Maybe I cannot save the world or a country, as what I’ve been wont to do. Will scaling down my scope to a city level make a difference then? My bachelor’s degree in Human Ecology/Human Settlements Planning may have prepared me to such a mission, yet my career went askew and I chose a more lofty, if not a unwieldy duty to serve the national government.
But I have left that path, and am now treading a temporary role as an intern. Little did I know this precarious choice after doing a Master’s programme would lead me to where I started. I again uttered and heard the words local, city, urban, and planning. The dormant planner in me was awakened by one meeting our office organized in partnership with the HafenCity University almost three weeks ago. It was a privilege to meet planners, mostly from Europe, who shared their insights on the status of urban spaces and local governance as related to climate change particularly the transition to renewable energy. A couple of American and Indian experts were also present to inject insights from their own country into our discussion.
We had a powerhouse cast. Big names in the environment and renewable energy sector flew in to Hamburg. There were Dr. Ashok Khosla, Co-President of the Club of Rome and President of IUCN and Sanjay Prakash from India, Prof. Eric Martinot from Japan, Prof. Droege from Lichtenstein, and .
Local minds from the city were also present. Prof. Knieling and Prof. Laepple provided both theoretical and practical inputs, who are both from the HafenCity University. Staff from our office were of course present, and our partner institution, the HafenCity University.
During the rounds of introduction, I mentioned that I expect to have a dissertation topic by the end of the two-day meeting that lightened up the mood of the group for a bit. The rest of the time, it was serious talk over how to approach sustainability in cities, the more tangible and consequently vulnerable affected areas of climate change. After a day-and-a-half of brainstorming and a hodge-podge of insights that each brought into the table, it was agreed that a transition to renewable energy of cities require institutional and legal support from national governments. As functions and mandates are decentralised, so should do decision-making and financing.
Cities, being smaller in geographic and political scale, tend to be more manageable. Bottom-up actions initiated by cities that reach a critical mass or tipping point are often picked-up by policymakers to be proposed at the national level. As the climate change talks in Copenhagen kick-off next week, negotiations will mostly focus on national committments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I hope that success in cities that are starting to make a difference will be cited not only sparingly, as they are models at the forefront and capable of achieving of sustainability.