundation

Decarbonize cities to fight global warming



Peter Newman, professor at the John Curtin University in Perth, Australiaemphasised at his October 8th conference how climate change is being felt all over the world and that the global system is not working.  The conference opened the Re-City platform's "Facing climate change"  cycle, which between now and May 2019 willhost twelve conferences led  by different international climate change experts. This conference was held in a full auditorium of the Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona, and the cycle is promoted by the Fundació Catalunya Europa in collaboration with BBVA, supported by the Ajuntament de Barcelona, the Àrea Metropolitana de Barcelona and the Department of "Territori i Sostenibilitat" of Generalitat de Catalunya.

The opening of the cycle coincided with the publication of the UN Panel of Experts on Climate Change (IPCC) latest report, which Newman coauthored. The report demonstrates how global warming higher than 1.5°C could have disastrous consequences for the planet, and warns that unprecendented measures must be taken to avoid the "irreversible damage" of climate change.

In spite of the report, the Professor in Sustainability was optimistic and hopeful. Newman argued that Climate change is both local and global, and that we are all experiencing a warming world.  Although the consequences may be different depending on where we live, the truth is that the effects of climate change affect us all. This implies a need for great changes in the current energy system, transport, cities, industry and land use to keep to a maximum average temperature increase  to 1.5 °C. These major changes can be achieved through decoupling - that is, halting our dependence on fossil fuels to maintain economic growth.

According to Newman, cities can play a crucial role - they do not need to wait for national legislation to start acting. In fact, there are many examples of cities at the forefront of initiatives focused on flighting climate change and achieving decarbonisation. One well-known example involves the the use of electric public transport. Other less well-known initiatives include biophile cities, which bring nature closer to their inhabitants  in order to improve quality of life. These represent the need to plan, innovate and take risks to move towards sustainability.

Newman hopes that oil consumption can be reduced. He gave Australia and Denmark as examples of how this is possible, and stressed the need for disruptive innovations that improve cities. Self-driving vehicles for example are innovative, but unless they are shared they do not improve the planet. If they are shared, this is a form of disruptive innovation.

Newman also referred to good practices from countries such as Norway or China, where roadless trains powered by rechargeable batteries are already being tested. They are more stable, less expensive and less polluting than standard trains or conventional transportation. He also showed data on the evolution of economic growth in recent years which demonstrates that it is no longer linked to the use of fossil fuels, implying that growth is not incompatible with the development of the green economy and renewable energy.