DUBAI: Experts who took part in a special session on Thursday of the Urban 20 (U20) Mayors Summit in Riyadh agreed broadly that achieving a carbon-neutral circular economy is key to fulfilling global climate-action pledges.
The participants examined policy recommendations with a focus on making urban energy systems more efficient through use of renewable energy sources.
The common goal of the policy recommendations is to help cities shift from a linear material economy to a circular model that reduces, reuses, recovers and recycles scarce, carbon-intensive resources.
Urban communities have picked up some new habits during the COVID-19 pandemic, and should stick with them, says Dr. Oriana Romano, of the Water Governance and Circular Economy in Cities unit at the OECD Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs, Cities and Regions.
“We have been changing and reflecting on our habits, and the way we consume, produce, live and travel. We now have the possibility, because of this consensus we have built together with many cities, that the circular economy can be the new normal,” she said.
Romano underscored the importance of a circular model that goes beyond achieving environmental-related practices, to enhance economic growth, social well-being and quality of life in cities.
For her part, Eugenie Birch, chair of urban research and education at the University of Pennsylvania, referred to five top priorities agreed upon by cities at the first Sherpa meeting of the U20, and which will be included in the 27-point communique that will be delivered to G20 leaders at the end of the Mayors Summit in Riyadh.
The priorities were identified as: Increasing energy efficiency and diversification; zero-carbon mobility and reshaping of mobility; reducing, reusing, recycling and recovering materials; carbon-neutral buildings and construction; and sustainable production and consumption.
“The papers on which mayors have drawn produce strong, timely, evidence-based policy recommendations,” Birch said, adding: “We are very hopeful that the G20 nations will take them up because they are instrumental in developing the approach and moving out of the current situation we see ourselves in, with the unfortunate effects of the pandemic on public health as well as the economic and social ramifications.”
Birch discussed the need to “regulate, invest and redirect” national budgets to carbon-neutral, quality mobility systems in order to support sustainable and affordable zero-emission mass transit, particularly in marginalized and vulnerable communities.
Discussing transformations in mobility, Alwalid Alekrish, vice president of the Royal Commission for Riyadh City and head of Riyadh Metro, highlighted the progress made in the King Abdulaziz Project for Riyadh Public Transport.
“One of the many benefits of public transport is improved health of citizens,” said Alekrish, who confirmed the project had reached 90 percent completion.
The $23 billion project, which was launched in 2013, consists of the Riyadh Metro and the Riyadh Bus Network.
The metro project includes six lines, covering 176 kilometers, 85 stations, four main stations, five interchange stations, 25 park and ride facilities, seven depots, 5 operation control centers (OCCs), and driverless train operations.
“The capacity for the initial phase [of the project] will be 1.16 million passengers and the ultimate capacity will be 3.6 million passengers,” Alekrish said.
The second part of the project, the Riyadh Bus Network, is composed of 24 lines, covering 1,230 km, 6,700 stops and stations as well as a transport control center, which will control facilities under both sub-projects.
“Riyadh today is a city of 7.1 million inhabitants, and we expect to reach 15 million by 2030. In the past 10 years, the population has increased by 20 inhabitant per hour,” he said.
“Fifty million trips are happening every day, of which 2 percent are now public-transport trips.”
Alekrish highlighted the economic benefits of the project, noting that for every dollar spent, a return of $3.40 is projected.
“We are now carrying out dynamic testing and improving roads to allow for better pedestrian access to stations to help transform the model of transportation, which will of course increase public ridership and offer positive changes to the city and society.”
Birch, of the University of Pennsylvania, referred to another recommendation in the G20 communique, which calls on cities to “immediately commit” to tackling the climate emergency by substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions, with the aim of collectively delivering the 50 percent reduction required by 2030 and to reach carbon neutrality before 2050.
In line with the 2016 Paris Agreement goals and taking into account the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, cities must work together to hold the increase in global average temperatures to well below 2 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees.
“Nations need to take this on themselves according to their capacity and context to adhere to what they have pledged to in the international agreements,” said Birch.
Additionally, there would be a need to enhance the ability of local governments to finance and adopt circular-economy initiatives in the building and construction sector.
“Some 60-70 percent of the world’s buildings are yet to be built,” said Birch on an optimistic note. “Therefore, we have a tremendous opportunity now as we recover from the pandemic, to make sure that our construction materials are green.”