A revolutionary research study has disclosed the potential for dozens of European cities to attain net-zero carbon emissions within the forthcoming decade. The key to achieving this goal would be infusing elements of nature into their urban infrastructure.
The study was conducted by a group of international experts from Sweden, the United States and China, who shared their findings in the esteemed scientific journal, Nature Climate Change. It revealed how 54 European cities have the potential to reduce their carbon emissions by approximately 17.4 per cent. This feat can be achieved by implementing nature-based solutions such as development of parks, streetscaping and green rooftops.
The novel aspect of these and other solutions highlighted in the study is their multi-faceted potential. More than just absorbing carbon emissions, nature-based solutions can effectively decrease overall emissions and resource consumption, according to Zahra Kalantari, study co-author and an associate professor at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in water and environmental engineering.
For instance, urban parks, green spaces and trees generate more environmentally-friendly behaviours such as walking and cycling. Kalantari and her fellow authors also explored diverse nature-based solutions including urban farming, rainwater absorbent permeable pavements, narrower roads flanked by trees and greenery and preservation of wildlife habitats.
An array of past study data on the impacts of these solutions was analysed, leading the team to deduce that a strategic blend of solutions could sequester carbon, promote low-impact land use and travel, offset urban and transportation carbon emissions, control pollutants, regulate temperature, enhance access to green spaces and minimise the urban heat island effect.
Kalantari emphasised the unique value of their research, asserting that it synthesizes and explores the cumulative effects of various nature-based solutions, a perspective not often considered in such studies. The study also offered crucial directives on the most effective ways to utilise these strategies. For example, in Berlin, the study suggested that prioritising green buildings and urban green spaces could slash emissions rate by six per cent for residences, 13 per cent within the industrial sector and 14 per cent in transportation.
Their research revealed the potential for the most significant carbon reduction in Eastern European Union cities, where nature-based solutions could mitigate total carbon emissions by 20.3 per cent. It was closely followed by cities in Northern European Union, where the reduction could amount to 18.2 per cent.
While carbon sequestration, the process of extracting carbon from the atmosphere and converting it into solid or liquid forms, is an established technique to combat global climate change, the research suggests that other nature-based solutions could be even more potent. A major reason for this is their capacity to influence human behaviour in a positive manner.
The study underscored the urgent need for policy reforms and a thorough understanding of behavioural, socioeconomic, industrial and cultural contexts of each city to successfully implement these nature-based solutions for climate change mitigation. This research serves as an important tool on the path towards a more sustainable urban future.