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Special - Spatial Planning and Energy for Communities in All Landscapes Town and Country Planning Association European Union

Knowledge Pool

Module 1: Climate Change and Sustainable Development

1.1 The Case for Climate Change

What is Climate Change?

“Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system.” Pg 15 IPPC 5th Annual Report: Summary for Policymakers

Human influences have caused major changes to the climate, and in turn, European society is confronted by the major impacts of climate change such as increasing global temperatures, sea level rise, and unexpected extreme weather events. In September 2013, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Report declared that it was extremely likely (95-100% probability) that most of the warming since 1950 has been anthropogenic: a result of human influence. The IPPC further stated that greenhouse gas emissions at or above current rates may lead to changes in the oceans, ice caps, glaciers, the biosphere, and other important components of the climate system.

The emigration of millions of people, climate change refugees, is also a very real impact of climate change as the places in which people live change or disappear entirely. The impacts of climate change will produce challenges to the places in which people live and work which cannot be ignored by planners. The main challenge is the need for joined-up and long term mitigation measures that enable substantial and sustained reductions in the emission of greenhouse gases (CO2, NO2, CFC, methane). Ambitious national, regional and local targets that are integrated with existing and improved planning policies and processes are needed to achieve the joined up approach required for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.


The evidence
Increasing CO2 emissions into the atmosphere: The emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere has been increasing over the past few decades. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased from below 320ppmv (in 1960) up to 390 ppmv (in 2011). Despite the political will to reduce global CO2 emissions through international agreements such as the Kyoto-Protocol (1997), atmospheric concentrations of the greenhouse gas(GHG)  emissions (CO2, methane, nitrous oxide) have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. CO2 concentrations have increased by 40% since pre-industrial times, primarily from fossil fuel usage and secondly from net land use change emissions. The ocean has absorbed about 30% of the emitted anthropogenic carbon dioxide, causing ocean acidification (Fifth IPCC report, 2013). CO2 absorbs infrared and near-infrared light, before slowly re-emitting the infrared at the same wavelength as what was absorbed. This process is the fundamental cause of the greenhouse effect and global warming.

Figure 1: Carbon increase in the atmosphere in Hawai (PPM at Mauna Loa observatory)

[Source: NOAA, Scripps Institute of Oceanography]

Despite the political will to reduce GHG, emissions have increased over the past ten years this due to issues such as:

  • Increasing use of fossil fuels (rising demand for energy, reliance on fossil fuels to meet energy demands, changing commuter patterns, unsustainable travel etc.)
  • Economic growth e.g. rise of the BRIC states (Brasilia, Russia, India, China)
  • Global  population growth
  • Behaviour and lifestyle choices
  • Cheap fossil fuel prices
  • Consumption and Trade (23% of global CO2 emissions were from international trade, primarily as exports from China to consumers in developed countries)

Industrialised countries are currently the biggest producers of CO2 emissions. The following two figures show the amount of CO2 emissions from different countries. Figure 2 shows the absolute CO2 emissions per country and while Figure 3 shows emissions per inhabitant. China is the biggest polluter, however, when looking at emissions per capita (5.2 tC02) it is the more industrialised countries such as Australia (19 tC02), USA (18 tC02) and South Korea (10.6 tC02) that are producing more CO2. Figure 3 shows a comparison between CO2 emissions from big cities and countries. This raises the question: why are CO2 emissions per inhabitant in Los Angeles (16 mio inhabitants including the metropolitan area) more than double those of inhabitants of London (22 mio Inhabitants including the metropolitan area)? Why does the City of Potsdam generate the same amount of carbon emissions as the whole country of Afghanistan?

Figure 2: World atlas of per capita emissions

[Source: Sterzel, Reusser, Costa, 2012; Data source: CDIAC, 2011]

Figure 3: Comparison of cities and countries by CO2 emissions

[Source: Reusswig, PIK, 2012]

CO2 from energy consumption: The world’s energy demand has been increasing rapidly over the past 100 years and is been based on fossil fuels such as oil, gas, and coal. During this time approximately 50% of the existing oil stock has been consumed, and in parallel, the emission of CO2 has been rising – and, it is still increasing.

