Health and environment

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WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities' online resource for the latest news and analysis on urban sustainability and development, from a global perspective.
Updated: 6 hours 21 min ago

Curbing Climate Change and Preventing Deaths from Air Pollution Go Hand-in-Hand

Wed, 2018-11-07 14:13

Curbing short-lived climate pollutants can also reduce air pollution-related deaths. Photo by Nicolò Lazzati/Global Panorama/Flickr

More than 7 million people die prematurely every year due to air pollution. That’s like the entire population of Hong Kong dropping dead due to a cause that’s ultimately avoidable.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is turning its attention to this issue this week at its first global conference to improve air quality, combat climate change and save lives. It’s time to gather all allies in the fight for clean air. As policy, community and scientific leaders look closely at the public health impacts and the case for clean air, the climate world also offers some important instruments that can drive broader action.

Air pollution Is a Climate AND a Health Challenge

recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made the case for climate action more starkly than ever: The world is way off track for limiting global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F), the cap necessary for staving off the worst impacts of climate change. We need to change course rapidly to phase out coal, increase renewables, improve energy efficiency and revolutionize the way we produce food – all while growing sustainably, improving air quality and providing a better life for people.

This attention is a force for health as well as climate goals. A little-discussed fact is that the causes of air pollution and climate change overlap. In some cases, the chemicals are actually the same.

Short-lived climate pollutants, such as methane, black carbon, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and tropospheric ozone, have a powerful effect on global temperatures, and many are also damaging air pollutants. For example, methane is a potent greenhouse gas with a global warming impact 86 times higher than that of carbon dioxide over a 20-year time horizon. It is also the largest precursor to ground-level ozone, a major component of smog, which can worsen bronchitis and asthma and damage lung tissue. Tropospheric ozone exposure alone is responsible for an estimated one million premature deaths each year.

In other cases, health-damaging pollutants and climate-changing compounds are emitted at the same time. For example, when coal burns to provide energy, health-damaging fine particles, sometimes laced with toxic mercury, are released along with greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.

Strengthening Climate Commitments Will Improve Air Quality

The instruments for climate action could bring important new momentum to tackling air pollution and improving public health. We should use them.

For example, the international Paris Agreement asks countries to submit strengthened national climate plans, or “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs), by 2020. These are powerful instruments to direct finance and bend the global emissions trajectory. This is not only necessary for limiting warming to 1.5°C, it also makes good economic sense: Research from the New Climate Economy finds that bold climate action can result in a global economic gain of $26 trillion by 2030.

Situating short-lived climate pollutants centrally in strengthened NDCs could advance both climate and health goals. A recent study shows that curbing climate change can prevent air pollution-related deaths – benefits that far outweigh the costs of reducing emissions. In fact, the value of health co-benefits can sometimes be more than double the costs of mitigation efforts. For China and India, the costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions can be compensated with the health benefits alone.

A new WRI/Oxfam working paper presents options for how countries can incorporate targets, policies and actions on short-lived climate pollutants and key related sectors into new or updated NDCs. This will allow countries to reap immediate climate and health benefits while ensuring that those least responsible for our changing climate aren’t left to deal with its increasingly severe impacts.

Tackling Short-Lived Climate Pollutants

It’s important to note that curbing climate change and reducing air pollution-related risks aren’t exactly the same thing. Exposure, the intersection between people and pollutants, is the key determinant of health, while ambient air quality, the concentration of pollutants in the air regardless of whether people are breathing them, is the key focus for climate change. But aligning health action with climate action could bring several new and innovative strategies to bear. Tackling short-lived climate pollutants offers an important avenue to address air pollution and curb runaway climate change.

This blog was originally published on WRI’s Insights. 

Katherine Ross is an Associate with WRI’s Climate Program.

Jessica Seddon is the Director of Integrated Urban Strategy at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

As Road Accidents Pile Up, India Debates a New National Safety Law

Tue, 2018-07-24 21:28

India’s roads are among the most dangerous on the planet. A new bill is under discussion to increase penalties for bad behavior, protect good Samaritans and make other changes. Photo by Adam Cohn/Flickr

In July last year, Nitin Gadkari, India’s minister for road transport and highways, informed parliament that the country loses over 150,000 lives to road traffic accidents every year. More damningly, the country has only about 2 percent of the world’s motor vehicles but accounts for over 12 percent of its traffic accident deaths, making the Indian road network the most unsafe on the planet.

Unsafe roads are a public health hazard, approaching, in India’s case, an epidemic that not only kills and maims but harms the country’s economic health. According to a study by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, road traffic accidents cost India nearly 3 percent of its gross domestic product a year, or, in absolute terms, about $58 billion.

Globally, the countries that have succeeded in reducing road accident deaths have done so by enacting strong laws for road safety. India, on the other hand, has been trying to strengthen its road safety legislation for three decades, to no avail.

In 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party government drafted the Road Transport and Safety Bill to replace the Motor Vehicles Act of 1988, which currently governs road safety in the country. But the law did not move beyond public consultation and was subsequently replaced by the Motor Vehicles Amendment Bill. The bill was passed by the Lok Sabha in April 2017 and sent to the Rajya Sabha, which referred it to a select committee in August 2017.

When the bill was debated on Monday, the Trinamool Congress, DMK, left-wing parties and Aam Aadmi Party opposed the bill, contending that it diluted the powers of state governments. The Congress Party added that the legislation was aimed at helping corporations.

The Motor Vehicles Amendment Bill proposes to increase the penalties for traffic violations. If the violations are committed by a juvenile driver, their guardian or the owner of their vehicle shall be held accountable. It also protects good Samaritans who come forward to help accident victims from civil or criminal liability. Further, the bill envisages a Motor Vehicle Accident Fund that will provide compulsory insurance coverage to all road users for certain types of accidents. Another crucial provision holds consultants, contractors and civic agencies accountable for poor design or construction and maintenance of roads. Lastly, the bill empowers the government to recall vehicles or vehicle parts that don’t meet the required standards and fine their manufacturers up to Rs 500 crore (about $73 million).

In the meantime, though, some states have taken steps to improve road safety on their own. Haryana, for example, launched a “Vision Zero” program last year aimed at reducing road traffic fatalities to zero in the long term. It seems to have made a difference already as 10 districts where it was rolled out have reported up to 5 percent declines in road fatalities while the other 12 districts have witnessed an increase in such deaths. This month, Delhi’s state government approved a similar policy; it commits to a 10 percent reduction in accident deaths annually and targets “zero road fatalities” in the long run.

A strong central legislation will only empower such states to work more effectively towards making their roads safer.

Clearly, the need to pass the Motor Vehicles Amendment Bill urgently cannot be overstated.

The original version of this article appeared on Scroll.

Amit Bhatt is the Director of Integrated Transport at WRI India Ross Center.

As Road Accidents Pile Up, India Debates a New National Safety Law

Tue, 2018-07-24 21:28

India’s roads are among the most dangerous on the planet. A new bill is under discussion to increase penalties for bad behavior, protect good Samaritans and make other changes. Photo by Adam Cohn/Flickr

In July last year, Nitin Gadkari, India’s minister for road transport and highways, informed parliament that the country loses over 150,000 lives to road traffic accidents every year. More damningly, the country has only about 2 percent of the world’s motor vehicles but accounts for over 12 percent of its traffic accident deaths, making the Indian road network the most unsafe on the planet.

Unsafe roads are a public health hazard, approaching, in India’s case, an epidemic that not only kills and maims but harms the country’s economic health. According to a study by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, road traffic accidents cost India nearly 3 percent of its gross domestic product a year, or, in absolute terms, about $58 billion.

Globally, the countries that have succeeded in reducing road accident deaths have done so by enacting strong laws for road safety. India, on the other hand, has been trying to strengthen its road safety legislation for three decades, to no avail.

In 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party government drafted the Road Transport and Safety Bill to replace the Motor Vehicles Act of 1988, which currently governs road safety in the country. But the law did not move beyond public consultation and was subsequently replaced by the Motor Vehicles Amendment Bill. The bill was passed by the Lok Sabha in April 2017 and sent to the Rajya Sabha, which referred it to a select committee in August 2017.

When the bill was debated on Monday, the Trinamool Congress, DMK, left-wing parties and Aam Aadmi Party opposed the bill, contending that it diluted the powers of state governments. The Congress Party added that the legislation was aimed at helping corporations.

The Motor Vehicles Amendment Bill proposes to increase the penalties for traffic violations. If the violations are committed by a juvenile driver, their guardian or the owner of their vehicle shall be held accountable. It also protects good Samaritans who come forward to help accident victims from civil or criminal liability. Further, the bill envisages a Motor Vehicle Accident Fund that will provide compulsory insurance coverage to all road users for certain types of accidents. Another crucial provision holds consultants, contractors and civic agencies accountable for poor design or construction and maintenance of roads. Lastly, the bill empowers the government to recall vehicles or vehicle parts that don’t meet the required standards and fine their manufacturers up to Rs 500 crore (about $73 million).

