“Environment, Climate and Sustainable Development: The Role of Cities”
RSIS Distinguished Public Lecture by Mr Boris Palmer, Lord Mayor of Tübingen, Germany
The RSIS’ Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies (NTS) and the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Singapore jointly organised a Distinguished Public Lecture Distinguished Public Lecture “Environment, Climate and Sustainable Development: The Role of Cities” by Mr Boris Palmer, Lord Mayor of Tübingen, Germany, on 19 November 2014 at the Intercontinental Singapore. The informative lecture delivered by Mr Boris Palmer addressed climate-change innovations at the community level, highlighting the initiatives carried out during his term as mayor of Tubingen. The following were some of the major themes addressed:
Government and Institutional Support: Government support was identified as a major reason behind the success of climate adaptation strategies in Germany. The active development policy of the German government considers sustainable development to be a key aspect of all potential development projects. Climate change policy in Germany is supported by advancements in science and technology. Mr Palmer maintained that the ‘need of the hour’ was to find innovative solutions and balance multiple needs for present and future generations. He gave the EU 2030 Framework’s 27 percent target for share of renewable energy consumption as an example that Europe is very aware of the challenges approaching in the near future.
Comprehensive approach: The need for transformation in all parts of society to battle climate change was underscored. In Mr Palmer’s opinion, the 5th IPCC Assessment Report’s target of limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celcius above pre-industrial levels is achievable. As an issue of international commitment however, progress would depend on the combined effort of all governments.
Role of communities: Mr Palmer emphasised that the efforts of municipalities and communities do matter and that a democratic decision-making process is crucial to lasting change. He explained that one had to transform the issue in way that could make people wholeheartedly embrace it. Raising awareness about the impacts of making small changes and the money that can be saved by doing so, could be a good first step. In Tubingen, events have been organized by the town council to encourage the use of energy efficient appliances. About 700 people exchanged their old light bulbs with new energy saving lamps for free in one such event.
Further Developments in Tubingen: He shared innovative eco-friendly initiatives taken in Tubingen. These include brown field developments and land re-usage, especially of a former military base. On the public awareness front, an advertising campaign- ‘Tubingen goes Blue’ has been launched to good results. As heating is responsible for 40 percent of the total carbon dioxide emissions in Germany, Mr Palmer argued that it was worthwhile to try and reduce emissions from public buildings. For example, 10 million euros have been allocated for the reconstruction of the town-hall in order to improve insulation, and this is expected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the building by 60 percent. Alongside insulation the reduction in the cost of solar energy in Germany has led to increased competitiveness in the energy market making renewable energy more accessible.
Car-sharing systems are well-institutionalized in Tubingen. In order to encourage usage of bicycles, the combined width of cycling and pedestrian paths has been increased whereas parking spaces for cars have been decreased. Mr Palmer stated that although this may seem like a small change, reallocation of space is often a political decision which can have far-reaching impacts. In the past eight years, there has been an 18 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions in Tubingen. This could partly be attributed to the turn away from cars as the dominant means of transport. About 3/4ths of the population of Tubingen does not use a car as the primary means of transportation.
Asian experience: Mr Palmer discussed the particular vulnerability of Asia to climate change, highlighting the fact that the continent housed half of the world’s urban population and caused the largest share of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide, at 40 percent. He pointed out that the negative effects of climate change were exacerbated by lack of solid infrastructure in many parts of Southeast Asia, particularly the complex and underserviced informal settlements with broken down or barely functioning systems. These settlements constitute a quarter of the populations of cities like Jakarta, Manila and Mumbai.
In his concluding remarks, Mr Palmer highlighted the power of simplicity for making real change. He re-iterated the importance of convincing people by getting them involved as well as setting the right examples through leadership. He encouraged the organization of events to facilitate realistic experience-sharing about sustainable living and development among cities across the world. This can serve to provide new insights and lead to thoughtful conversations on replicating one city’s success to another given different societal contexts.