Urban areas at the front-line of a fundamental transition: Exploring the stimulating factors for low-carbon urban development in the European Union
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Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most important anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) and warming of the global climatic system is now unequivocal and evident from observations in the environment (IPCC, 2007b). Limiting global average temperatures to 2°C above pre-industrial levels is necessary to avoid unacceptable negative impacts. A major transformation towards a low-carbon economy and society is called for which requires the developed countries to radically reduce emissions during the next forty years (ibid.). Urban areas play an important role in the reduction potential as they “consume the bulk of the world’s energy and [are] thus perhaps the single largest ‘source’ of global CO2 emissions” (Corfee-Morlot, et al., 2009, p. 17). Cities and urban areas around the world are growing at an extraordinary rate and subsequently will contain 60% of the world’s population by 2030 (UN-Habitat, 2011). In response to climate change, the debate around GHGs and the need for more sustainable urban development, the concept of ‘low-carbon development’ (LCD) was developed. As most of the buildings that are expected to make up the EU building stock in the required low-carbon future already exist today, and energy performance and other environmental standards have gradually been tightened since the 1970s, much of the carbon reduction potential in cities may be realized by encouraging urban redevelopment at the neighbourhood level and the incorporation of LCD strategies (Newton, 2010). However, regardless of some ambitious policy objectives, there remains a significant gap “between the rhetoric of reducing GHG emissions at the urban level and the realities of putting such policies and schemes into practice (...)” (UN-Habitat, 2011, p. 115). National governments are not able to meet their international commitments for addressing mitigation without localised action and support (UN-Habitat, 2011). The fundamental challenge is to provide the enabling conditions for the transition to low-carbon futures which has to engage both with socio-economic, politico-institutional and technical structures and practices. The research therefore aimed to identify and explain successful low-carbon urban redevelopment strategies at the neighbourhood level in front-running European urban areas to improve the future design of sustainable urban development policies. Although the research found several stimulating factors in four case-studies and an extensive literature research, there is no ready-made approach to delivering low-carbon residential areas. The research provided an overview ‘ingredients’ on which future low-carbon developments could build. However, because climate change will have different effects at different localities, low-carbon development should aim to integrate local policy aims and development issues. Moreover, the research has shown that low-carbon urban development should be best implemented through an inclusive, cooperative and integrated approach to planning and will benefit from ambitious, visionary and proactive stakeholders who are at the basis of the stimulus for the low-carbon component in contemporary urban development.