In the meantime, though, some states have taken steps to improve road safety on their own. Haryana, for example, launched a “Vision Zero” program last year aimed at reducing road traffic fatalities to zero in the long term. It seems to have made a difference already as 10 districts where it was rolled out have reported up to 5 percent declines in road fatalities while the other 12 districts have witnessed an increase in such deaths. This month, Delhi’s state government approved a similar policy; it commits to a 10 percent reduction in accident deaths annually and targets “zero road fatalities” in the long run.

A strong central legislation will only empower such states to work more effectively towards making their roads safer.

Clearly, the need to pass the Motor Vehicles Amendment Bill urgently cannot be overstated.

The original version of this article appeared on Scroll.

Amit Bhatt is the Director of Integrated Transport at WRI India Ross Center.

Why We Need a Summit on Youth Urban Road Safety

Tue, 2018-07-17 20:13

In cities around the world, children are unequally burdened by the threat of vehicular traffic and road crashes. Photo by Mariana Gil/EMBARQ Brasil

Our cities are rapidly expanding, and with them motorization is increasing at an unchecked pace. Unless the global community takes meaningful strides to address the impact of these trends on the most vulnerable in our society, we will be met by a catastrophic health emergency.

Every three minutes a child or young person dies as a result of road traffic injury. A quarter of a million children and adolescents die on the world’s roads every year. Road traffic injury is the fifth-leading cause of death for children aged 5 to 14 years old.

Beyond the headline figure, for every child who dies, another suffers an irrevocably life-changing disability. For each disability, there are several serious injuries.

In New York this week, governments are meeting for a High-Level Political Forum to assess progress on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, including SDG 11: to make cities “inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.”

High-Level Political Forums offer the opportunity to share successes and pave the way to scale up activity to really move towards the 2030 SDG targets. But this is only possible if countries commit to reporting progress made (or not made), so we can understand baseline activities and share in each other’s successes and challenges. That is why the FIA Foundation is calling for a summit for child and adolescent health to put young people at the top of the urban policy agenda.

An Unequal Burden

By 2030, the world is likely to have 43 megacities (those with more than 10 million inhabitants), mostly in developing countries. By 2050, two thirds of the world’s population are likely to be living in cities or other urban centers. In New York this week, countries have the option to submit what are called Voluntary National Reviews to share examples of proactive efforts to achieve the SDGs. It is clear from the reviews submitted that, despite the alarming trends, sustainable transport remains an abstract concept for many countries.

While 95 percent of reporting countries made reference to transport, just 38 percent described specific policy measures or case studies on sustainable transport. A functional and inclusive transport system is crucial to a successful, vibrant city – but how the infrastructure develops, and for whom, are every bit as important as the routes themselves.

Cities across the world have been guilty of designing streets to serve the car-driving minority, and marginalizing the poorest who use public transport, walk or bicycle. From New York to Nairobi, we can see where fast-flowing highways bisect residential areas, presenting a lethal obstacle course for those on foot, while throwing up toxic smog poisoning the lungs of everyone – outside and even inside cars.

The burden of vehicles in cities is carried most heavily by the poorest, but also the youngest.

The joint Overseas Development Institute and WRI Ross Center report, “Securing Safe Roads,” explores varied road safety challenges and their interaction with the political economy. 

In New York City, for example, the child population is evenly spread at around 30 percent of the total. Yet children account for 43 percent of crash victims in lower-income East Harlem compared to 15 percent in the affluent Upper East Side. The World Health Organization says that “many of the children who are victims of this man-made calamity are poor. Attempts to address road safety for children are, therefore, inextricably linked to notions of social justice.”

In African cities, up to 90 percent of children walk to school, but less than 1 in 10 fast roads shared by pedestrians and vehicles (roads with speeds over 40 kilometers per hour) actually have any sidewalks. In urban areas, the dirtiest arterial roads are built away from expensive areas, but the same consideration is often not extended to the city’s poorest.

Urban air pollution is a significant contributor to childhood mortality rates, causing and exacerbating a wide range of serious respiratory and development issues, alongside long-term health conditions. In many cities, vehicles are responsible for a high proportion of air pollution, particularly near busy roads.

Urban traffic pollution particularly affects children because harmful emissions from cars and trucks are delivered directly at street level into their mouths and noses. It has the greatest impact on children under five, killing more than 127,000 each year. Three hundred million children currently live in areas where outdoor air pollution exceeds international guidelines by at least six times.

Walking the Talk

Solutions to this great urban challenge are not, however, elusive. By drawing together transport, environment, public health and planning in a holistic approach, cities can begin to reorient around people, not vehicles. Positive examples of smart, intentional urban design and policy have shown that authorities can transform urban spaces into a walkable, livable, healthy environments and make significant inroads to address injuries, air pollution and climate change.

The Global Designing Cities Initiative, for example, works with 40 cities to demonstrate the impact and benefits of changing the hierarchy of street use and design to focus on pedestrians, cyclists and children. London has become the first city in the world to explicitly adopt a public health-first approach to urban planning that encourages active transport and reduces vehicle journeys to improve health outcomes for all.

A summit on child and adolescent health would ensure that the special vulnerability and importance of young people is not lost in these efforts and becomes a more integral part of the SDG reporting process.

As a global community, we have committed to a safe and sustainable transport systems for all by 2030 – including our most vulnerable. It is an ambitious target we should all be proud to work towards and the solutions are within our reach. But for now it remains talk, and our children need action.

Natalie Draisin is the Director of the North American Office and UN Representative for the FIA Foundation.

Why We Need a Summit on Youth Urban Road Safety

Tue, 2018-07-17 20:13

In cities around the world, children are unequally burdened by the threat of vehicular traffic and road crashes. Photo by Mariana Gil/EMBARQ Brasil

Our cities are rapidly expanding, and with them motorization is increasing at an unchecked pace. Unless the global community takes meaningful strides to address the impact of these trends on the most vulnerable in our society, we will be met by a catastrophic health emergency.

Every three minutes a child or young person dies as a result of road traffic injury. A quarter of a million children and adolescents die on the world’s roads every year. Road traffic injury is the fifth-leading cause of death for children aged 5 to 14 years old.

Beyond the headline figure, for every child who dies, another suffers an irrevocably life-changing disability. For each disability, there are several serious injuries.

In New York this week, governments are meeting for a High-Level Political Forum to assess progress on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, including SDG 11: to make cities “inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.”

High-Level Political Forums offer the opportunity to share successes and pave the way to scale up activity to really move towards the 2030 SDG targets. But this is only possible if countries commit to reporting progress made (or not made), so we can understand baseline activities and share in each other’s successes and challenges. That is why the FIA Foundation is calling for a summit for child and adolescent health to put young people at the top of the urban policy agenda.

An Unequal Burden

By 2030, the world is likely to have 43 megacities (those with more than 10 million inhabitants), mostly in developing countries. By 2050, two thirds of the world’s population are likely to be living in cities or other urban centers. In New York this week, countries have the option to submit what are called Voluntary National Reviews to share examples of proactive efforts to achieve the SDGs. It is clear from the reviews submitted that, despite the alarming trends, sustainable transport remains an abstract concept for many countries.

While 95 percent of reporting countries made reference to transport, just 38 percent described specific policy measures or case studies on sustainable transport. A functional and inclusive transport system is crucial to a successful, vibrant city – but how the infrastructure develops, and for whom, are every bit as important as the routes themselves.

Cities across the world have been guilty of designing streets to serve the car-driving minority, and marginalizing the poorest who use public transport, walk or bicycle. From New York to Nairobi, we can see where fast-flowing highways bisect residential areas, presenting a lethal obstacle course for those on foot, while throwing up toxic smog poisoning the lungs of everyone – outside and even inside cars.

The burden of vehicles in cities is carried most heavily by the poorest, but also the youngest.

The joint Overseas Development Institute and WRI Ross Center report, “Securing Safe Roads,” explores varied road safety challenges and their interaction with the political economy. 

In New York City, for example, the child population is evenly spread at around 30 percent of the total. Yet children account for 43 percent of crash victims in lower-income East Harlem compared to 15 percent in the affluent Upper East Side. The World Health Organization says that “many of the children who are victims of this man-made calamity are poor. Attempts to address road safety for children are, therefore, inextricably linked to notions of social justice.”

In African cities, up to 90 percent of children walk to school, but less than 1 in 10 fast roads shared by pedestrians and vehicles (roads with speeds over 40 kilometers per hour) actually have any sidewalks. In urban areas, the dirtiest arterial roads are built away from expensive areas, but the same consideration is often not extended to the city’s poorest.

Urban air pollution is a significant contributor to childhood mortality rates, causing and exacerbating a wide range of serious respiratory and development issues, alongside long-term health conditions. In many cities, vehicles are responsible for a high proportion of air pollution, particularly near busy roads.

