Mechanism for clean development
By Kim Kwi-gon
Today 50 percent of the global population lives in urban areas, the center of economic activity. Although cities occupy just 2 percent of the earth’s landmass, they are the primary causes of climate change, consuming 69 percent of the world’s total energy, and emitting 70 percent of the planet’s greenhouse gases.
Recently, the New York Times reported that about 1,200 people die due to excessive heat each year. Therefore, cities have been taking various steps to prepare for a possible future with global warming. As such, the old fossil-fuel energy economy is transforming into a renewable energy economy.
For example, the United States Department of Energy has launched a five-year artificial-photosynthesis initiative with a grant of up to $122 million. This initiative aims to develop artificial leaves to produce fuels using sunlight, water and carbon dioxide gas.
In cities in developed countries, for example, Chicago and Toronto, designing climate-neutral buildings that do not use fossil-fuel energy or create greenhouse gases has become common practice, as part of the action plan to combat climate change.
However, the reality of the situation in urban areas in developing countries is different. Investing in urban environmental conservation and climate change countermeasures is a heavy financial burden for developing countries.
With this in mind, the United Nations has adopted the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) which will enable cities in developing countries to carry out sustainable development through receiving foreign investment in eco-friendly technologies.
CDM is one method to reduce greenhouse gases, organized by United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in order to address global warming. It is a mechanism to promote the adoption of low-carbon green technology through cooperation between cities in both developed and developing countries, based on a carbon financing scheme.
However, at present only 0.02 percent of carbon is credited with carbon emission rights by greenhouse gas reduction activities in cities. This is the principal reason why reform of the existing CDM is needed in this stage.
This is where the Urban CDM Initiative comes in. This initiative allows carbon emission based trading, and pollution credit purchase with the U.N. Climate Fund, provided a city’s greenhouse gas emissions are less than the standard permitted amount.
This Urban CDM is anticipated to provide the first carbon financing system designed specifically with cities in mind. Experts expect that under the new system, the new global carbon market could transcend the current total amount of the individual project based markets. It is internationally accepted that the present CDM, which addresses the 15 key areas of concern specified by the UNFCCC, is reaching the limit of its effectiveness in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Furthermore, the newly created global carbon market will bring with it various additional “green growth” benefits, such as the creation of new green jobs.
The Urban CDM development project is run by the Gwangju City government and United Nations Environment Program, and supported by the Korean Ministry of Environment’s eco-innovation project. The World Bank is also involved.
The feasibility study on Urban CDM and its research outcomes will be presented and discussed at the 2011 Gwangju Summit of the Urban Environmental Accords (UEA), where 100 cities from across the globe, along with 20 international organizations, will gather together in Gwangju in October.
On the occasion of the summit, a series of international action plans based on the agreement of Urban CDM by attending cities, will be set out for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as a new methodology in the CDM sector.
At this summit, a message concerning Urban CDM will be composed to send to the 2011 G20 Summit in Cannes, France. Cities in developing countries welcome the Urban CDM as a tool which lightens the financial burden caused by green growth, sustainable urban development, and climate change measures.
It is a pleasing thought to expect that Korea, a leading nation in the green growth sector, can announce "Urban CDM Initiative" at the G20 Summit in Cannes as a part of its efforts and policies toward low-carbon green cities.
Let us not forget it is time to make preparations for the appearance of combined CDM mixed with direct investment, tax, loan contracts, regulations and green governance, along with the development of technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The writer is professor emeritus of environmental planning at Seoul National University. He can be reached at email@example.com.