ISGlobal lleva la salud a la agenda de transporte de la COP26

ISGlobal Brings Health to The Transport Agenda of COP26

25.11.2021
cop26 post.jpg

[This text has been written by Alberto Rocamora, Advocacy Advisor at ISGlobal, and Meelan Thondo, Postdoctoral Fellow at ISGlobal]

 

“My research over the last 20 years has really converted me to the view that our cities are more important for our health than our hospitals. And what is good for human health is good for planetary health.”

John Wright (Bradford Institute for Health Research, Bradford Royal Infirmary). COP26, November 2021

 

The UN Climate Change Conference COP26, held in Glasgow in November 2021, brought together world leaders to commit to urgent global climate action. In response to the topics of transport, cities and the built environment, the Urban Planning, Environment and Health Initiative at ISGlobal led a side-event at the COP26 Health Pavilion. The session was entitled ‘How we can make cities both healthier and carbon-neutral: Urban and transport planning pathways to carbon-neutral, liveable and healthy cities’ . It addressed the implications and co-benefits streamlining health, climate action and urban transport planning to support decarbonization and health in cities.

The panel consisted of leading experts from different fields connected to transport, urban planning, urban policy, food and environmental health but with a common interest in addressing health and climate action from the perspective of urban planning. The panel was moderated by John Wright (Bradford Institute for Health Research, Bradford Royal Infirmary), and served for valuable inputs and views from Mark Nieuwenhuijsen (ISGlobal), Christian Brand (Oxford University), Gara Villalba (Autonoma University of Barcelona), Audrey de Nazelle (Imperial College London), María José Rojo (POLIS Network), and Matthew Baldwin (European Commission, DG MOVE).

The UN Climate Change Conference COP26, held in Glasgow in November 2021, brought together world leaders to commit to urgent global climate action. In response to the topics of transport, cities, and the built environment, ISGlobal led a side-event at the Health Pavilion

Cities, Health and Transport

Cities provide many opportunities for economic growth and social advancement, but they also have negative impacts on health. Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, Director of the Urban Planning, Environment and Health Initiative at ISGlobal, explained how cities, characterized by density, are “hotspots of air pollution, and air pollution causes around 400,000 deaths per year”. In Europe, ISGlobal recently did a study that concluded that the major 1,000 cities could avoid 166,000 premature deaths every year if they met the World Health Organization (WHO) Air Quality Guidelines.

City life also increases exposure to noise and heat and can be places where people have less access to green spaces and have less opportunities to practice physical activity. Exposure to all the previous can lead to increased premature mortality, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease but also asthma and decreased brain function. While cities barely cover 4% of the earth’s surface, they consume 70% of global final energy use and CO2 emissions transport are increasing rapidly.

Christian Bland argued that it is important to think about lifecycles of different transport modes in terms of carbon footprint. If one compares, for example, acoustic cycling to electric bike, electric car and normal fossil fuel or internal combustion engine car, then cycling is about 30 times lower for each trip than driving a fossil fuel car and about 10 times lower than driving electric one”. Therefore, the ratio from bike, electric bike, electric car, and fossil fuel car, is about one to three to 10 to 30. Therefore, biking and electric biking produce a lot less carbon footprint per mile traveled.

While cities barely cover 4% of the earth’s surface, they consume 70% of global final energy use and CO2 emissions transport are increasing rapidly

It is important to underline that daily, most people are multimodal, i.e. people use different modes of transport over the course of the day. In a major study on European cities, that if one person uses a bike at least once a day, she or he will have a much lower carbon footprint of all travel over a course of the day.

On the political willingness, Audrey de Nazelle discussed how competing interests and short election cycles are delaying structural changes and how private investments prioritise business-as-usual solutions, such as public charging stations for private vehicles, or investments in new roads and car lanes. In order to fuel change, it is important to recognize that “public policies are intrinsically related to public engagement” and act therefore on increasing engagement. María José Rojo added on stating that “ our mobility systems are not sustainable, and that's what we are seeing that once the restrictions were lifted, we have again high number of the private vehicle ridership, we really need to change to a systemic change in our mobility systems”.

