Climate change and green growth are key issues in a rapid urbanizing world. According to the Worldwatch Institute, 80% of greenhouse gas emission is from urban areas. Last year, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held its 21st Conference of Parties (COP 21) in Paris, France. The Paris Agreement is the global agreement to tackle climate change that resulted from the negotiations during this conference.
One of the key elements of the agreement is Article 2.1.a of the Adoption of the Paris Agreement; “Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change” (2015, p 21).
To strengthen the practical implementation of the agreement, Seoul Metropolitan Government held the policy discussion event ‘Planting Energy in Buildings and City’ on December 15th, 2015. According to Mayor Park, the purpose of this discussion was to enhance Seoul’s self-reliant urban energy policies, to hear about various opinions from experts and citizens, to reconstruct pre-existed regulations, and to find solutions for a long-term development through the green energy. The main topic of the discussion was the energy efficiency of buildings and cities, and the invited experts and academics presented their opinions and suggestions. I will share some remarks from the experts that were interesting for me in this post.
Ms. Yang Yi Wonyoung, administrator of the Federation for Environment Movement, discussed about urban rehabilitation. Urban rehabilitation is important because old buildings have high energy consumption in heating, air conditioning, and lighting. According to Ms. Yang, the private sector led urban rehabilitation project, also known as New Town Development Strategy, is limited since it usually works for its profit only, and it can have a financial deficit.
In the past, there were many cases when a private sector without enough funds stopped the redevelopment project before finishing and left it on hold for a long time. Therefore, the public sector should systematically implement the planning and management of the project as it’s for the public’s interest, such as the increased quality of housing and the urban improvement. To do this, government intervention, in terms of policy advisory, regulation, financial support, and after-care services, is essential. Moreover, government should carefully design the incentive structure to equally distribute the benefits to different classes and actors.
Lastly, Ms. Yang emphasized on the importance of the citizen’s involvement in urban rehabilitation projects from the beginning to the end. Citizen should actively communicate with decision makers about their needs and interests, so the project can be well directed to a common goal.
Ms. Jaehee Jung, professor of Hongik University, talked about the building design and energy. Her main argument was to create a building design for people that save energy. Her key point was not only to focus on environment sustainability, but also on the social sustainability. She believes a real positive impact of energy efficiency comes from user-focused planning. A famous example is the integrated daylighting design with glass wall provides both environmental and aesthetic value. While it significantly reduces energy consumption, it also increases human comfort. Thus, urban designers and policy makers should consider a creative design and technology that respects social, cultural, and environmental aspects in order to build an environmentally friendly and sustainable city.
Professor Lee Jung Hyung from Chung-Ang University also put an importance on citizen’s participation. He pointed out that a little bit of personal inconvenience is required for energy efficiency, so people need to adapt themselves to a less convenient lifestyle and build consensus on it. The examples of the lifestyle can be riding bicycles instead of riding personal cars, and decreasing the temperature of a heater at home.
On the ‘top-down’ versus ‘bottom-up’ approach debate, both methods should be applied together with trust in between top and bottom to make an urban area sustainable. Government and decision makers should strategically implement big projects such as urban rehabilitation and city planning with given fund, infrastructure, human resources, and a fair incentive structure. In addition, it should cooperate with private sectors to develop and adapt renewable energy in the buildings and housings. Meanwhile, citizens should actively participate in a government project to support and reflect their opinions. Implementing green energy in buildings and developing sustainable urban areas are important challenges. However, with government’s and citizen’s contribution, consensus and trust can make a successful model of energy efficient living condition.
Jamie (Jisoo) Lee, CityNet Intern
Jamie is a recent graduate from University of Washington with Political Economy major interested in foreign aid, SDGs, and comparative politics.