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Climate emergency: How governments around the globe are tackling the crisis

October 25, 2021

By Ralston Mackenzie, Gordon Scott, Sandra Shuster and Rosario Urrutia

Governments around the world are setting climate goals and they are each uniquely positioned to take action

City: Glasgow, Scotland

Glasgow is host to the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26). The City Council declared a climate and ecological emergency in May 2019 and set a target of net zero carbon by 2030. We asked Glasgow-based Ralston Mackenzie, Senior Associate Sustainable and Active Travel, and Gordon Scott, Active Travel Team Leader, to give their perspectives on Glasgow’s Climate Action Plan. 

Where should Glasgow start to reach their goal?

Reduction in transportation emissions has been slower than in the domestic, commercial, and industrial sectors. More effort must be placed on changing the way people travel.

Glasgow City Council started by setting goals and introducing policies that are making good strides toward their ambitious 2030 target. There are many different programs that all have a part to play in shaping a cleaner, greener city. Glasgow introduced Scotland’s first Low Emission Zone (LEZ) in the city centre in 2018. The city’s LEZ is designed to protect public health and encourage greater uptake of more sustainable transport options. The city’s LEZ will apply to all vehicles entering the city from 2023.

Glasgow, Scotland.

What are the biggest challenges facing Glasgow?

One of the biggest challenges is targeting and encouraging behaviour change. It can take a long time for humans to adapt. The single biggest challenge is selling the message and enabling these changes.  

Transport and travel options must be provided in a fair, inclusive, and equitable manner. The last census in 2011 found that 51% households in the Glasgow City area do not have access to a car, yet the built environment is still dominated by features to accommodate car travel. More people need to feel confident to cycle safely—particularly those without car access—because it is relatively cheap and has such positive health benefits.

Where do they start? What’s most urgent?

Start with what works most effectively. To influence people’s habits, we must enter their psyche and understand what will influence their decision-making. People tend to choose our transport options by a mix of convenience and cost, rather than potential climate impact.

Operators have tried hard to accommodate flexible approaches. Integrated ticketing would help, as would more equitable pricing across modes. There is a huge investment in the subway system planned by Strathclyde Partnership for Transport, and this will hopefully be a catalyst for change—although combined trips need seamless transfers between modes. Shifting to mobility interchanges could help influence behaviour and provide segregated cycle lanes and improved walking routes.

We need a mixture of incentives for sustainable travel and disincentives to driving. As we emerge from the pandemic, people need to feel confident returning to public transport. As we move from the traditional ‘9 to 5, 5 days a week’, ticketing should reflect changes to how people work in the future.

Do you think it’s a realistic goal?

To reach net zero carbon in nine years’ time is certainly ambitious, but we should always strive to be! Targets that are closer in time are met more often than those in the distant future. We must work collaboratively across disciplines to make a difference.

Other cities have shown that being bold and investing in sustainable and active travel infrastructure has many positive outcomes. The move towards sustainable travel choices must be accelerated through step changes to achieve net zero carbon.

State: Colorado, USA

Colorado is particularly vulnerable to our warming climate and faces increased risks of catastrophic wildfires, greater likelihood of droughts, increased flood risks, loss of alpine ecosystems, and negative impacts to the state's winter sports industry. The state has some of the most ambitious climate goals, targeting 50% emissions reduction by 2030 and 90% emissions reduction by 2050. We asked Colorado resident and Energy Transition leader, Sandra Shuster, to share her perspective.

Colorado, USA.

Where should Colorado start to reach their goal?

Colorado’s largest sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are transportation, electricity generation, oil and gas production, and fuel use in residential, commercial, and industrial spaces. In 2019, Governor Polis released his administration’s Roadmap to 100% Renewable Energy by 2040 and Bold Climate Action. The roadmap detailed directions, policies, and actions Colorado is taking to ensure a clean energy future. 

When the roadmap was first released, there was criticism that it was not specific enough. For example, to reach Colorado’s emission reduction goals, nearly 100% of all cars on the road would need to be electric and zero-emissions trucks would need to reach 100% of the market share for new sales. Yet Gov. Polis has not gone as far as California and announced a ban on the sale of gasoline-powered cars by 2035.  Instead, he has taken a more phased approach, suggesting emissions standards in new state transportation plans, a clean trucking strategy, and additional revenue to build electric vehicle charging stations.