Figure 4: World energy consumption up to 2060

[Source: IEA]

Looking at global GHG emissions by sector demonstrates the impact that existing energy solutions and existing land uses have on the production of  GHG. Electricity, heat and other fuel combustion sectors emit 33.5 per cent of GHG. A move towards more sustainable energy solutions would begin to reduce this. Spatial planning is a key mechanism through which this can be achieved.

Figure 5: Annual greenhouse gas emissions in 2005 by sector

[Source: Herzog, Timothy (July 2009), World Greenhouse Gas Emissions in 2005. WRI Working Paper]

CO2 from urban settlements: CO2 emissions generated by urban areas are related to their spatial structure.  The table below shows that CO2 emissions are lower in more compact urban areas than in areas with urban sprawl. In addition, the figures 6 and 7 show that CO2 emissions are also linked to urban density.





Toronto inner city




Toronto suburbs

City district
















Figure 6: Urban density related to energy consumption (World)

[Source: The world bank, 2009]

Figure 7: Less fragmented and compact cities emit less CO2 (Japan)

[Source: Makido et al, 2012]

The Impacts of Climate Change

The emission of CO2 from the burning of non-renewable fossil fuels is a primary cause of global warming. The continued emission of greenhouse gases from these sources of energy at the current levels will cause further warming and change to the climatic system. In order to limit the amount of climate change, substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions are required, without such reductions global warming will lead to economic, environmental and social problems.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the leading international body for the assessment of climate change. It was established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1988 to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge in climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts.

The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (published 2013) demonstrates that global emissions must be greatly reduced in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change. It also contains important new scientific knowledge that can be used to produce actionable climate information and services for assisting society to adapt to the impacts of climate change. The fifth IPCC report identified that:

  • Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.
  • The global mean average surface temperature rose by 0.89°C from 1901 to 2012. Each of the last three decades has been warmer than all preceding decades since 1850. In the Northern Hemisphere, 1983-2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years. The first decade of the 21st century has been the warmest of all (WMO’s The Global Climate 2001-2010 estimates the global average surface temperature for that decade at 14.47°C). Global average temperatures will likely rise by another 0.3°C to 0.7°C in the period 2016-2035. Averaged over the period 2081-2100, the global surface temperature is likely to exceed pre-industrial levels by 1.5°C or even (depending on future greenhouse gas emissions) 2°C.

Figure 8: IPCC evidence for increasing surface temperatures

[Source: IPCC 5th Annual Report: Summary for Policymakers]

  • Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850. In the Northern Hemisphere, 1983–2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years (medium confidence).
  • Changes in many extreme weather and climate events have been observed since about 1950. It is very likely that the number of cold days and nights has decreased and the number of warm days and nights has increased on the global scale. In in large parts of Europe, Asia and Australia, it is likely that the frequency of heat waves has increased.
  • It is virtually certain that the upper ocean (down to 700m) has warmed from 1971 to 2010. The deep ocean below 3000m has also likely warmed since the 1990s, when sufficient observations became available. Ocean warming accounts for most of the change in the amount of incoming solar energy stored by the Earth, accounting for about 93% of it between 1971 and 2010. The global ocean will continue to warm during the 21st century. Heat will penetrate from the surface to the deep ocean and affect ocean circulation.

[Source: DIFU]