Urban traffic pollution particularly affects children because harmful emissions from cars and trucks are delivered directly at street level into their mouths and noses. It has the greatest impact on children under five, killing more than 127,000 each year. Three hundred million children currently live in areas where outdoor air pollution exceeds international guidelines by at least six times.

Walking the Talk

Solutions to this great urban challenge are not, however, elusive. By drawing together transport, environment, public health and planning in a holistic approach, cities can begin to reorient around people, not vehicles. Positive examples of smart, intentional urban design and policy have shown that authorities can transform urban spaces into a walkable, livable, healthy environments and make significant inroads to address injuries, air pollution and climate change.

The Global Designing Cities Initiative, for example, works with 40 cities to demonstrate the impact and benefits of changing the hierarchy of street use and design to focus on pedestrians, cyclists and children. London has become the first city in the world to explicitly adopt a public health-first approach to urban planning that encourages active transport and reduces vehicle journeys to improve health outcomes for all.

A summit on child and adolescent health would ensure that the special vulnerability and importance of young people is not lost in these efforts and becomes a more integral part of the SDG reporting process.

As a global community, we have committed to a safe and sustainable transport systems for all by 2030 – including our most vulnerable. It is an ambitious target we should all be proud to work towards and the solutions are within our reach. But for now it remains talk, and our children need action.

Natalie Draisin is the Director of the North American Office and UN Representative for the FIA Foundation.

Low-Carbon Cities Are Better for Your Health Than Any Superfood

Mon, 2018-07-02 13:13

Ambitious action to reduce urban greenhouse gas emissions would not only help avoid damages, but address a whole range of other risks, from traffic accidents to air pollution. Photo by Katie Wheeler/Flickr

Climate change is already harming people’s health. In August last year, over 45 million people in India, Bangladesh and Nepal were affected by unprecedented monsoon flooding, while last year’s Atlantic hurricane season was the costliest on record. The scale of both disasters can be partially attributed to rising global temperatures.

The good news, though, is that efforts to tackle climate change could make people healthier. Bold action to reduce greenhouse gases from buildings, transport and waste could improve physical and psychological wellbeing right here, right now.

This is the finding of a new paper published by the Coalition for Urban Transitions on the benefits of low-carbon cities. The authors reviewed over 700 papers to understand the social and economic impacts of measures to reduce carbon emissions in urban buildings, transportation and waste. They conclusively find that climate action can improve people’s health by reducing the incidence of respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, injuries and infections.

Safer Transport

Outdoor air pollution is a global killer, leading to the premature deaths of around 4.2 million people each year. Another 1.25 million people are killed in road crashes every year. In China alone, shifting people out of cars and on to buses or bikes could avoid over half a million preventable deaths annually.

Many people choose not to walk or cycle because of the risk: half of the global road fatalities occur among pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. Segregated bike lanes and sidewalks can protect these vulnerable commuters, encouraging more people to cycle and walk. The resulting shift out of cars is not only good for people’s physical fitness, but also for the climate.

Some researchers have estimated the monetary value of these health benefits. A commuter who switches from driving to cycling for five kilometers each way, five days a week, would experience health benefits worth about $1,900 per year.

Better Buildings

Globally, 450 million people suffer from mental disorders, placing those troubles as one of the leading causes of ill-health and disability. Investing in buildings with natural light, pleasant temperatures and green space could improve the wellbeing of occupants immensely.

The evidence shows that improving the energy efficiency in commercial buildings reduces the number of work days lost due to respiratory illnesses, allergies, flu, depression and stress. When workers moved from conventional to green office buildings, their absences due to illnesses and stress fall especially fast.

The health benefits of energy efficiency are even more pronounced in people’s homes. In Ireland, insulating homes yields has led to fewer sick days and reduced hospital admissions. These health improvements could be worth nearly twice as much as the savings from reduced energy consumption.

Seizing the Health Opportunity

Cycling to your sustainable office and back to your well-insulated house would benefit the environment. But to those for whom that may not be enough, this new evidence on the scale of the health benefits may help. It is clear that ambitious climate action in cities can provide multiple tangible benefits for people.

Governments have many options to both improve health and cut emissions. They can introduce building codes that require landlords and homeowners to improve building efficiency. They can establish mandatory performance standards for light bulbs, appliances and vehicles. And they can design taxes, fees and charges to incentivize people to behave in more sustainable ways. Congestion pricing, for instance, along with road design changes can help deter people from driving and encourage them to take up other modes of transport.

These may seem like costs, but in fact, when weighed against the catastrophic impacts of climate change, that can be better understood as investments. Ambitious action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in cities would not only help avoid damages, but address a whole range of other risks, from traffic accidents to air pollution to inequality. Climate action, in short, can help create healthier cities for all.

Catlyne Haddaoui is a Research Analyst at the Coalition for Urban Transitions.

Low-Carbon Cities Are Better for Your Health Than Any Superfood

Mon, 2018-07-02 13:13

Ambitious action to reduce urban greenhouse gas emissions would not only help avoid damages, but address a whole range of other risks, from traffic accidents to air pollution. Photo by Katie Wheeler/Flickr

Climate change is already harming people’s health. In August last year, over 45 million people in India, Bangladesh and Nepal were affected by unprecedented monsoon flooding, while last year’s Atlantic hurricane season was the costliest on record. The scale of both disasters can be partially attributed to rising global temperatures.

The good news, though, is that efforts to tackle climate change could make people healthier. Bold action to reduce greenhouse gases from buildings, transport and waste could improve physical and psychological wellbeing right here, right now.

This is the finding of a new paper published by the Coalition for Urban Transitions on the benefits of low-carbon cities. The authors reviewed over 700 papers to understand the social and economic impacts of measures to reduce carbon emissions in urban buildings, transportation and waste. They conclusively find that climate action can improve people’s health by reducing the incidence of respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, injuries and infections.

Safer Transport

Outdoor air pollution is a global killer, leading to the premature deaths of around 4.2 million people each year. Another 1.25 million people are killed in road crashes every year. In China alone, shifting people out of cars and on to buses or bikes could avoid over half a million preventable deaths annually.

Many people choose not to walk or cycle because of the risk: half of the global road fatalities occur among pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. Segregated bike lanes and sidewalks can protect these vulnerable commuters, encouraging more people to cycle and walk. The resulting shift out of cars is not only good for people’s physical fitness, but also for the climate.

Some researchers have estimated the monetary value of these health benefits. A commuter who switches from driving to cycling for five kilometers each way, five days a week, would experience health benefits worth about $1,900 per year.

Better Buildings

Globally, 450 million people suffer from mental disorders, placing those troubles as one of the leading causes of ill-health and disability. Investing in buildings with natural light, pleasant temperatures and green space could improve the wellbeing of occupants immensely.

The evidence shows that improving the energy efficiency in commercial buildings reduces the number of work days lost due to respiratory illnesses, allergies, flu, depression and stress. When workers moved from conventional to green office buildings, their absences due to illnesses and stress fall especially fast.

The health benefits of energy efficiency are even more pronounced in people’s homes. In Ireland, insulating homes yields has led to fewer sick days and reduced hospital admissions. These health improvements could be worth nearly twice as much as the savings from reduced energy consumption.

Seizing the Health Opportunity

Cycling to your sustainable office and back to your well-insulated house would benefit the environment. But to those for whom that may not be enough, this new evidence on the scale of the health benefits may help. It is clear that ambitious climate action in cities can provide multiple tangible benefits for people.

Governments have many options to both improve health and cut emissions. They can introduce building codes that require landlords and homeowners to improve building efficiency. They can establish mandatory performance standards for light bulbs, appliances and vehicles. And they can design taxes, fees and charges to incentivize people to behave in more sustainable ways. Congestion pricing, for instance, along with road design changes can help deter people from driving and encourage them to take up other modes of transport.

These may seem like costs, but in fact, when weighed against the catastrophic impacts of climate change, that can be better understood as investments. Ambitious action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in cities would not only help avoid damages, but address a whole range of other risks, from traffic accidents to air pollution to inequality. Climate action, in short, can help create healthier cities for all.

Catlyne Haddaoui is a Research Analyst at the Coalition for Urban Transitions.

For Thriving Cities, People vs. Nature Is a False Choice

Fri, 2018-06-22 13:13

Brooklyn Bridge Park, New York. Photo credit: © Kevin Arnold

Municipal leaders face hundreds of difficult choices every day. With so many needs and worthy programs, how does one choose where to invest limited funding? In the face of pressing human needs, cities too often decide that funding for environmental programs will have to wait.

But pitting people against nature in this way offers a false choice.

We need not decide between supporting people in cities and protecting the natural systems that we all need to survive. Rather, by bringing more nature to cities and managing our collective resources well, we can help achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and meet The Nature Conservancy’s ambition to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends.

SDG 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities, aims to “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.” It is not only the engineered urban development solutions that will help the world achieve this goal – natural systems have a critical role to play. In fact, by protecting and enhancing biodiversity, we can actually better serve the needs of the billions of people around the world who live in cities.

