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Why cities are part of the climate change problem and solution

21 July 2017
Climate change and urbanisation

Climate change is often seen as a global issue but over the past 20 years it has become a vital urban issue. At a Sydney Ideas event next Wednesday, Professor Harriet Bulkeley will explain why cities are both part of the cause and the solution to climate change. 

Climate change is often seen as a global issue, particularly in light of the US administration announcing its intent to withdraw from the Paris climate accord earlier this year.

But major cities are a key part of both the problem and the solution to climate change, Professor Harriet Bulkeley from Durham University will argue at a University of Sydney event next Wednesday.

Co-presented by the University’s Sydney Environment Institute and School of Architecture, Design and Planning, Professor Bulkeley’s address will explain why our cities are at the frontline of climate change risks.

Cities contribute around 70 percent of the world’s energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.
Professor Harriet Bulkeley

"Cities are hot-spots for carbon-intensive activities such as car travel and electricity use,” Professor Bulkeley said.

“However, they are also at the forefront of climate change risks. Cities concentrate assets that are at risk from sea level rise or increased flooding and storms.”

During her Sydney Ideas talk, Professor Bulkeley will explain that while cities have contributed to the problem, in the past two decades they have also begun to realise they can be part of the solution.

“One of the most remarkable things about the urban dimension of the climate challenge is that cities have come to recognise the problem,” said Professor Bulkeley.

“Cities have been taking a leadership role in providing low carbon and resilient forms of development – often working with businesses and communities to create the capacity to generate renewable energy, developing alternative forms of transport and green infrastructure, establishing community gardens and undertaking efficiency measures.”

Sydney Harbour at night, lights reflected in the water.

Local governments across Australia have been highly active in reducing the carbon footprint of households and business, Professor Robyn Dowling from the University of Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning adds.

“Federal government policy on climate change has been minimal and ever changing,” said Professor Dowling. “However, our research has identified a plethora of initiatives at the local level to encourage residents and businesses to use less energy, adopt renewable energy and retrofit buildings to make them more energy efficient.”

The Treading Lightly program is one example, where four inner west councils collaborated to run sustainability workshops aiming to educate resident to reduce energy use, Professor Dowling explains.

“Policy responses especially need to encourage the use of less carbon-intensive forms of energy and reduce reliance on private cars. In a city like Sydney, ways to mitigate excess heating, such as through green infrastructure, are especially important.”

Event details:

What: Sydney Ideas: Climate change in the city: Examining the effects of climate change on urban environments

  • Speaker: Professor Harriet Bulkeley – Professor of Geography, Durham University.
  • Respondent: Professor Robyn Dowling – Associate Dean of Research at the University of Sydney’s School of Architecture, Design and Planning.
  • Chair: Professor David Schlosberg – Co-Director of the Sydney Environment Institute at the University of Sydney.

When: 6pm – 7:30pm, Wednesday 26 July

Where: Wilkinson Architecture LT 1, City Rd, The University of Sydney, Camperdown, NSW 2006.

Cost: Free with online registration requested

About Sydney Environment Institute:

Sydney Environment Institute is a cross-disciplinary research hub at the University of Sydney, which provides a platform to inform public discourse and decision-making in relation to the impact of climate change on society and the environment.