• Green city art
    Green city art

Green cities grow from the roots

Royal climate change researcher Harriet Bulkeley doesn’t believe that directives from above cause us to change our behaviour. On the other hand, she believes in the creative and fumbling environmental experiments that she has seen popping up in cities around the world. Now she is going to study climate-friendly initiatives in Sweden on a professorship established in the name of the King of Sweden.

“Since 70 per cent of the world’s emissions come from cities, their environmental measures are extremely important”, says Harriet Bulkeley.

While she is in Lund, she will work with a research group to study Lunds energi’s district heating system and climate-friendly projects in Malmö and Stockholm. They may also have time to look at Copenhagen, which has recently distinguished itself as the world’s most bike-friendly city.

Harriet Bulkeley is no stranger to Lund. She knows several of Lund’s climate researchers, and the attractions for her included Lund’s environmental science, which has a large interdisciplinary breadth.

Harriet Bulkeley began to take an interest in the role of cities in the fight against climate change when she was writing her PhD thesis in Australia in the 1990s. In a country that is known for being reluctant to sign any international climate change agreements, she came into contact with local politicians who were much more forward-thinking than the Government. She mentions the example of Newcastle, a small mining city north of Sydney. They established links with environmentally friendly cities around the world, experimented with renewable energy sources and also managed to lower residents’ energy costs.

“Contrary to what one might believe, the size or economic standing of a city is not what determines how committed they are to measures to improve the climate”, says Harriet Bulkeley. “What it takes are ‘political champions’, visionaries with the ability to build wide networks and implement major changes.”

“70 per cent of the world’s emissions come from cities.”

She gives the example of São Paulo, where private landlords and the city’s energy authority have joined forces to supply entire districts with solar panels, thereby significantly reducing the use of fossil fuels. Another example is Bangalore in India, where construction companies market themselves as environmentally friendly by building homes without baths, with small freezers and with space for cultivation. A third is Philadelphia in the USA, where they are experimenting with painting all the roofs white so that buildings are cooler in the summer. This has reduced use of air conditioning.

Harriet Bulkeley says that directives from above that urge us to be more environmentally friendly appear to have little effect on behaviour. However, she believes that successful climate-friendly experiments catch on quickly – experiments such as car pools or couchsurfing.

“I don’t think we’ll ever be able to control climate change by measuring it or change people’s behaviour through directives”, she says. “Of course, we have to work on multiple fronts, but I think we need to spend less time on different ways of measuring and more on finding low-carbon solutions. We have to bear in mind what motivates people to care and to want to use a certain initiative.”

Text: Ulrika Oredsson

Published: 2014


About the professorship

On the King’s 50th birthday in 1996, a professorship in environmental science was established in the King’s name. The chair, which is financed by a number of research foundations, academies and the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, goes to an outstanding international researcher who can help to provide new perspectives to environmental science in Sweden. The field of environmental science is interpreted broadly when awarding the visiting chair, encompassing engineering, science, social sciences or humanities. Lund University is the highest ranked Swedish university for environmental science, at number 32 in the world in the QS ranking, and this is not the first time the chair has been awarded to Lund.

Related articles