Nature has a clear and significant role to play in SDG 11, and a path to success is laid out in the New Urban Agenda, a global declaration of “cities for all,” that was codified at the 2016 Habitat III conference in Ecuador. The New Urban Agenda acknowledges and articulates the connections between greener cities and healthier, more resilient cities, and calls for the benefits of nature to be equally accessible to all residents.

This collective vision for “well-planned urbanization” that accounts for how the built and natural environments work in tandem, not in opposition, to make our cities more livable will be key as cities around the world swell to adapt to growing human populations. Creating and protecting safe, inclusive and accessible green spaces can bring myriad benefits to cities.

But nature can do even more. As cities grow and resources are strained, nature can improve human health and well-being by reducing particulate matter in the air we breathe (SDG 3); it can contribute to clean water and sanitation by protecting source water (SDG 6); and when plans incorporate the needs of local residents, access to nature can help address some of the impacts of inequality (SDG 10).

Urban conservation doesn’t have to be a separate goal for city leaders to add onto their already busy agendas. It’s an approach that can help city leaders meet their existing goals across many sectors – economic growth, public health, waste management, thriving neighborhoods that attract residents and businesses.

Cities need nature. And cities can lead the world.

Working collaboratively, cities can drive policy on biodiversity protection, climate adaptation and mitigation and wastewater management to solve national and global challenges.

Together, we can make life in cities better for all of us.

Joel Paque is Global Cities Program Director at The Nature Conservancy.

For Thriving Cities, People vs. Nature Is a False Choice

Fri, 2018-06-22 13:13

Brooklyn Bridge Park, New York. Photo credit: © Kevin Arnold

Municipal leaders face hundreds of difficult choices every day. With so many needs and worthy programs, how does one choose where to invest limited funding? In the face of pressing human needs, cities too often decide that funding for environmental programs will have to wait.

But pitting people against nature in this way offers a false choice.

We need not decide between supporting people in cities and protecting the natural systems that we all need to survive. Rather, by bringing more nature to cities and managing our collective resources well, we can help achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and meet The Nature Conservancy’s ambition to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends.

SDG 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities, aims to “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.” It is not only the engineered urban development solutions that will help the world achieve this goal – natural systems have a critical role to play. In fact, by protecting and enhancing biodiversity, we can actually better serve the needs of the billions of people around the world who live in cities.

Nature has a clear and significant role to play in SDG 11, and a path to success is laid out in the New Urban Agenda, a global declaration of “cities for all,” that was codified at the 2016 Habitat III conference in Ecuador. The New Urban Agenda acknowledges and articulates the connections between greener cities and healthier, more resilient cities, and calls for the benefits of nature to be equally accessible to all residents.

This collective vision for “well-planned urbanization” that accounts for how the built and natural environments work in tandem, not in opposition, to make our cities more livable will be key as cities around the world swell to adapt to growing human populations. Creating and protecting safe, inclusive and accessible green spaces can bring myriad benefits to cities.

But nature can do even more. As cities grow and resources are strained, nature can improve human health and well-being by reducing particulate matter in the air we breathe (SDG 3); it can contribute to clean water and sanitation by protecting source water (SDG 6); and when plans incorporate the needs of local residents, access to nature can help address some of the impacts of inequality (SDG 10).

Urban conservation doesn’t have to be a separate goal for city leaders to add onto their already busy agendas. It’s an approach that can help city leaders meet their existing goals across many sectors – economic growth, public health, waste management, thriving neighborhoods that attract residents and businesses.

Cities need nature. And cities can lead the world.

Working collaboratively, cities can drive policy on biodiversity protection, climate adaptation and mitigation and wastewater management to solve national and global challenges.

Together, we can make life in cities better for all of us.

Joel Paque is Global Cities Program Director at The Nature Conservancy.

Cleaner Air, New Jobs, Reduced Inequality: The Benefits of Low-Carbon Cities

Fri, 2018-06-08 19:09

Low-carbon urban development can provide substantial economic benefits in at least three ways. Photo by Andreas Wecker/Flickr

Climate action is rarely a primary consideration when investments are made in cities. Roads and transport networks are built to improve mobility, homes to provide shelter, offices to create places to work.

But with more than three-quarters of global emissions coming from urban areas, and a majority of the global population living there, it is increasingly critical that urban actors consider climate change in their decision-making.

Drawing on evidence from more than 700 academic papers, our new research for the Coalition for Urban Transitions provides a systematic review of the wider benefits – and sometimes costs – of climate action in urban areas.

Results show that we may be under-appreciating the extent that low-carbon investments can contribute to a wide set of urban challenges.

Indeed, in some cases addressing seemingly unrelated urban issues – around public health, employment, poverty, and sanitation – may be hard to achieve without also reducing carbon emissions and improving climate resilience.

In three areas these benefits are especially notable:

1. Improving Public Health

Combating climate change can lead to significant health benefits for citizens. Up to 3 billion people rely on open fires for heating, cooking, and lighting, leading to 4 million deaths from indoor air pollution. When health benefits are taken into account, solar lighting and clean cook stoves can save up to 60 times the investment costs.

Source: Coalition for Urban Transitions

Poor heating and ventilation also contribute to chronic ill-health. While the direct savings on energy bills are sufficient to generate an attractive return on investment, the monetized health benefits associated with improving indoor environmental quality can be more than 10 times the value of energy savings.

The value of health benefits from investments in cycling infrastructure is another area in which cities can save money while improving public health. The money saved by improving infrastructure can amount to more than five times the cost of investment. Extrapolating across Europe, this suggests that the health benefits from cycling could be worth $35-136 billion annually.

Motor vehicle crashes are responsible for 1.3 million global deaths each year and over 78 million injuries. Where public transport networks are well developed, transport-related injuries are more than 80 percent lower.

2. Creating Green Jobs

Investments in upgrading existing buildings and raising the energy efficiency of new buildings in OECD cities could lead to the creation of 2 million net jobs annually in the period to 2050. Equivalent investments in non-OECD cities could generate anywhere from 2 million to 16 million jobs annually in the same period.

Investments in expanding public transport and improving vehicle efficiency could also lead to the creation of more than 3 million net jobs annually in OECD cities, and a minimum of 3 million and up to 23 million jobs annually in non-OECD cities, in the period to 2050.

3. Reducing Inequality

Many actions that combat climate change will benefit the poorest in society. For example, between 16 percent and 50 percent of the total benefits associated with programs to retrofit existing buildings in Europe are in the form of improved health, thermal comfort, living conditions and productivity of residents. This is especially true for residents who are relatively poorer.

Another way in which creating greener cities reduces the effects of inequality is through improving public transport systems. People from lower income brackets typically spend more time commuting and will benefit from faster and more efficient networks. Public transport networks which will also reduce carbon emissions are therefore found to disproportionately benefit the urban poor.

Vulnerable populations often have poorer health than the average. They may also be more likely to live and work in polluted areas. As a result, marginalized groups benefit disproportionately from interventions which improve air quality.

Policy Implications

Previous research has demonstrated that low-carbon investment in cities can generate substantial economic returns. But the economic case may not on its own generate the level of action needed to prevent dangerous climate change.

Furthermore, in the face of a range of urban challenges, including poverty, air pollution, poor transport networks and insufficient housing, policymakers with finite time and resources need actions that can target multiple issues.

The benefits for health, jobs and equality identified by our analysis are not guaranteed. The distribution of benefits and their scale will vary from city to city and from the way that policies and programs are designed and implemented. But as a first step, viewing climate change as connected with, and in cases, inseparable from, a wider set urban challenges, can open new opportunities for action.

While climate change will remain an issue that is long-term, global, and relatively uncertain, the benefits of climate action – in cleaner air, new jobs and more inclusive cities – can be seen as near-term, local and relatively certain.

The original version of this article appeared on the University of Leeds Medium page.

The Coalition for Urban Transitions is a special initiative of the New Climate Economy jointly hosted and managed by WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities and the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group.

Andrew Sudmant is a Research Fellow and Postgraduate Researcher at the University of Leeds.

Andy Gouldson is Professor of Environmental Policy and Dean of Interdisciplinary Research at the University of Leeds.

Cleaner Air, New Jobs, Reduced Inequality: The Benefits of Low-Carbon Cities

Fri, 2018-06-08 19:09

Low-carbon urban development can provide substantial economic benefits in at least three ways. Photo by Andreas Wecker/Flickr

Climate action is rarely a primary consideration when investments are made in cities. Roads and transport networks are built to improve mobility, homes to provide shelter, offices to create places to work.

But with more than three-quarters of global emissions coming from urban areas, and a majority of the global population living there, it is increasingly critical that urban actors consider climate change in their decision-making.

Drawing on evidence from more than 700 academic papers, our new research for the Coalition for Urban Transitions provides a systematic review of the wider benefits – and sometimes costs – of climate action in urban areas.

Results show that we may be under-appreciating the extent that low-carbon investments can contribute to a wide set of urban challenges.

