Sylvanus S.P. Doe

Sylvanus S.P. Doe

Sylvanus S. P. Doe is a Sustainability Specialist with interest in SD; greenness, urbanism; food systems; climate & human-environment security; savannas; reducing poverty; and sustainability issues. This website hosts his online engagements. Contact: doesylvan(at) or cel.201xi(at); twitter: @doesylvan

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Decarbonisation and sustainability: why the need to re-examine social tipping elements?

Who would not like to live a decarbonised life? Decarbonisation has increasingly become a sustainability issue because of the growing evidence that climate change presents risk for the future of socio-ecological resilience, livelihoods, economic growth and global sustainability. The green wealth of many nations are in climate-induced vulnerability state . Cities and industries consume the biggest proportion of energy and, in the end, emit the highest level of pollutants into the air, which needs decarbonisation.  Accordingly, climate change remains at the core of global deliberations convened by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and as recently happened at Marrakech COP22 in Morocco.  Its impact is studied scientifically (Bates et. al., 2008[1]; Mouratiadou et. al., 2016[2]; 2007; Hallegatte et. al., 2011[3]) and is being practically experienced across socio-cultural boundaries, lives and needs, including food, energy and water. With regards to energy, the International Energy Agency (IEA) is explicit on the position that ‘climate change affects all components of the energy value chain: primary production; transformation; transportation, transmission, storage, and distribution; and energy demand’ (IEA, 2016[4]). Nonetheless, climate change itself is controlled by several parameters resulting in tipping points at which human-ecological relationship is either strengthened or collapsed.


Figure 1: Policy-relevant tipping elements in the climate system       Source: Lenton et. al., 2008     This Figure is adapted with permission from PNAS, National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A.

Beyond the climate-related parameters such as West African monsoon, Greenland ice sheet, and El Niño phenomenon that represent some of the prominent environmental tipping elements (O’Riordan and Lenton, 2014[5]; Lenton et al., 2008[6],[7]; Kopp et al., 2016[8]; Lenton and Schellnhuber, 2007[9]; see Figure 1) of the earth’s climate system (Fortey, 2005[10]; Stockholm Memorandum, 2011[11]), in this text-post, knowledge and human value is considered as a major ‘social tipping element’ that can significantly tip multi-changes to enable society to shift from dependency on fossil-fuel in driving economic growth to an economy that is cleaner, greener and sustainably decarbonised by 2050 and thereafter. The underlying reasons why knowledge and human value is so crucial is that: (i) it spans all disciplines, cultures, societies and generations not peculiar to only global South; (ii) it is only humans who can (re)think and formulate innovative solutions to reverse climate change; (iii) unlike other environmental tipping elements, knowledge and human value is multi-dimensional in nature. Thus, it interlinks both social and non-social tipping elements to determine cycles, regimes, and events, which cause or influence feedbacks of climate change; and, more importantly, (iv) human cooperation – it flows through climate change leadership and governance, and is at the core of co-creating partnerships and mutual networks to plan, implement and evaluate climate interventions necessary to ensure deeper decarbonisation of economies locally and globally. Though social tipping elements are vital in matters of climate change, they have not been extensively discussed in policy, media and practice as compared to environmental tipping elements shown in Figure 1. Academic inquiry into them is ‘still in an early phase’ (Kopp et. al., 2016). As a result, many of the social tipping elements are not known or documented formally. It is important to know that knowledge and human value, as I briefly explore in this text, is not merely about “reasoning” but it relates to and includes knowledge production through basic or advanced scientific research and (in)formal interactions such as peer dialogues and negotiations.

In the global South, there are several social tipping elements – localised and unlocalised – such as technology, electoral/political fears, cultural norms or finance (poverty) that can potentially tip and untip socio-economic and ecosystems to deepen decarbonisation or aggravate the problem of CO2 emissions.  It is realised that knowledge and human values surrounding climate change get broken or interrupted along personal interests, institutional mandates, ideologies, cultures, politics, unions, elites and the poor, and more importantly, scientific and non-scientific cohorts. So, from the very beginning when an idea is conceived of how a social tipping element could be resolved or promoted; from inventing a cleaner technology to getting it accepted or motivating society to desist from using fossil fuel, are all influenced by our knowledge levels.