ISGlobal side-event at the COP26. Video of the conference.

 

On the related topic of urban nutrition, Gara Villalba raised the issue of gaining food sovereignty through urban agriculture. This also presents opportunities to increase green spaces (such as green roofs), resilience (by using climate sensitive irrigation methods) and establish self-sufficiency (food production using nutrients collected in and from cities). The limited space available in cities and the dynamics between urban and suburban areas is important to consider when designing the cities of the future. In the city of Barcelona, for example, the new urban master plan is hoping to implement 720 kilometers of green corridors. And so these are going to be replacing lanes of traffic roads, in many ways, and it's a way to make the city more cohesive and have and promote this active mobility of people while benefiting from green spaces.

The limited space available in cities and the dynamics between urban and suburban areas is important to consider when designing the cities of the future

Policy Implications and Way Forward

The session made a strong call to policy makers for bold actions towards new land uses, innovative city planning, solution-driven designs that are safe, equitable and compact. “We can try to promote walking cycling in show all the benefits of our personal health to walk in bike, for example, to protect public transportation. But as long as we don't have safe places to walk, cycle and take public transportation , of course, people are just not going do it, because it will feel unsafe”, said Audrey de Nazelle. There are many nuances to consider with competing interests and challenges but there are many ways to highlight those technological solutions like electrification cannot be the only way forward but, instead, we really need to make changes in how cities are designed, providing more space for walking, cycling, resting and harvesting.

As a response to the policy and practice concerns, Matthew Baldwin brought forth ‘The 100 Climate Neutral Cities’ as a very practical way forward. He supports that the “European Green Deal will not come to life spontaneously on its own, it's got to be implemented”. Implementing carbon pricing policies is essential to drive the opposition to climate change within the EU. A call for expression of interest to the cities of the European Union will be released at the end of November, urging cities of more than 50,000 people to come forward to reach climate targets. The 100 Climate Neutral cities Project will essentially bring all to life all the evidence demonstrating that climate, equity and health can be interconnected by focusing on local collaboration, strong policies, and clear intention to invest in co-benefits of health. The project represents a unique opportunity for showcasing success stories but will also have to consider including cities with different socioeconomic structure and land distribution if we want those cities to be a game changer.

The session made a strong call to policy makers for bold actions towards new land uses, innovative city planning, solution-driven designs that are safe, equitable and compact

Conclusion

The take-away messages of the event included the need for carbon-free cities which are reactive to behavioral, social, infrastructural and policy changes. Climate-sensitive transport and urban planning will largely benefit from integrating citizens in decision-making, creating alliances, breaking silos, and increasing public awareness on the need of healthy lifestyles for people and planet, but it will also need to overcome strong resistances and mismatch between scientific evidence and political action.

Points of discussion focused on the importance of green space, open public spaces, and transport infrastructure that promote active travel and physical activity. There is solid consensus on the how electrification is overestimated in the discussions around transport in the COP26 and elsewhere –electrifying vehicles alone will not improve health nor decarbonize sufficiently for impact and sustainability.

There is solid consensus on the how electrification is overestimated in the discussions around transport in the COP26 and elsewhere –electrifying vehicles alone will not improve health nor decarbonize sufficiently for impact and sustainability

Behavior change at individual and community level is crucial while knowledge exchange at city level provides invaluable opportunities for urban solutions and climate action.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how cities can change but also how behaviors change within cities. This potential for change, reflected in a rise in active travel, and a chance for people to experience the city with more space without pollution has been an eye-opener. Therefore, in a post-pandemic recovery era, there is even more so, the need for strong political initiative and leadership when it comes to providing safe conditions for active mobility and granting healthy, safe, and livable environments.