Indeed, in some cases addressing seemingly unrelated urban issues – around public health, employment, poverty, and sanitation – may be hard to achieve without also reducing carbon emissions and improving climate resilience.

In three areas these benefits are especially notable:

1. Improving Public Health

Combating climate change can lead to significant health benefits for citizens. Up to 3 billion people rely on open fires for heating, cooking, and lighting, leading to 4 million deaths from indoor air pollution. When health benefits are taken into account, solar lighting and clean cook stoves can save up to 60 times the investment costs.

Source: Coalition for Urban Transitions

Poor heating and ventilation also contribute to chronic ill-health. While the direct savings on energy bills are sufficient to generate an attractive return on investment, the monetized health benefits associated with improving indoor environmental quality can be more than 10 times the value of energy savings.

The value of health benefits from investments in cycling infrastructure is another area in which cities can save money while improving public health. The money saved by improving infrastructure can amount to more than five times the cost of investment. Extrapolating across Europe, this suggests that the health benefits from cycling could be worth $35-136 billion annually.

Motor vehicle crashes are responsible for 1.3 million global deaths each year and over 78 million injuries. Where public transport networks are well developed, transport-related injuries are more than 80 percent lower.

2. Creating Green Jobs

Investments in upgrading existing buildings and raising the energy efficiency of new buildings in OECD cities could lead to the creation of 2 million net jobs annually in the period to 2050. Equivalent investments in non-OECD cities could generate anywhere from 2 million to 16 million jobs annually in the same period.

Investments in expanding public transport and improving vehicle efficiency could also lead to the creation of more than 3 million net jobs annually in OECD cities, and a minimum of 3 million and up to 23 million jobs annually in non-OECD cities, in the period to 2050.

3. Reducing Inequality

Many actions that combat climate change will benefit the poorest in society. For example, between 16 percent and 50 percent of the total benefits associated with programs to retrofit existing buildings in Europe are in the form of improved health, thermal comfort, living conditions and productivity of residents. This is especially true for residents who are relatively poorer.

Another way in which creating greener cities reduces the effects of inequality is through improving public transport systems. People from lower income brackets typically spend more time commuting and will benefit from faster and more efficient networks. Public transport networks which will also reduce carbon emissions are therefore found to disproportionately benefit the urban poor.

Vulnerable populations often have poorer health than the average. They may also be more likely to live and work in polluted areas. As a result, marginalized groups benefit disproportionately from interventions which improve air quality.

Policy Implications

Previous research has demonstrated that low-carbon investment in cities can generate substantial economic returns. But the economic case may not on its own generate the level of action needed to prevent dangerous climate change.

Furthermore, in the face of a range of urban challenges, including poverty, air pollution, poor transport networks and insufficient housing, policymakers with finite time and resources need actions that can target multiple issues.

The benefits for health, jobs and equality identified by our analysis are not guaranteed. The distribution of benefits and their scale will vary from city to city and from the way that policies and programs are designed and implemented. But as a first step, viewing climate change as connected with, and in cases, inseparable from, a wider set urban challenges, can open new opportunities for action.

While climate change will remain an issue that is long-term, global, and relatively uncertain, the benefits of climate action – in cleaner air, new jobs and more inclusive cities – can be seen as near-term, local and relatively certain.

The original version of this article appeared on the University of Leeds Medium page.

The Coalition for Urban Transitions is a special initiative of the New Climate Economy jointly hosted and managed by WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities and the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group.

Andrew Sudmant is a Research Fellow and Postgraduate Researcher at the University of Leeds.

Andy Gouldson is Professor of Environmental Policy and Dean of Interdisciplinary Research at the University of Leeds.

“Life Is Sacred”: The Surprising Link Between Reducing Homicide and Traffic Fatalities in Bogotá

Thu, 2018-04-05 13:13

Bogota is combining technical know-how with socially and politically savvy campaigns to save lives. Photo by Dylan Passmore/Flickr

In just 10 years, from 1996 to 2006, Bogotá’s traffic fatalities dropped by half. Despite facing challenges common to many cities – inadequate infrastructure, congestion, pollution, inequality and crime – the Colombian city has become a powerful example of urban transformation.

Many elements contributed to this success, including the city’s bus rapid transit (BRT) system, Transmilenio, which debuted in 2000; the creation of an ambitious network of bike lanes; and improved pedestrian sidewalks and crossings. But how did political, financial, institutional and power dynamics contribute? A new research project by WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) has revealed an unforeseen synergy between general public safety actions in Bogotá and efforts to lower traffic mortality.

The Strategy: Link Road Safety to Other Issues People Care About

The total number of fatalities from road collisions in Bogota is decreasing. Graphic by Overseas Development Institute

The 1990s were a turbulent decade for Colombia, with record levels of violence and homicide. Citizens demanded a government response. In Bogotá, a suite of enforcement, social marketing and education policies were enacted, under the banner “Life is Sacred.” As part of this program, the administration linked traffic deaths to wider problems of crime and murder in the city, and framed it as a part of a public health crisis.

This approach galvanized public attention around “traffic violence.” Targeted social marketing and education programs encouraged people to expect safe and courteous behavior from their fellow citizens and promoted recognition of societal norms in public spaces, particularly traffic regulations. The resulting shift in perspective also generated increased support for changes to public transport and public space.

These programs had unexpected benefits for road safety. For example, one “Life is Sacred” policy set earlier closing times for night clubs to reduce alcohol-fueled violence. A welcome side effect was a reduction in drunk driving, which resulted in significant gains for road safety. It demonstrated that Bogotá’s actions to reduce violent crime could have an impact on traffic fatalities as well.

Other Potential Strategies

Our research also looked at two other cities which struggle with road safety and sustainable mobility options: Mumbai and Nairobi. We examined local political dynamics in all three cities and outlined key challenges and opportunities for catalyzing action to improve road safety.

The research did reveal some gains, notably the creation of a non-motorized transportation policy for Nairobi and court-mandated road safety interventions in Mumbai.

But we also found that it can be difficult to gain traction politically when discussing road safety in isolation. The issue is often seen as a matter of personal responsibility, rather than a question of public health or government service.

In addition to the strategy above, our research identified three more ways to make progress with road safety: tying road safety to other issues, such as traffic congestion; building alliances at all levels of government, including local, regional and national; and producing a dedicated road safety plan with short-, medium- and long-term aims and objectives to build lasting solutions and avoid prioritizing “quick wins” only.

These strategies are not failsafe. Even in Bogotá, there is still progress to be made. There, road fatality numbers have plateaued and the new “safe system” based road safety plan hopes to catalyze further action. But its dramatic progress in public perception and political action related to road safety make it a point of reference around the world. The city has shown that a multi-level approach, combining technical know-how with socially and politically savvy campaigns, can unite citizens and decision-makers in a common goal: saving lives.

This article was originally published on WRI’s Insights.

Anna Bray Sharpin is a Transportation Associate for Health and Road Safety at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

“Life Is Sacred”: The Surprising Link Between Reducing Homicide and Traffic Fatalities in Bogotá

Thu, 2018-04-05 13:13

Bogota is combining technical know-how with socially and politically savvy campaigns to save lives. Photo by Dylan Passmore/Flickr

In just 10 years, from 1996 to 2006, Bogotá’s traffic fatalities dropped by half. Despite facing challenges common to many cities – inadequate infrastructure, congestion, pollution, inequality and crime – the Colombian city has become a powerful example of urban transformation.

Many elements contributed to this success, including the city’s bus rapid transit (BRT) system, Transmilenio, which debuted in 2000; the creation of an ambitious network of bike lanes; and improved pedestrian sidewalks and crossings. But how did political, financial, institutional and power dynamics contribute? A new research project by WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) has revealed an unforeseen synergy between general public safety actions in Bogotá and efforts to lower traffic mortality.

The Strategy: Link Road Safety to Other Issues People Care About

The total number of fatalities from road collisions in Bogota is decreasing. Graphic by Overseas Development Institute

The 1990s were a turbulent decade for Colombia, with record levels of violence and homicide. Citizens demanded a government response. In Bogotá, a suite of enforcement, social marketing and education policies were enacted, under the banner “Life is Sacred.” As part of this program, the administration linked traffic deaths to wider problems of crime and murder in the city, and framed it as a part of a public health crisis.

This approach galvanized public attention around “traffic violence.” Targeted social marketing and education programs encouraged people to expect safe and courteous behavior from their fellow citizens and promoted recognition of societal norms in public spaces, particularly traffic regulations. The resulting shift in perspective also generated increased support for changes to public transport and public space.

These programs had unexpected benefits for road safety. For example, one “Life is Sacred” policy set earlier closing times for night clubs to reduce alcohol-fueled violence. A welcome side effect was a reduction in drunk driving, which resulted in significant gains for road safety. It demonstrated that Bogotá’s actions to reduce violent crime could have an impact on traffic fatalities as well.

