The Ideal City in 2030: how Carbon “Negative” Cities can Generate the Greatest Positive Impacts

I’ve recently been thinking about how cities might contribute to a carbon “negative” future. So when I saw that the topic for the Masdar Engage Blogging Contest (www.masdar.ae/adsw/engage) was “Describe the ideal city in 2030,” I decided to take the bait. My submission is below — please help send me to Abu Dhabi by liking my post (at the bottom of this page http://masdar.ae/en/adsw/detail/noah-deich-the-ideal-city-in-2030-how-carbon-negative-cities-can-generate-p) and sharing it on Twitter/Facebook (top right of the Masdar site)!

Also, I’d love everyone’s thoughts on other ways to make the “city of the future” carbon negative, so please leave your thoughts in the “comments” section (either here and/or on the Masdar site).

The Ideal City in 2030: how Carbon “Negative” Cities can Generate the Greatest Positive Impacts

Today, the world’s cities are a major source of greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions. With urban populations expected to continue growing, cities’ exposure to climate change will only get worse unless they break away from this GHG-emitting status quo. Fortunately, the emerging field of carbon dioxide removal (“CDR”) offers hope. CDR (or “negative” emission) technologies afford cities the opportunity to turn the current GHG emission paradigm on its head by enabling cities to go “negative” and remove more GHGs from the atmosphere than they emit. Just imagine: the more that a carbon “negative” city grows, the greater the positive environmental impact the city would have! And best of all, in the process of becoming carbon “negative,” cities will gain opportunities to build sustainable foundations that enable continuous advances in the health, prosperity, and well-being for their citizens.

Here’s how cities across the globe might become carbon “negative” by 2030:

1. Start with the built environment

The physical structures of our buildings hold great potential to lock away carbon. Materials such as sustainably-harvested timber and carbon “negative” cements could one day trap large volumes of carbon in our cities’ skyscrapers, roads, and sidewalks, preventing that carbon from escaping back into the atmosphere for decades.

Above: Sustainably-harvested wood can be used in myriad structures that serve as a carbon sinks, including this bridge in the city of Sneek in the Netherlands. Image Credit: contemporist.com

What’s more, our buildings can literally begin to come alive: green walls and rooftop gardens not only suck carbon out of the air, but they also can provide healthy local produce, can reduce storm water runoff, and can decrease the urban heat island effect.

Above: “living” walls, such as this one in central London, already provide cities with GHG-removing capabilities. Image credit: Noah Deich

While the potential for rooftop gardens may be limited by the number of suitable roofs, the sky is the limit for carbon-consuming “vertical farms.”

vertical farm

Above: rendering of the “Vertical Farm” concept. Image credit: T R Hamzah & Yeang via worldarchitecturenews.com

And coastal cities could even expand similar agriculture projects offshore, as illustrated by the “Green Float” concept.

Above: rendering of a concept carbon “negative” city that floats in the ocean. Image credit: Shimizu Corporation

2. Harness the potential of public spaces to sequester GHGs

In addition to buildings, public areas hold the potential to be carbon “negative.” For example, cities can employ biochar to enhance the ability of parks to sequester carbon. Cities can also manage public rights of way with landscaping techniques that enhance carbon sequestration. And for coastal cities, restoring wetlands and/or offshore areas can remove carbon from the air all while protecting the city (from extreme weather events and sea level rise) and providing outdoor recreation areas.

Above: The Living Breakwaters concept would protect cities from storm surges, as well as provide homes for carbon-sequestering shellfish — and new outdoor recreation opportunities for city dwellersImage credit: SCAPE / Landscape Architecture

3. Unleash the power of innovation hubs to make carbon removal a reality

While many CDR concepts are nearing commercialization today, cities will have to accelerate CDR innovation to make carbon “negative” cities a reality by 2030. To accomplish this, cities can create CDR innovation hubs by providing workspace and seed funding for promising startups. Take Climeworks, for example, a Swiss startup that spun out of ETH Zurich and leveraged workshop space provided through the university and philanthropic seed funding to develop a machine that pulls carbon dioxide directly out of ambient air to make transportation fuels.

Above: Climeworks has developed a machine that separates carbon dioxide out of ambient air; Audi then uses this pure carbon dioxide to make transportation fuels. Image credit: Audi Encounter online magazine.

Cities can create innovation hubs for different CDR approaches — for example energy, urban agriculture, waste management, etc. — and in the process not only build the tools for cities to go carbon “negative,” but also to create a durable culture of innovation designed to address cities’ most pressing concerns in the future.

Carbon-Neutral Thermoplastics

Above: Newlight Technologies can create plastics out of methane coming from landfills; CDR waste management innovation hubs could stimulate the development of like-minded companies seeking to turn waste into valuable consumer products. Image credit: trendhunter.com

So does this mean that any city be carbon “negative” by 2030?

Yes! No two cities will pursue the same path to being carbon “negative,” but each can work to create an environment that encourages the development of CDR solutions best suited to their people, geography, and unique history. And in working towards being carbon “negative,” cities will see immense positive impacts as they become healthier, more prosperous, innovative, and beautiful.

Word count (excluding image captions): 595

About the Author

Noah Deich blogs about all things carbon dioxide removal (“CDR”) at (carbonremoval.wordpress.com), where you can find commentary and analysis on the latest CDR news, links to CDR-related research, and opportunities to learn about CDR at upcoming conferences and events.

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