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Urban Poverty vs. Climate Change?

Tina Ziegler16 January 2012

by Tina Ziegler

↑ Photo by: benguez

Two of the most pressing global issues nowadays are urban poverty and climate change. To overcome urban poverty and therefore the urban divide the needs of the urban poor have to be met by social, economic and political inclusion. To tackle climate change appropriate mitigation strategies in the area of energy, waste, waste water and transport have to be implemented and adaptation strategies to increase resilience are crucial. None of these strategies are terribly new or cutting edge.
However, the biggest challenge seems to be that the two issues are being tackled individually. Although some papers and publications can be found on “bridging” these two agendas – also known as brown and green – the reality barely reflects the approach of scientific integration. Hardly any practical cases can be found on an integrated approach between the green and the brown agenda. It can be speculated that this happens because generally the poor – in an urban and rural context – hardly contribute to climate change. Their carbon footprint is usually very low (see more). However, if these communities are to be integrated in the city their footprint will increase, since thinking of bridging the urban divide and integrating the urban poor in the city means meeting their needs as human beings. What are these needs? A hot shower, a cold beer, comfortable indoor climate during all seasons, the needs to communicate, be entertained, have access to information and be able to run a business etc. And these needs are neither basic nor modern. They are universal and independent of social status or income or where someone lives. Everyone has these needs, only that they are not provided to citizens without formal recognition or a certain salary and integration of the urban poor means satisfying these consumption needs.
Meeting these needs with a focus only on the brown agenda means at the same time increasing the carbon footprint, GHG emissions and therefore climate change. How can this pollution evolution from polluting locally when poor, polluting regionally when in transformation and polluting globally when industrialised and “rich” be overcome? It seems so obvious that the opportunity is integration of the urban poor in the city context by meeting their needs in a sustainable manner and reducing the environmental impact these communities would have in the future. And it is possible to go even further: Lessons learnt from applying climate friendly systems in informal settlements can be applied when pimping the formal parts of the city to reduce their negative climate impacts. This might truly be a chance to integrate former informal settlements by actively generating and contributing know-how and knowledge to urban practice and development.
For example Rio de Janeiro: Since January 2011 the city has an eager climate change framework in place – one of the most holistic ones on municipal level in Brazil – with CO2 reduction targets, GHG inventory, prevention and adaptation measures. Furthermore the municipality is well known for its slum upgrading (Morar Carioca) and urban planning programme (UPP Social) to integrate informal settlements. However only in one (!) informal community exists currently an approach – which has its weaknesses and great potential for improvement – to use ‘green’ strategies such as waste water recycling, solar thermal systems, passive solar design, recycled paving, etc. These strategies not only reduce the carbon footprint, but also have the potential to reduce up to 40% of electricity bills in the case of using solar thermal energy for showers instead of electricity and – since some solar systems can be self built – have a job potential for the low income community.
All this seems so simple and convincing to gain the positive impacts of integrating both challenges, too simple for not being regarded in practice. So, I can only keep on wondering: Why is an integrated approach not a broad reality yet?

Why do Grids have to be smart?

Tina Ziegler30 October 2010

Post written by: Tina Maria Ziegler. DPU alumna 2009

Recently I heard quite a lot about so called Smart Grids. Might be because I’m an engineer for renewable energies, but I guess more so because it actually appears to become more and more the new development model for future energy management. And it seems that particularly in many emerging countries it is a big topic. China claims to be pioneering in that area, India tries to chase its electricity thieves with it and all over Brazil workshops and conferences about those grids can be found. So I was wondering: What is actually a Smart Grid?

The majority of what can be found online to this topic is in fact intelligent metering, meaning that in my house I or somebody else will be able to control when energy goes to which electrical appliance in order to save energy and therefore reduce costs, increase transparency and reliability. However, Smart Grid is much more than that. It’s all about communication. Actually it’s an international umbrella term for intelligent grid technology. This means, that all parts of an energy grid, from the producing plant (powered by traditional or renewable energy sources) and grid appliances to the energy consuming end devices in my home will be enabled to communicate. Of course with the help of the latest information and communication technologies. But why do they have to communicate?

Actually there are several reasons. So far I find the following most important: Globally the future energy generating landscape will be more and more renewable and therefore fluctuating. Energy is generated when the sun shines, the wind blows or the tide is being a tide. Therefore it is far less controllable like coal or nuclear power plants are. So, it’s impossible to switch off, or reduce the wind. Of course one could switch off the wind turbine, but this is not what we want. We want this green energy for cooking, showering and air-conditioning. Wouldn’t it be much nicer when our electric car is being charged while the sun shines the strongest? And in the case of shortages of electricity. Wouldn’t it be nice if the neighbourhoods in India don’t have to completely abstain from electricity in case of a shortage, but the lights would still continue to burn? And precisely to realise this, to shift the load flexibly through the grid, all of the parts have to communicate.

So what does all this have to do with development? Well, I think that particularly in countries still developing and further expanding their electricity grids using decentralised renewable energy sources (particularly in rural areas) these smart grids are great to leapfrog towards a more energy efficient and cleaner future. But to be honest I still have many open questions particularly regarding the cost of the systems and the incentives for the energy utility companies to implement a system which actually saves energy and therefore reduces the bills of the users, and of course there is the question of protection of privacy of the end user.

Image credits: www.lightingcontrolpros.com, smart grids concept