Other Potential Strategies

Our research also looked at two other cities which struggle with road safety and sustainable mobility options: Mumbai and Nairobi. We examined local political dynamics in all three cities and outlined key challenges and opportunities for catalyzing action to improve road safety.

The research did reveal some gains, notably the creation of a non-motorized transportation policy for Nairobi and court-mandated road safety interventions in Mumbai.

But we also found that it can be difficult to gain traction politically when discussing road safety in isolation. The issue is often seen as a matter of personal responsibility, rather than a question of public health or government service.

In addition to the strategy above, our research identified three more ways to make progress with road safety: tying road safety to other issues, such as traffic congestion; building alliances at all levels of government, including local, regional and national; and producing a dedicated road safety plan with short-, medium- and long-term aims and objectives to build lasting solutions and avoid prioritizing “quick wins” only.

These strategies are not failsafe. Even in Bogotá, there is still progress to be made. There, road fatality numbers have plateaued and the new “safe system” based road safety plan hopes to catalyze further action. But its dramatic progress in public perception and political action related to road safety make it a point of reference around the world. The city has shown that a multi-level approach, combining technical know-how with socially and politically savvy campaigns, can unite citizens and decision-makers in a common goal: saving lives.

This article was originally published on WRI’s Insights.

Anna Bray Sharpin is a Transportation Associate for Health and Road Safety at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Urban Trees: A Smart Investment in Public Health

Tue, 2017-11-21 14:13

City trees can help save lives and millions in health expenditure. Photo by Rick Harris/ Flickr

Would you spend $8 per year to see your community reduce rates of obesity, heart disease, anxiety and asthma? Still not convinced? What if that investment also reduced energy costs and increased property values?

Urban trees can transform city neighborhoods, contributing to a wide range of public health gains. Investing an additional $8 per person, on average, in planting and maintaining urban trees in American cities, could have a significant impact. Yet across the United States, cities are losing about 4 million trees per year.

The humble street tree is an ecological powerhouse. Study after study has shown multiple benefits to people and society. Trees, and other urban green spaces, can help manage runoff during rainstorms. They help clean and cool the air, reducing harmful air pollutants and air temperatures on city streets. They lend beauty to our communities and increase property values. And time spent in natural environments has demonstrated mental health benefits.

A new report, “Funding Trees for Health,” from The Nature Conservancy, The Trust for Public Land and Analysis Group, raises the concern that a combination of reduced budgets; the ravages of drought, storms, and pest infestations; and lack of investment is quickly stripping cities of the benefits that trees provide.

The paper finds that a significant percentage of the gap between current funding for trees and the amount that cities spend today could be offset by the public health gains that city trees provide.

Every year, between 3 and 4 million people around the world die as a result of outdoor air pollution and its lifelong impacts on human health. Urban trees can serve as pollution barriers and even filter the air. A 2016 analysis of average costs and impacts across nearly 250 major cities found that trees offer comparable benefit to traditional solutions, with the potential to save tens of thousands of lives.

Now, Analysis Group’s research on major U.S. cities finds that that urban trees could account for $25 million in annual savings related to health care costs and lost work days from air pollution alone.

While the situation varies city by city, our analysis demonstrates that a green urban future is not an impossible dream, and it’s affordable in most places if policymakers and others commit to making this critical investment.

The paper offers several specific examples of innovative public sector partnership and private sector investments that highlight the full societal value of urban trees. However, municipal leaders in communities of all sizes can begin to address significant health challenges by thinking creatively about the role of nature in cities and towns.

A range of complimentary solutions will be necessary, including changes to how building codes handle open space and incentivize trees on private property; efforts to break down municipal government silos so that parks and environmental departments are better positioned to collaborate with public health departments; and public education efforts to communicate the role that trees can play.

Some cities are already leading efforts to prove the value of urban trees. For example, in Louisville, Kentucky, city leaders are partnering with the University of Kentucky Medical School and others to demonstrate the link between urban trees and cardiac health via the Green Heart Project. The project is a five-year urban laboratory that will plant as many as 8,000 trees in a neighborhood, then conduct a clinical trial to track their effect on the health of local residents.

All cities, big or small, can begin exploring ways to create links between the health sector and urban forestry agencies. The key is connecting public health outcomes to urban trees. Communication and coordination between a city’s parks, forestry and public health departments can reveal new sources of funding for tree planting and maintenance. Working together, the health sector and the urban forestry sector can achieve a healthier, more verdant world.

Robert McDonald is Lead Scientist for the Global Cities program at The Nature Conservancy and lead author of “Funding Trees for Health.” He researches the impact and dependencies of cities on the natural world, and helps direct the science behind much of the Conservancy’s urban conservation work. He holds a PhD in Ecology from Duke University and has published more than 50 peer-reviewed publications, and a recent book, “Conservation for Cities.”

Urban Trees: A Smart Investment in Public Health

Tue, 2017-11-21 14:13

City trees can help save lives and millions in health expenditure. Photo by Rick Harris/ Flickr

Would you spend $8 per year to see your community reduce rates of obesity, heart disease, anxiety and asthma? Still not convinced? What if that investment also reduced energy costs and increased property values?

Urban trees can transform city neighborhoods, contributing to a wide range of public health gains. Investing an additional $8 per person, on average, in planting and maintaining urban trees in American cities, could have a significant impact. Yet across the United States, cities are losing about 4 million trees per year.

The humble street tree is an ecological powerhouse. Study after study has shown multiple benefits to people and society. Trees, and other urban green spaces, can help manage runoff during rainstorms. They help clean and cool the air, reducing harmful air pollutants and air temperatures on city streets. They lend beauty to our communities and increase property values. And time spent in natural environments has demonstrated mental health benefits.

A new report, “Funding Trees for Health,” from The Nature Conservancy, The Trust for Public Land and Analysis Group, raises the concern that a combination of reduced budgets; the ravages of drought, storms, and pest infestations; and lack of investment is quickly stripping cities of the benefits that trees provide.

The paper finds that a significant percentage of the gap between current funding for trees and the amount that cities spend today could be offset by the public health gains that city trees provide.

Every year, between 3 and 4 million people around the world die as a result of outdoor air pollution and its lifelong impacts on human health. Urban trees can serve as pollution barriers and even filter the air. A 2016 analysis of average costs and impacts across nearly 250 major cities found that trees offer comparable benefit to traditional solutions, with the potential to save tens of thousands of lives.

Now, Analysis Group’s research on major U.S. cities finds that that urban trees could account for $25 million in annual savings related to health care costs and lost work days from air pollution alone.

While the situation varies city by city, our analysis demonstrates that a green urban future is not an impossible dream, and it’s affordable in most places if policymakers and others commit to making this critical investment.

The paper offers several specific examples of innovative public sector partnership and private sector investments that highlight the full societal value of urban trees. However, municipal leaders in communities of all sizes can begin to address significant health challenges by thinking creatively about the role of nature in cities and towns.

A range of complimentary solutions will be necessary, including changes to how building codes handle open space and incentivize trees on private property; efforts to break down municipal government silos so that parks and environmental departments are better positioned to collaborate with public health departments; and public education efforts to communicate the role that trees can play.

Some cities are already leading efforts to prove the value of urban trees. For example, in Louisville, Kentucky, city leaders are partnering with the University of Kentucky Medical School and others to demonstrate the link between urban trees and cardiac health via the Green Heart Project. The project is a five-year urban laboratory that will plant as many as 8,000 trees in a neighborhood, then conduct a clinical trial to track their effect on the health of local residents.

All cities, big or small, can begin exploring ways to create links between the health sector and urban forestry agencies. The key is connecting public health outcomes to urban trees. Communication and coordination between a city’s parks, forestry and public health departments can reveal new sources of funding for tree planting and maintenance. Working together, the health sector and the urban forestry sector can achieve a healthier, more verdant world.

Robert McDonald is Lead Scientist for the Global Cities program at The Nature Conservancy and lead author of “Funding Trees for Health.” He researches the impact and dependencies of cities on the natural world, and helps direct the science behind much of the Conservancy’s urban conservation work. He holds a PhD in Ecology from Duke University and has published more than 50 peer-reviewed publications, and a recent book, “Conservation for Cities.”

Culture or Conditions? A Look at Sexual Assault on Public Transport

Mon, 2016-11-07 23:58

A Busy TransMilenio Commute has Some Wondering about Sexual Assault. Photo by Eli Duke / Flickr

Bogotá, Colombia was recently named the least safe transit system for women, largely due to an epidemic of sexual assault (defined here as any type of unwanted sexual touching). According to a survey, conducted in Colombia and Bolivia as part of the Lee Schipper Memorial Scholarship last year, 38 percent of female TransMilenio users, Bogotá’s bus rapid transit system, have been assaulted. While the case of TransMilenio is extreme, Bogotá’s system is far from alone in facing this crisis. In El Alto, Bolivia, 20 percent of female users, or one in five, have been assaulted.