At the positive side of ‘tipping the scales’ based on the concept of sustainable development (i.e. fixing social, economic and environmental dimensions of climate change), knowledge and human values that facilitate decarbonisation of an economy faster are trust, fairness, equality and openness. These values further fuel effectiveness of institutional service, individual lifestyle, consumerism and industrial production. The bottom-line is that the knowledge of sustainability must be learned, fully accepted and practised as a new social norm or human value in mobilising actors, setting up of procedures and ethical guidelines concerning environmental governance and climate change interventions aimed at promoting decarbonisation. On the contrary, as soon as climate-informed knowledge collapses at a given tipping point[12], then misconception of climate change issues tend to fertilise conflict, greed, power struggle and bribery among actors. 

In this way, knowledge can become a complex hindrance to finding sustainable solutions to tackle climate change through adaptive measures and best practices (Otto-Banaszak et al., 2011[13]) such as greening degraded landscapes, sustaining cleaner technologies or removing mercury from mining industries.

Closely connected to the above is the challenge of appropriate integration of indigenous and scientific knowledge models during the formulation or practising of policies and programmes to eliminate barriers to smooth decarbonisation, especially at the grassroots where fuelwood consumption weakens ecosystem resilience. Taking urbanised coastal settlements as an example, the marginal intersection of knowledge of the sea and bioterrestrial earth system clearly ascertain why knowledge formation is essential in helping to understand, engage and coordinate actors based on participatory approaches to speed how an economy can be sustainably decarbonised. Coordination is a science of linking goals, conflicting views, attitudes, assumptions and expectations of the financial donors, companies, citizens, governments and civil societies within a broader extent in which scientific knowledge can tip multi-changes among actors to embrace common principles and ethics to impact on successful decarbonisation – doing away with fossil fuel in a sustainable manner. As Otto-Banaszak et al. (2011:227) assert, ‘coordination and cooperation is hard to achieve if the involved actors perceive each other as ignorant and are not open’. Is this an observation to ignore regarding an agenda, for instance agenda 2030 or Paris Climate Agreement, that aims to involve people in adaptation to or mitigation of climate change? Certainly, not! The interpretation may vary.  But, in my view, it is a genuine call to rethink and give greater attention to human values in dealing with climate change; in this case, decarbonisation matters in cities or rural settings. It takes a careful application of scientific knowledge to identify, adjust and sort out salient indicators to set all-inclusive priorities in nurturing effective coordination before climate change interventions can push CO2 level towards a zero or neutral pole.

Looking at a gamut of challenges posed by anthropogenic and biophysical forces, achieving a complete decarbonisation by 2050 appears impossible and a mission not to begin with. Fossil fuel drilling and coal mining are continuing and putting human-environmental systems in fragile conditions. Sachs (2014[14]) similarly notices that ‘the world continues to explore, develop, extract and burn fossil fuels at a rate that is increasing rapidly: enough to raise temperatures not just by 2 degrees, but by 4 degrees C or more by 2100.’ At a point, finding alternative energy (like renewable energy) to replace fossil fuel or lessen the emission of CO2 was not just a dream but a hopeless situation. A report by UN Department of Economics and Social Affairs (UN-DESA) on Our Common Future describes this best. It states that ‘the goal of establishing a renewable low-carbon energy technology system on a global scale remains elusive, with modern renewables jointly accounting for 0.7 per cent of primary energy, compared to fossil fuels’ share of 81 per cent in 2008’ (UN-DESA, 2012[16]). This was in the first decade of the 21st century. Do all evidences support the reality in the second decade of the current century? (see Figure 2). Has knowledge and human value not tipped energy consumption, technological innovation and its utilisation to variably alter CO2 emission patterns?

