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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 1 January 6, 2024

The Path to Low-Carbon Cities: The SEED Formula | S N Tripathy

Friday 5 January 2024, by S N Tripathy


As the world undergoes unprecedented urbanization, the relationship between urban areas and carbon emissions has become a central concern in the ongoing climate crisis. Combating pollution necessitates distributing pollution guides and standard operating procedures among diverse governmental departments and agencies. These resources should not merely be accessible but should also seamlessly integrate into the fabric of urban existence.

Crucially, the impact of pollution is disproportionately borne by the marginalized and poor segments of society, who are ironically the least responsible for its genesis. These vulnerable communities suffer the most severe consequences of environmental degradation and bear a disproportionate burden of its associated health hazards. The imperative to extend a helping hand to these marginalized populations is emphasized by the fact that their contribution to pollution is minimal compared to the toll they pay. Therefore, fostering a healthier environment isn’t just an environmental concern but a moral imperative, demanding a commitment to improving the lives of those who endure the heaviest consequences of pollution.

Urbanization, a hallmark of the 21st century, plays a pivotal role in the emission of approximately 70% of carbon dioxide (CO2) from fossil fuel combustion in urban regions. Beyond this immediate impact, the repercussions of urbanization on the global carbon cycle are far-reaching, necessitating a comprehensive understanding and effective mitigation strategies. Projections indicate that by 2050, a staggering seven billion individuals will call cities home, intensifying climate degradation and sustainability concerns. In the year 2020 alone, residents of urban areas collectively discharged a colossal 29 trillion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, posing severe threats to public health and contributing to the escalation of more frequent and intense weather events.

As we approach the year 2050, with the anticipated urban population reaching seven billion, the urgency for addressing climate sustainability reaches unprecedented heights. The cumulative impacts of increased urbanization, combined with the difficulties presented by global warming, lead to higher ozone concentrations, significantly affecting the well-being of individuals with respiratory issues.

A comprehensive sector-coupling approach is essential for building low-carbon cities and resolving and transforming multiple sectors such as energy, buildings, transportation, industry, and urban land use. This approach must focus on supply and demand to achieve the desired results. Promoting clean and cost-effective technologies, transitioning from fossil fuels to renewables, and implementing Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) technologies are vital in the energy sector. Moreover, the construction of buildings and infrastructure should prioritize energy-efficient services and low-emission construction materials and mandate net-zero energy for new construction while retrofitting existing buildings.

Promoting energy conservation and reducing emissions constitute crucial strategies for mitigating the challenges of global warming. An in-depth examination of these efforts, particularly when viewed through network infrastructure construction, offers a significant vantage point for exploring sustainable development. By analyzing energy conservation and emission reduction within the context of network infrastructure, we gain valuable insights into how we can advance environmental goals while concurrently fostering sustainable growth. The core of this transition lies in a sustainable development lifestyle that aligns with the planet’s preservation and optimal resource utilization. Transitioning to low-carbon cities offers myriad benefits, including significantly reducing carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases. It also provides better employment conditions, boosts knowledge intensity in firms, and promotes skill development. Furthermore, it ensures food security, sustainable living, and livelihood options while safeguarding biodiversity and human health.

Despite the evident advantages, transitioning to low-carbon cities is challenging. Developing economies heavily reliant on fossil fuels and with limited access to renewable energy options may be disproportionately affected. The potential for inequity arises in developed countries due to high energy costs and associated economic disparities. Energy justice and social equity issues can have severe implications for the financial well-being of people, livelihoods, and economic development. Concerns also manifest in land evictions for large-scale renewable energy projects, the marginalization of specific communities, and increased gender gaps. Tackling these challenges requires a comprehensive approach that considers the diverse voices of communities and incorporates indigenous and local knowledge and experiences.

Implementing the formula for Social, Economic, and Environmental Development (SEED) faces several hurdles that impede its successful execution. Achieving a harmonious balance between the social, economic, and environmental aspects poses a considerable challenge. Often, policies designed to enhance one dimension may inadvertently hinder progress in another, creating a delicate juggling act for policymakers.

The SEED formula, comprising the Sector-Coupling Approach, Energy-System Transitions, Equity, and Decarbonization, provides a holistic framework for sustainable urbanization. Sector-coupling emphasizes the interconnectedness of various sectors, Energy-System Transitions highlight the shift towards cleaner energy sources, Equity resolves social justice concerns, and Decarbonization focuses on reducing carbon emissions.

Thus, assuming these elements are part of a comprehensive framework for sustainable urbanization, here are general guidelines for implementing such a formula: We need to identify critical sectors in the urban environment such as energy, transportation, water, waste management, etc. Developing strategies to integrate and optimize interactions between these sectors is essential. For example, waste heat from energy generation can be used to heat buildings. It is required to analyze the existing energy systems in the urban area., develop a roadmap for transitioning to more sustainable and renewable energy sources, and implement energy-efficient technologies and practices in buildings, transportation, and other sectors.

The SEED formula demands extensive collaboration among diverse stakeholders, including government bodies, private enterprises, and civil society. It is coordinating these entities with conflicting interests that slow the implementation process. This implies that achieving consensus and alignment among stakeholders may require significant time and effort. Balancing these interests to ensure a harmonized implementation of the SEED formula can be complex and may contribute to delays in the process. Moreover, the effective execution of social welfare, economic growth, and environmental sustainability initiatives, as outlined in the SEED formula, often requires substantial financial resources.

In conclusion, the challenges in implementing the SEED formula underscore the intricate nature of sustainable development. Overcoming these hurdles requires a well-thought-out and comprehensive strategy, meticulous planning, interdisciplinary cooperation, and a nuanced understanding of the diverse factors influencing social, economic, and environmental dynamics.
Effectively mitigating the multifaceted challenges of urbanization is imperative for ensuring a sustainable and healthy future for the rapidly growing urban population. We need to ensure that the benefits of sustainable urbanization are distributed equitably among different social groups, involve the community in the decision-making process to address their needs and concerns and consider social, economic, and environmental justice in the planning and implementation phases.

It’s important to note that successfully implementing such a formula requires collaboration between government bodies, private sectors, communities, and other stakeholders. Through these measures, we can mitigate the consequences of urbanization on the environment, reduce carbon emissions, and ultimately build green cities that provide a higher quality of life for all their inhabitants. It is the only way to ensure that the future will be green and that our planet can thrive for generations.

(Author: Prof. S N Tripathy, Former Professor of Economics, Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, Pune, currently at Berhampur, Odisha)

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