The conditions within transit systems, such as extreme crowding, isolation and lack of accountability, often contribute to sexual assault and cause perpetrators to go unpunished. However, cultural norms also play a role in normalizing and trivializing violence against women. The sustainable transport community needs to recognize this and work toward changing both conditions and culture—including its own.

Sexual Assault Is a Public Health Crisis

The risk of sexual assault violates women’s right to access public space safely, and assault can have lingering consequences for victims. One study found that one-third of groping victims suffer lasting psychological consequences and nearly two-thirds are forced to change their behavior in some way—many begin closely monitoring their proximity to others (a behavior known as hypervigilance).  For public transit-dependent users, avoiding crowds may be impossible. One user of TransMilenio described her continuing stress, six years after she was assaulted:

“I was waiting for TransMilenio, and this guy came up behind me and started rubbing his genitals against me. I thought it was because the platform was so crowded, but when I got on TransMilenio, he stayed behind on the platform. He was looking at the other women, surely to do the same to them. I still don’t feel comfortable on TransMilenio. You’re always on the defensive so they don’t touch you, watching out to see who’s in front of you, who’s behind you, who’s all around you.”

This constant state of stress and hypervigilance impacts users’ emotional and psychological wellbeing and can erode trust of those around them. Less than half of assault victims on TransMilenio believed their fellow passengers would intervene if they witnessed an assault, as compared to 67 percent of women who had not suffered an assault.

Crowded Conditions Foster Assaults

TransMilenio’s legendary crowding creates an atmosphere where riders can harass women with little fear of legal or social consequences. The crowding normalizes very intimate contact with strangers. As a result, physical sensations that would normally be clear indications of assault may be ambiguous. In the most crowded vehicles, it may not even be possible to tell who, of the half-dozen people in one’s immediate proximity, is doing the touching. Both victims and witnesses have discussed feeling unable to intervene because of this ambiguity and anonymity.

Even in less crowded conditions, the normalization of intimate contact lowers the chance that the assaulter will be detected. Many women describe feeling someone pressing up against them and assume it’s because of the crowded conditions, only to realize later that the contact was inappropriate. In general, women who did not or could not confront their assaulter in the moment (whether or not they legally reported them), express more negative feelings in the aftermath.

A large crowd gathers on the TransMilenio platform in Bogotá, Colombia. Photo by Gwen Kash

A Culture That Discourages Action

Some people in both developing and developed countries view sexual assault as something the victims bring on themselves. An interview excerpt from Bolivia illustrates this sentiment:

“Put on a thick jacket! Don’t comb your hair! But if you go around in really tight jeans, people are going to look at you. They’re going to touch you.”

Both men and women expressed similar opinions, although many respondents of both genders also rejected the idea that women are responsible for their own victimization. A recent campaign in Curitiba, Brazil captured this alternate belief: “Today I left the house wearing makeup, but it wasn’t for you.”

Other interviewees felt both the frequency and effects of sexual assault were overstated, such as these two Colombian respondents:

“There are women who, to feel important or to be rebellious, use these mechanisms to denounce an assault to get revenge if someone evaded the fare, or didn’t let her pass, or went in front of her. It’s very common.”

“When you go to a place where there are a lot of people, there’s going to be groping. But women, just like men, feel sexual desire, so about 15-20 percent of women enjoy that this happens to them, true? But since the feminist movement appeared, women complain about everything.”

While opinions like these are troublingly common, it is worth noting that many respondents, both men and women, wholeheartedly rejected these ideas.

However, sexism is not just a problem among transit users. All three of the previous excerpts came from interviews with transit planners of varying ages. When raising awareness about assault on public transit, advocates for sustainable transport must not neglect examining their own perspectives.

The Path to Safer Transit

To successfully address sexual assault on transit, advocates need to raise awareness among both transit users and transit planners that assault is a real problem with serious consequences. It is critical to identify cultural and technical measures to reduce future assaults and make women feel safe using public transport. Drawing on the perspectives of women who have experienced assault will help gauge the effectiveness of potential remedies. For example, based on a victim’s experience with ambiguous assaults, it may be helpful to focus on empowering victims and witnesses to react in a way that avoids conflict. Addressing sexual assault is vital for improving women’s physical and emotional safety as they take transit.

In recent months, TransMilenio took an important step toward addressing sexual assault, as representatives met with several victims during the final stage of the Lee Schipper study. While awareness of existing resources, such as the Purple Hotline (offered by the Secretary of Women), is low, new recommendations include targeting awareness campaigns toward both men and women and the training of and building trust in transit police officers.

Culture or Conditions? A Look at Sexual Assault on Public Transport

Mon, 2016-11-07 23:58

A Busy TransMilenio Commute has Some Wondering about Sexual Assault. Photo by Eli Duke / Flickr

Bogotá, Colombia was recently named the least safe transit system for women, largely due to an epidemic of sexual assault (defined here as any type of unwanted sexual touching). According to a survey, conducted in Colombia and Bolivia as part of the Lee Schipper Memorial Scholarship last year, 38 percent of female TransMilenio users, Bogotá’s bus rapid transit system, have been assaulted. While the case of TransMilenio is extreme, Bogotá’s system is far from alone in facing this crisis. In El Alto, Bolivia, 20 percent of female users, or one in five, have been assaulted.

The conditions within transit systems, such as extreme crowding, isolation and lack of accountability, often contribute to sexual assault and cause perpetrators to go unpunished. However, cultural norms also play a role in normalizing and trivializing violence against women. The sustainable transport community needs to recognize this and work toward changing both conditions and culture—including its own.

Sexual Assault Is a Public Health Crisis

The risk of sexual assault violates women’s right to access public space safely, and assault can have lingering consequences for victims. One study found that one-third of groping victims suffer lasting psychological consequences and nearly two-thirds are forced to change their behavior in some way—many begin closely monitoring their proximity to others (a behavior known as hypervigilance).  For public transit-dependent users, avoiding crowds may be impossible. One user of TransMilenio described her continuing stress, six years after she was assaulted:

“I was waiting for TransMilenio, and this guy came up behind me and started rubbing his genitals against me. I thought it was because the platform was so crowded, but when I got on TransMilenio, he stayed behind on the platform. He was looking at the other women, surely to do the same to them. I still don’t feel comfortable on TransMilenio. You’re always on the defensive so they don’t touch you, watching out to see who’s in front of you, who’s behind you, who’s all around you.”

This constant state of stress and hypervigilance impacts users’ emotional and psychological wellbeing and can erode trust of those around them. Less than half of assault victims on TransMilenio believed their fellow passengers would intervene if they witnessed an assault, as compared to 67 percent of women who had not suffered an assault.

Crowded Conditions Foster Assaults

TransMilenio’s legendary crowding creates an atmosphere where riders can harass women with little fear of legal or social consequences. The crowding normalizes very intimate contact with strangers. As a result, physical sensations that would normally be clear indications of assault may be ambiguous. In the most crowded vehicles, it may not even be possible to tell who, of the half-dozen people in one’s immediate proximity, is doing the touching. Both victims and witnesses have discussed feeling unable to intervene because of this ambiguity and anonymity.

Even in less crowded conditions, the normalization of intimate contact lowers the chance that the assaulter will be detected. Many women describe feeling someone pressing up against them and assume it’s because of the crowded conditions, only to realize later that the contact was inappropriate. In general, women who did not or could not confront their assaulter in the moment (whether or not they legally reported them), express more negative feelings in the aftermath.

A large crowd gathers on the TransMilenio platform in Bogotá, Colombia. Photo by Gwen Kash

A Culture That Discourages Action

Some people in both developing and developed countries view sexual assault as something the victims bring on themselves. An interview excerpt from Bolivia illustrates this sentiment:

“Put on a thick jacket! Don’t comb your hair! But if you go around in really tight jeans, people are going to look at you. They’re going to touch you.”

Both men and women expressed similar opinions, although many respondents of both genders also rejected the idea that women are responsible for their own victimization. A recent campaign in Curitiba, Brazil captured this alternate belief: “Today I left the house wearing makeup, but it wasn’t for you.”

Other interviewees felt both the frequency and effects of sexual assault were overstated, such as these two Colombian respondents:

“There are women who, to feel important or to be rebellious, use these mechanisms to denounce an assault to get revenge if someone evaded the fare, or didn’t let her pass, or went in front of her. It’s very common.”

“When you go to a place where there are a lot of people, there’s going to be groping. But women, just like men, feel sexual desire, so about 15-20 percent of women enjoy that this happens to them, true? But since the feminist movement appeared, women complain about everything.”

While opinions like these are troublingly common, it is worth noting that many respondents, both men and women, wholeheartedly rejected these ideas.

However, sexism is not just a problem among transit users. All three of the previous excerpts came from interviews with transit planners of varying ages. When raising awareness about assault on public transit, advocates for sustainable transport must not neglect examining their own perspectives.