Figure 2: Net additions to power capacity (GW), 2015  Source: IEA, 2016b and IEA, 2016c cited in IEA, 2016

Sweden represents an excellent leading example of decarbonising an economy at a national scale from which countries in both global South and North can draw inspirations in their formation of knowledge-related solutions to transit to fossil-fuel-free economy. In ‘2003, 26% of all the energy consumed [in Sweden] came from renewable sources – the EU average is 6%. Only 32% of the energy came from oil – down from 77% in 1970[17]’. Is this the only hopeful case? The ‘winds of transformation’ in terms of decarbonisation has emerged through ‘concrete’ Intended Nationally Determined Contributions in countries like China, Brazil, India and Germany (Rockström and Schellnhuber (2015[18]). According to these authors, China is peaking of coal-based power production before 2020’, India is increasing ‘renewable energy systems capacity’, Brazil has pledged to ‘practically exterminate forest destruction’ and Germany has pulled ‘its full decarbonisation weight for enabling the EU as a whole to honor their bloc promises on emissions reductions’. The injection of $66m into SA Green Fund by the Development Bank of South Africa plus other governmental initiatives is, undoubtedly, the contribution of the country to ‘global decarbonisation’. What is the lesson here? The optimistic perspective is that, throughout history, development challenges, including climate change, never deter humans from applying innovative knowledge to improve human lives and to safeguard the earth’s system resources. Chakrabarty (2009:216[19]) contextually recounts historical climate actions of how ‘human civilization surely did not begin on condition that, one day in history, man would have to shift from wood to coal and from coal to petroleum and gas’. In this sustainability era, are we not utilising solar and wind energy? Is shifting to a decarbonised economy not happening?


Figure 3: Actual power emissions compared with our indicator trajectory (2030),   Source: UK Committee on Climate Change. This figure is adapted with permission.

Designing climate change interventions, which can speed decarbonisation or get it gradually materialised, is an area where knowledge and human value is pressingly needed than ever. Society must see decarbonisation as a resilient-building strategy that must occur overtime rather than ‘rapidly’. It must be approached on the basis of scientific principles and human values to ensure the solutions are acceptable and sustainable, and the good intention to achieve decarbonised economic conditions does not trigger catastrophic environmental consequences the global humanity is ill-prepared for. This is why within transitional climate policies, technological change processes, and financial schemes for decarbonising an economy; knowledge production and its efficient utilisation at all segments of social leadership and institutional governance is imperative. Think about conserving mangrove ecosystems in densely populated coastal settlements around which heat waves, urbanisation and livelihood interactions are intense. Knowledge formation and re-balancing of strategies, tools and norms in and around the coastal communities is an assuring way of building low-cost resilient capacity. For more bigger economic environments, a society’s ability and willingness to switch from an engine powered by fossil fuel to a solar driven engine requires knowledge and human value that recognises cleaner production as a mean of enhancing energy efficiency to cut down CO2 emissions domestically and industrially.

I must emphasise that our knowledge pertaining to climate change tend to improve decision-making effectiveness among actors and, as such, should not be underrated in the extent to which decarbonisation can be realised as part of the Paris Climate Agreement (currently ratified by 115 paties), goal #13 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the United Nations Framework on Climate Change. How scientific knowledge informs the framing of governmental or intergovernmental climate actions and technological innovations aimed at reducing CO2 will determine if the solution packs are not resisted or rejected by societies and multi-level business communities.

From all indications, ‘technology’ is good but technological knowledge is equally central if ‘radical technological changes’ (IPCC, 2007[20]) can overwhelmingly lead to overturning or replacing fossil fuel with renewable energy, in other words, getting to zero decarbonisation by 2050. This explains why financing technology embedded with the vision of resolving technology-related problems is a useful investment and necessary. But, the awareness is that technology is not a singular formula to neutralising or keeping CO2 at zero all the times. In the context of sustainability science, technological knowledge and human value matters in interconnecting and re-balancing of other tipping elements to make a decarbonised economy becomes sustainable. From this premise, I am not forced to take side with the UN-DESA (2012) in asking the question: ‘Can sustainability be achieved without touching on values? Are current values at the society, community and individual levels compatible with sustainable societies?  This notwithstanding the relevance of technology in dealing with complex environmental issues in terrains such as the arctic region is not argued. And, applying innovative technology to enhance efficiency of energy consumption and socio-ecological transformation tend to raise the confidence of pushing the degree of CO2 in the atmosphere to zero very high whether in the eco-belts of amazons, savannas or deserts.