Where do they start? What’s most urgent?

Failure to properly account for the oil and gas industry’s impact on climate change could undercut Colorado’s chances to achieve their goals. Some argue that oil and gas production should lead the list due to the magnitude of methane emissions. While methane is not the most abundant greenhouse gas, it is 100 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping and holding onto heat. Colorado’s oil and gas industry is responsible for some of the highest levels of methane emissions in the state.

Colorado also needs to prioritize climate action in disproportionately impacted communities. Some have said that the plan, as it stands now, could ultimately perpetuate environmental injustice in Colorado.

Where do they start? What’s most urgent?

Colorado released its Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap on January 14, 2021. In June, Colorado also revealed an ambitious package of newly adopted legislation that will ensure it reduces GHG pollution from buildings. It will also improve indoor air quality, protect consumers, drive rural economic development, and support high quality jobs. 

Colorado now requires state officials to consider the social cost of methane in regulatory decisions. It is the first state to do so. In deciding what programs are cost-effective, state regulators must incorporate into their evaluations “the costs of greenhouse gas emissions, including the social cost of carbon dioxide and methane leaked or emitted into the atmosphere,” the law says.

Do you think the roadmap is realistic?

This is a roadmap which means it’s a journey. We are in unchartered territory as a state, as a nation, and as an entire planet. The science is clear on the magnitude of change we need to implement. The roadmap indicates how to achieve that change in a way that is equitable to all communities.

Colorado’s GHG emission reduction targets are attainable but will require continuous advocacy on behalf of all of us. We need to make sure that actions, laws, and policies achieve the scale and scope of emission reductions needed to immediately course-correct all industries.

Country: Chile

Chile is facing the impacts of climate change on a daily basis, from storms threating the coastlines to extreme draughts. In 2020, the country strengthened its plan to peak GHG emissions by 2025 and reach carbon neutrality by 2050. We asked Stantec’s Chile Country Manager, Rosario Urrutia, to share her perspective.  

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Chile.

Where should Chile start to reach their goal?

Chile has already started down the long road that should lead us towards “greener” development where we can interact with our environment in a more sustainable way.

What are the biggest challenges facing Chile?

The main challenge facing Chile is the persistent drought that has affected us for more than 10 years. The lack of rainfall has advanced desertification towards the most populated area in the country, known as the Central Zone. This phenomenon not only affects the availability of water for our population, but it also dramatically affects our agriculture and the productive activities of the country. How can we continue our development as a country while accepting this new reality? We must make responsible changes in our way of life that allow us to move forward.

Where do they start? What’s most urgent?

The issue of water is vital and urgent. The rational use of water, its reuse, the adaptation of crops, the protection of glaciers, and the search for new sources of energy are all actions that are most urgent.

All this must be accompanied by a process of information and education that allows us to create awareness about the fragility of our ecosystem and the serious consequences of not knowing its dynamics.

Do you think it’s a realistic goal?

The goals that Chile has set for itself in the short- and medium-term are realistic. In fact, many of the actions mentioned above have already begun. But we need a real conscience—not only from the authorities, but also from all the inhabitants of the country. As a country, we must be reminded that it is possible to mitigate the effects of climate change and that we can only develop as a country if we achieve sustainable growth.

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  • Ralston Mackenzie

    A project director focusing on the transport sector, Ralston has over 24 years of experience working on residential developments, traffic engineering, and active travel.

    Contact Ralston
  • Gordon Scott

    A transport planner and engineer, Gordon manages projects across a broad range of transportation issues in a variety of sectors.

    Contact Gordon
  • Sandra Shuster

    Passionate about international development, governance, and community revitalization, Sandra is responsible for our growth in Energy & Resources. She’s a certified leadership coach and committed to building teams that deliver results.

    Contact Sandra
  • Rosario Urrutia

    Rosario has 25+ years of experience in key positions in the environmental field, performing studies, assessments and audits for projects in mining, energy, industrial, real estate development and infrastructure in both the public and private sectors.

    Contact Rosario
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