The Path to Safer Transit

To successfully address sexual assault on transit, advocates need to raise awareness among both transit users and transit planners that assault is a real problem with serious consequences. It is critical to identify cultural and technical measures to reduce future assaults and make women feel safe using public transport. Drawing on the perspectives of women who have experienced assault will help gauge the effectiveness of potential remedies. For example, based on a victim’s experience with ambiguous assaults, it may be helpful to focus on empowering victims and witnesses to react in a way that avoids conflict. Addressing sexual assault is vital for improving women’s physical and emotional safety as they take transit.

In recent months, TransMilenio took an important step toward addressing sexual assault, as representatives met with several victims during the final stage of the Lee Schipper study. While awareness of existing resources, such as the Purple Hotline (offered by the Secretary of Women), is low, new recommendations include targeting awareness campaigns toward both men and women and the training of and building trust in transit police officers.

New Research Shows How BRT Ridership Is Making Bogota a Healthier City

Tue, 2016-03-01 02:04

The TransMilenio bus rapid transit (BRT) system in Bogotá, Colombia (pictured above) is one of the leading examples of sustainable transport worldwide. New research shows that ridership is associated with greater levels of physical activity, making the city a healthier place. Photo by Mariana Gil/EMBARQ Brazil.

Physical inactivity is one of the ten leading risk factors for death worldwide. Approximately 5.3 million people die prematurely every year due to cardiovascular diseases, breast and colon cancer and diabetes and other illnesses associated with sedentary lifestyles. According to The Lancet Physical Activity Series Working Group, more physical activity can increase global life expectancy between 0.41 and 0.95 years. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity throughout the week.

In order to maintain moderate physical activity, many people tend to think just about exercise. Nevertheless exercise is just “a subcategory of physical activity that is planned, structured, repetitive, and aims to improve or maintain one or more components of physical fitness”. Health specialists define physical activity as “any bodily movement by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure – including activities undertaken while working, playing, carrying out household chores, travelling, and engaging in recreational pursuits.”

So, would walking to the bus stop make up for structured gym time? Researchers in Bogotá explored the issue and found surprising results. In the recently published paper “TransMilenio, a Scalable Bus Rapid Transit System for Promoting Physical Activity”, a team of researchers concluded that using Bogotá’s bus rapid transit (BRT) system was associated with meeting the WHO’s recommended level of physical activity.

The research shows that TransMilenio riders were more likely to have more than 22 minutes a day and 150 minutes per week of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity than non-users. The findings bolster the case for how investing in public transport is an investment in the health of the city.

More Transit Ridership Makes for a More Active City

The researchers from Universidad de Los Andes schools of Engineering and Medicine, Universidad Jorge Tadeo Lozano and World Resources Institute (WRI), conducted the long version of the International Physical Activity Questionnaire (IPAQ) with 1000 adults and measured physical activity with a sub-sample of 250 individuals who wore accelerometers 12 hours a day for seven days (except when sleeping, showering or swimming).

The survey included information about the participants (sex, age, marital status, education, monthly household income, neighborhood socio economic stratus, occupation over the last 30 days, years lived in the neighborhood, and motorcycle and car ownership) as well as minutes spent on each transport mode (public bus, BRT, feeder bus, car, taxi, motorcycle, and others) over the previous 7 days. The researchers also evaluated the walkability of the neighborhoods where the surveys were conducted.

Statistical analysis of the surveys showed that 58 percent of the users of TransMilenio were likely to walk to and from transport modes more than 150 minutes per week, while 48 percent of than nonusers of the BRT system met this minimum.  The research also shows that there were no significant differences according to socioeconomic status or sex. Data from the sub-sample of people wearing accelerometers was consistent with the survey results: TransMilenio users walked more than non-users (median 38.4 minutes vs. 28.0 minutes per day). Interestingly, women and people with low income were more likely to average over 22 minutes of activity daily.

Furthermore, the research found that this greater physical activity has an effect on health savings. The economy saved between 3 and 22 percent of each dollar spent on TransMilenio, as walking to and from the BRT stations led to reduced illness like diabetes, ischemic heart disease and cancer. In dollar terms, this savings amounts to approximately US $2.63 – $17.55 per user per year, which is between 1 percent and 5 percent of the average users’ annual medical costs.

These findings from Bogotá are consistent with similar studies conducted in Curitiba and in King County, Washington, where transit use was associated with more than 10-12 minutes of physical activity per day. The US National Household Travel Survey also shows walking to transit associated with physical activity.

A Case for Further Investment

It is clear that simply walking to the BRT station will not be enough to completely reduce obesity and associated diseases. Even someone who spends 150 minutes a week on moderate-to-vigorous physical activity also needs to follow a healthy diet and to refrain from smoking, among other things. Nevertheless, the health impact of BRT systems is typically framed in terms of reducing travel times, while curbing traffic incidents, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. This research changes that.

The authors conclude: “Our study underscores the potential importance of BRT in increasing walking for transport. This study provides evidence of the benefit of incorporating considerations of increasing walking into public transportation planning to increase physical activity and prevent non communicable diseases in the world’s rapidly urbanizing cities”.

TransMilenio needs improvement, but this new study should give decision makers yet another reason how investing in the system can benefit the health of a city as a whole.

These results were recently highlighted in Public Radio International, where Jason Margolis explains why taking the bus is better for your health than driving.   

New Research Shows How BRT Ridership Is Making Bogota a Healthier City

Tue, 2016-03-01 02:04
Physical inactivity is one of the ten leading risk factors for death worldwide. Approximately 5.3 million people die prematurely every year due to cardiovascular diseases, breast and colon cancer and diabetes and other illnesses associated with sedentary lifestyles. According to The ...

One Person’s Trash is Another Person’s Source of Income

Thu, 2015-09-03 19:27

As landfills reach capacity in developing cities, organizations and governments are innovating new and sustainable methods of managing their waste. (Photo: Mr Thinktank / Flickr)

With massive population growth in store for cities across the Global South, the fact that many cities struggle to provide effective waste collection to serve the current population levels is worrying. Poor waste collection practices — such as the indiscriminate dumping of refuse due to inadequate equipment and insufficient (or even non-existent) separation of different types of trash — can have severe negative effects on the environment and urban residents’ health. In Lagos, Lilongwe, Mexico City, and Dhaka, a combination of government, non-profit, and business interests are working to revolutionize their cities’ trash collection, with a focus on engaging ordinary citizens in recycling and composting.

The Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) is responsible for waste management across Lagos. Through public-private partnerships, the agency has modernized and formalized waste cart pushing, bringing informal waste collectors into the formal economy. Inner-city areas with narrow roads are now reached via mini skip trucks and automotive tricycles instead of wheelbarrows and push carts. This allows operators to collect more waste on fewer trips. It also adds ease and dignity to the process, and ensures proper disposal to official landfills since each operator is accountable to a regulating body that enforces good practices and monitors service delivery. Finally, LAWMA encourages women to get involved in the sector now that most collection has transitioned from intense cart pushing to automated activities.

Estimates show that the number of people living in Lilongwe will have more than doubled by 2030, yet even with the current population, the local authority can barely collect all of the waste that is generated: a 2008 study showed that the city could only collect and safely dispose of 30 percent of the city’s waste. In this context, women and young people, supported by the nonprofit sector, are seizing opportunities. Our World International is a local NGO working in Kawale, a traditional housing area in Lilongwe to mobilize women and youth to form waste entrepreneurship groups. Equipped with basic compost training, the entrepreneurs make compost manure and sell it to landscaping companies or individuals for use in gardens. While the motivation of the waste entrepreneurship groups is to earn a living, they are also cleaning up the city, especially in low-income areas with limited government collection services.

Disposing of solid waste is one of the biggest challenges in Mexico City. The government is pushing for a cultural change, urging residents to separate their waste, approximately 50 percent of which can be reused. Since 2012, the government of the Federal District has been implementing the Plan Verde (Green Plan) to encourage recycling. Under this plan, garbage trucks collect organic waste on certain days and inorganic waste on other days. Plan Verde also disseminates information about consumer habits, encouraging residents to buy products with the recycling emblem or made from natural materials like paper or glass. The plan recommends avoiding the purchase of overly-packaged products and limiting the amount of plastics used. Temporary market places have been installed in various locations around the city where residents can trade their recyclables using a points system they can then use to buy fresh produce.

With landfills in Dhaka reaching their full capacities, the municipality and community actors are working to improve the treatment of biodegradable waste, which represents 74 percent of the city’s waste. Waste Concern, a social business, has started a food composting program in Dhaka’s largest slums and residential areas to teach communities how to process food waste they can sell as compost. Large Indonesian composting drums were brought in to conceal the waste and minimize odor. Several families use one drum, and earn USD$12 per month from each compost drum. Waste Concern has also expanded to more affluent residential areas, with a similar door-to-door training and waste collection program. This program is done at a price that allows the organization to cross-subsidize its operations. Waste Concern is now in the process of formulating a larger integrated waste management program between 19 cities, including Dhaka, in cooperation with the city government.

Check out more of the discussion on cities as engines of change on URB.im and contribute your thoughts to the conversation.

This post was originally published on URB.im.

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