IPCC (2007) shows that the ‘highest rates of decarbonisation’ of about 2.5% are associated with energy technologies ‘that include a complete transition in the energy system away from carbon-intensive fossil fuels’. In the United Kingdom, the Committee on Climate Change also finds that between ‘2009 and 2014 power sector emissions declined on average by 4% per annum, with a record 18% fall during 2014’ (see Figure 3). The degree to which technology-driven knowledge can tip human-energy complexities to decarbonise an economy is clear. Even as the relevance of technology is evidently illustrated, the influence of knowledge and human values on efficient energy utility is inseparable from the overall decarbonised statistical picture.  What should be a concern now and in the future is to avert severe cost from occurring at critical tipping points, which may emerge due to the absence of innovative technologies. Thus, financially investing in technological solutions alongside knowledge production to meet the requirements of the poorest of the poor to be able to tackle the impact of climate heat on livelihoods and economic activities is recommended.  For Sachs (2014), key ‘technologies in need of a large-scale, global, targeted, coordinated boost of investment include storage of intermittent wind and solar power; CCS; electrification of low-carbon vehicles; low-carbon heating, cooling and ventilation of residential and commercial buildings; fourth-generation nuclear energy; advanced biofuels for aviation and freight; and the electrification of process heating in various industrial sectors.’ I concurred with this proposition because technology is really needed if the carbon challenge confronting the global economy – floods, hunger and energy deficits – is to be solved. Scaling up climate interventions from a pilot stage to reach large audience is dependent on utilising technology supported with human values to communicate, monitor and run early warning systems (Bentley et. al., 2014[21]) rather than using fossil-fuel dependent transportation system to exchange information. About ‘one third of the global CO2 emissions’ emanates from industries. With this, I can confidently mention UNIDO’s Inclusive and Sustainable Industrial Development (ISID) approach that encourages cleaner technologies and ‘building green industries’, and is contributing to the lowering of CO2 and ‘other polluting emissions’.

In the global South, it is not just a ‘technology’ that is needed but a technology, which is affordable, accessible and very friendly to a large population of people who works in a huge informal economy and derives over 90% of livelihoods and material resources from the natural ecosystems inextricably driven by climate change. What it means is that leveraging technological solutions should go along with nurturing knowledge and human values if decarbonisation at macro and micro-situations of industries, households and individuals is to happen. Indeed, a number of interventions would have to be implemented in order to achieve a decarbonised economy and sustain it. To this end, I can emphatically say that nothing can be more vital than human cooperation when it comes to decarbonisation, which requires knowledgeable actions. And, it goes to support the uttermost rationale why social tipping elements of the earth system must be a focus in future climate policy considerations and research if CO2 is to be sustainably zeroed.

[1] Bates, B.; Kundzewicz, Z.W.; Wu, S. and Palutikof, J.P. (eds.) 2008. Climate change and water. Technical Paper of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC Secretariat, Geneva, 210 pp. [Accessed on 02.12.2016].
[2] Mouratiadou, I.; Biewald, A.; Pehl, M.; Bonsch, M.; Baumstark, L.; Klein, D.; Popp, A.; Luderer, G.; Kriegler, E., 2016. The impact of climate change mitigation on water demand for energy and food: An integrated analysis based on the shared socioeconomic pathways. Environmental Science and Policy 64:48-58.
[3] Hallegatte, S.; Ranger, N.; Mestre, O.; ·Dumas, P.; ·Corfee-Morlot, J.; Herweijer, C.; Wood, R.M., 2011. Assessing climate change impacts, sea level rise and storm surge risk in port cities: a case study on Copenhagen. Climatic Change 104:113–137. DOI 10.1007/s10584-010-9978-3.
[4] IEA, 2016. Energy, climate change environment: 2016 Insights. OECD/IEA, France. [Accessed on 17.11.2016].
[5] O’Riordan, T. and Lenton, T., 2014. Addressing tipping points for a precarious future. DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197265536.001.0001.
[6] For these authors, tipping element describes ‘subsystems of the Earth system that are at least subcontinental in scale and can be switched—under certain circumstances— into a qualitatively different state by small perturbations. The tipping point is the corresponding critical point—in forcing and a feature of the system—at which the future state of the system is qualitatively altered.’
[7] Lenton, T. M.; Held, H.; Kriegler, E.; Hall, W.J.; Lucht, W.; Rahmstorf, S. and Schellnhuber, J.H., 2008. Tipping elements in the Earth’s climate system.  PNAS 105 ( 6) 1786–1793.
[8] Kopp, R. E.; Shwom, R.; Wagner, G. and Yuan, J., 2016. Tipping elements and climate–economic shocks: pathways toward integrated assessment. Earth’s Future 4, 346–372, doi:10.1002/2016EF000362.
[9] Lenton, T. M. and Schellnhuber, J.H., 2007. Tipping the scales. Commentary. Nature reports, climate change (1) 97-98. doi:10.1038/climate.2007.65.
[10] Fortey, R., 2005. The earth: an ultimate history. HarperPerennial: London.
[11] Stockholm Memorandum, 2011. Tipping the scales towards sustainability. 3rd Nobel Laureate Symposium on ‘global sustainability: transforming the world in an era of global change’. Sweden, 16-19 May 2011.
[12]A ‘tipping point is a critical threshold at which the future state of a system can be qualitatively altered by a small change in forcing’ (Lenton et al. 2008 cited in O’Riordan and Lenton, 2014).
[13] Otto-Banaszak, I.; Matczak, P.; Wesseler, J. and Wechsung, F., 2011. Different perceptions of adaptation to climate change: a mental model approach applied to the evidence from expert interviews. Regional Environment Change (11) 217–228.  DOI 10.1007/s10113-010-0144-2.
[14] Sachs, J.D., 2014.  How to decarbonise the global economy [Accessed on 15.11.2016].
[16] UN-DESA, 2012. Back to our common future. Sustainable development in the 21st century (SD21) project, Summary for policymakers. New York.
[17] Vidal, J., 2006. Sweden plans to be world’s first oil-free economy. The Guardian, February 8, 2006. [Accessed on 16.11.2016].
[18] Rockström, J. and Schellnhuber, H. J., 2015. Paris, Potlatch and Pareto: what would render COP21 a success? [Accessed on 16.11.2016].
[19] Chakrabarty, D., 2009.The climate of history: four theses. Critical Inquiry 35: 197-222.
[20] IPCC, 2007. Carbon-free energy and decarbonisation. Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007. [Accessed on 16.11.2016].
[21] Bentley, A.E.; Maddison, J.E.; Ranner, H.P.; Bissell, J.; Caiado, C.S.C.; Bhatanacharoen, P.; Clark, T.; Botha, M.; Akinbami, F.; Hollow, M.; Michie, R.; Huntley, B.; Curtis, E.S. and Garnett, P., 2014. Social tipping points and earth systems dynamics. Frontiers in Environmental Science 10 (2) Article35 doi: 10.3389/fenvs.2014.00035.

Industry in sacks: global value of greening urban landscapes in a changing climate


Climate change threatens resilience and sustainability of urban development-environmental gains in the longer run. Even presently, millions of people are sternly feeling the risks of climate change like floods, hunger, energy deficits and heat waves in ‘urban areas of both developed and developing countries’[1]. For Toronto Urban Growers, they ‘see the impacts of climate change every day’. The connectedness of urban living, ecology and climate change arguably theorises ‘urban sustainability’ as the ‘most critical environmental issue facing mankind.’[2]  Associated to this is a complexity that consequentially resurfaces when the number of people living in cities keeps increasing and putting pressure on urban ecology. UN dataset projects that 66 per cent of the world population will live in urban areas by 2050. More urban residents will mean struggle to meet their competing needs, which will probably lead to complex city forms not different from what is depicted in a masterpiece on Making sense of cities[3].sd9

Universally, the interactions of climate change with the phenomenon of (peri-)urbanisation have complicated concerns for where urban authorities can construct landfills, water treatment plants, school parks, football stadiums, toilets and markets. In the process of providing these public services, the open green spaces are unjustifiably squeezed. Urban lands under agriculture is often underestimated and converted to different courses. The image of urban agriculture is outrageously likened to an industry in sacks, signifying it has no value. Even with this persistent misconception, the activity is enduring and rapidly proliferating in North America, Europe and global South[4]. From Japan, it is found out that ‘85% of Tokyo residents would like their city to have farmland in order to secure access to fresh foods and green space.’ This text re-examines global significance of caring for green urban assets, including producing food sustainably. Why shifting to a new regime of sustainability leadership that recognises that greening urban landscapes will enable cities, and people who live in them, to adapt or mitigate climate change shocks is re-stimulated.

Geotrends and meanings
In cities of Canberra, Shanghai, Singapore or Bogota, the varying effects of climate change on residents and the sustainability of green resources as well as the critical need to reverse the trend through cleaner, greener and sustainable initiatives is not disputed. I happened to visit Budapest, in July of this year amidst other colleagues, where I witnessed how urban natural resources could be expertly reordered to connect people to nature. Urban ecological modernisation is done beautifully. What could I say about the innovative micro-gardens in Dakar city? What about the neatly layout of greenspots in London’s Russell Square and the blossoming biodiversity assets in distant locations such as the Englefield Green? In Ghana’s capital city enclaves, the greenest index score could be found in Dodowa where phytospecies and other countryside assets are better protected and are in natural forms.

At this point, the emphasis is that urban agriculture is not simply the cultivated food crops we see or the uncared for livestock running along railways. The activity has evolved tremendously across geographical spheres, disciplines and cultures. It can be carried out to promote resource use efficiency and productivity; and strategically schemed to combat climate change. Thus, urban agriculture broadly includes hydroponics, permaculture, aquaculture, forestry, rooftop gardening, and mini-stories of several organotivars. The Berkeley Lab excellently elaborates what is meant by ‘precision urban agriculture’.

The undiscovered industry
Innovative practice of urban agriculture fits advancement of the concept of green economy, which is at the ‘forefront of the international sustainable development agenda’. Yet, its value is not something everyone accepts.

The value chain of manufacturing inputs to support output maximisation from urban agricultural activities is in excess of €78.8 billion in cities of global South annually. With rising attempt to introduce solar-driven irrigation technologies to green plots in cities, the potential is certainly higher than I predicted. This is an industry that encompasses selling of pot flowers, ICT messaging to deliver nutrition and extension news to reach growers and consumers, trading and packaging of fruits, creating green jobs, manufacturing of handy cleaner tools, bioinsecticides, organic fertilizers, and light machinery as well as providing expert industrial consultancies so that urban agricultural activities are practised on the basis of greener and sustainable principles, regulations and technical guidelines.

It recycles by-products from biodegradable origin to cultivate and produce pot plants for landscape improvements and, in some instances, feed for livestock or food for human consumption.

In Harare, Hanoi, Havana and Honolulu, thousands of residents are actively working soils to derive multifunctional benefits, including cooling of microclimatic conditions. Havana, in particular, has enviable record in hydroponics and about 90,000 residents are involved in agricultural-related activities. The residents of Windhoek, Lusaka and Cape Town are gaining from agricultural land uses within their cities. In Windhoek, the UN-FAO and local government agencies partnered with private sector institutions, including UPH Consultancy, to encourage residents to translate the science of horticulture into enhancing environments and food production. UPH adopts vermicompost production and application, which greatly contributes to eco-prosperity and limits the rate of evapotranspiration thereby reducing global warming at a micro scale.

Greening to purge climate risks
In Ghana, not less than 60% of local poultry is commercially reared outside of city fringes like Accra. With regards to vegetables, almost 90% of cabbage, lettuce, carrot, and leafy onions consume every day are cultivated within city catchments. These small-scale plots of green biospecies absorb essential proportion of CO2 to perform photosynthetic processes. Also, the vegetable plots are commonly sited along roads or near to markets. Because of the close proximity, there is no need to burn fossil fuel to transport harvested produce to markets. Emitting GHGs is avoided. Similarly, refrigeration is minimised since the fresh produce is sold out at the market immediately without storing in refrigerators. The situation where ‘chlorofluorocarbon (CFC)’[5] can arise from refrigeration to damage ozone layer is zero or negligible in regards to urban agriculture.

Scientific advances
Greening urban agricultural value chain provides climate solutions. Advances in scientific research prove this. The extent it does remain mystery to many, though. As I indicated above, it is evidently documented that urban agriculture ‘taps into a significant part of the photosynthetic resources of the city; thus the green agenda is advanced through the brown agenda of the city synergistically’ (Murphy 1999 cited in UN-Habitat, 2009:121). A more recent research result released by scientists based at the University of California reaffirms that urban agriculture, including the practice of gardening is important in aiding the reduction of GHGs. An aspect of the result, which was shared by ScienceDaily and the Food Climate Research Network based at the University of Oxford is summarised as: ‘In the baseline vegetable garden scenario, the gardens were calculated to be able to contribute 0.5 percent of the city of Santa Barbara’s 2050 greenhouse gas reduction target, 3.3 percent of the 2020 target for unincorporated Santa Barbara County and 7.8 percent of the state of California’s 2020 target.[6] Cautiously analysing and drawing insight from this result goes to strongly substantiate the notion that urban agriculture has ‘high potential for improving the urban environment and urban adaptation to climate change’.

Resource efficiency and eco-friendly
The evidence is clear that greening urban lands could lessen climate change risks and boost resource efficiency. Combining the maintenance of wetlands, community gardens and aquaculture with wastewater treatment and its reuse could increase efficient use of urban natural resources for multi-purposes as it is the case in Calcutta, Beijing, Pretoria[7] and Kampala. In Lethbridge city, the adoption of ‘crop management and biodiversity for weed and insect control’ helped to decouple environmental pollution from production system.

Co-engaging all heads and hands
The sustainable formation of cities, including greening of landscapes, to deal with unpredictably surging hazards of climate change will require co-engagements to be successful. Why? Urban sustainability is a multifaceted task. As a result, consulting others and leaving out scientists is not a genuine urban development approach and will not work well as explicitly encapsulated in ‘Scientists must have a say in the future of cities’[8]. Harnessing development-environmental values offered by urban agriculture to resolve crisis of GHGs demand that actors are involved in urban policy formulation and implementation from local to global level along the vision of achieving smart-climate cities. This means, as has been said over and over, that urban agriculture should be integrated into ‘city-level climate change strategies’ – an integration that does not divide or exclude people.

Division among actors becomes the root cause of why even a well-planned and adequately financed intervention can go into disarray to instead invite detrimental impacts of climate change. The gathering of global audience for the 2016 UN-Habitat III event, which has perhaps ended a dozens of hours ago, in Quito to renew and reset New Urban Agenda is a fine moment to soberly reflect and come out with clear path and plan of how greening cities can be responsibly financed. We are also in another exciting season to see the Paris Agreement on Climate Change (PACC) ratified by 83 countries globally as at October 5, 2016. Sustainability leadership is required to enable the PACC and goal #11 of agenda 2030 recognise green urban agriculture, in addition to other global strategies, in building resilient and sustainable cities. Whatever approach is applied; if you are urban grower, you are indeed a climate change champion as the Toronto Urban Growers would say. And, for National Geographic, you are ‘growing a green future’. In my own view, you are a planet sustainer and not involved in an industry that is in ‘sacks’ but abundantly blessed for green success in future.

[1] UN-Habitat, 2009. Planning sustainable cities: global report on human settlements 2009. UN Human Settlements Programme. Earthscan: London.
[2] McDonald, G. and Patterson, M.G., 2007. Bridging the divide in urban sustainability: from human exemptionalism to new ecological paradigm. Urban Ecosystems 10 (2) 169-190.
[3] Badcock, B. 2002. Making sense of cities. A geographical survey. Cambridge University Press: London.
[4] Lynch, K. 2002. Urban agriculture. In: Desai, V. and Potter, R. B. (eds.) The companion to development studies. Arnold Publishers: London.
[5] Lorenzo, G.C. 2016. Integrated solutions: the case of refrigeration. A paper presented at UNIDO/CEU Green Industry Course, held July 11-22, 2016. Budapest, Hungary.
[6] Cleveland, D. A., Phares, N.; Nightingale, D. K.; Weatherby, L. R.; Radis, W.; Ballard, J.; Campagna, M.; Kurtz, D.; Livingston, K.; Riechers, G. and Wilkins, K., 2017. The potential for urban household vegetable gardens to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Landscape and Urban Planning 157: 365-374.
[7] Dubbeling, M. and de Zeeuw, H. 2011. Urban agriculture and climate change adaptation: ensuring food security through adaptation. RUAF Foundation, Netherlands.
[8] McPhearson, T.; Parnell, S.; Simon, D.; Gaffney, O.; Elmqvist, T.; Bai, X.; Roberts, D. and Revi, A., 2016. Scientists must have a say in the future of cities. Nature 538:165-165.


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