  • The rate of sea level rise since the mid-19th century has been larger than the mean rate during the previous two millennia. The global mean sea level rose by around 19 cm from 1901 to 2010 due to increased ocean warming and melting glaciers and ice sheets. The rate of rise accelerated between 1993 and 2010, and it is very likely to increase further during the 21st century and beyond. The report notes that, during the last interglacial, when the climate was 2°C warmer than pre-industrial levels, maximum global sea levels were 5 to 10 meters higher than they are today.
  • Seawater has become more acidic (its pH has decreased by 0.1) since the beginning of the industrial era due to humanity’s carbon dioxide emissions; it will continue to acidify during the 21st century
  • It is very likely that the Arctic sea ice cover will continue to shrink and thin and that  Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover will decrease during the 21st century as global mean surface temperature rises Some scenarios foresee a nearly ice-free Arctic Ocean in September before mid-century.
  • There is very high confidence that glaciers have continued to shrink and lose mass world-wide, with very few exceptions. By 2100, glacial volume could, under one scenario, decline further by as much as 35-85%. Meanwhile, the extent of Northern Hemisphere snow cover has decreased since the mid-20th century, especially in spring, and this decline, too, will continue.
  • It is likely that human influences have affected the global water cycle and its patterns since 1960. For example, in recent decades precipitation has increased in the mid-latitude land areas of the Northern Hemisphere.

[Source: DIFU]

The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) works with the IPCC on climate change issues and work to devise strategies and options for a sustainable development of humankind and nature. Interdisciplinary and solution-oriented approaches are a distinctive characteristic of the institute. In 2013, PIK’s research found that:

  • One out of ten people on Earth is likely to live in a climate impact hotspot by the end of this century, if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated. Many more are put at risk in a worst-case scenario of the combined impacts on crop yields, water availability, ecosystems, and health, according to a study now published online by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
  • Extremes such as the severe 2012 heat wave in the US or the one 2010 heat wave in Russia are likely to be seen much more often in the near future. Today, due to man-made climate change, monthly heat extremes during summer are already observed on 5 percent of the global land area. This is projected to double by 2020 and quadruple by 2040. A further increase of heat extremes in the second half of our century could be prevented if global greenhouse-gas emissions were substantially reduced.

[Source: PIK Potsdam]

  • Greenhouse gases emitted today will cause sea level to rise for centuries to come. Each degree of global warming is likely to raise sea level by more than 2 meters in the future, a study now published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows. While thermal expansion of the ocean and melting mountain glaciers are the most important factors causing sea-level change today, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets will be the dominant contributors within the next two millennia, according to the findings. Half of that rise might come from ice-loss in Antarctica which is currently contributing less than 10 percent to global sea-level rise

Figure 10: Sea level rise

[Source: Sterzel PIK 2013; Vermeer & Rahmstorf 2009; Domingues 2008]

  • Measurements from around the world indicate that monthly temperature extremes have become much more frequent. On average, there are now five times as many record-breaking hot months worldwide than could be expected without long-term global warming. In parts of Europe, Africa and southern Asia 80 percent of observed monthly extremes would not have occurred without human influence on climate

Useful links for more information:

The Challenge for Planning

It is not possible to stop the climate change, but it is possible to lower the impacts of climate change! This means it is time to start with mitigation activities right now to reduce greenhouse emissions.

United Nations Under Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said: “Climate change is a long term challenge but one that requires urgent action, not tomorrow but today and right now, given the pace and the scale by which greenhouse gases are accumulating in the atmosphere and the rising risks of a more than 2 degree C temperature rise”. Important stakeholders for implementing activities are the town- and spatial planners because they have relevant formal and informal instruments to support the minimisation of global warming.  These are the local plan, neighbourhood plan, binding local plan, land use plan, regional plan, masterplan, regional development concept, comprehensive plan, traffic plan, to name a few.

Challenges and activity fields for planners can be (Source: Klimaschutz in der räumlichen Planung, Umweltbundesamt, 2012):

  1. Pictures of urban life in 2050: Quantitative objectives for the reduction of greenhouse gases have to be described within the development of qualitative overall concepts and visions towards emission low or free cities, municipalities, regions, counties. Use of concepts or scenario processes - including stakeholders.
  2. From building to quarter: The object oriented focus in climate protection (e.g. retrofitting of single buildings) has to be translated in a more quarter oriented approach.
  3. Efficient energy supply towards transformation of urban infrastructures: Transformation of supply systems towards sustainable infrastructure have to put in the focus of planning activities
  4. From climate protection to integrated approaches: Combination of climate protection, climate adaptation and resource efficiency have to be more in the focus of sustainable spatial developments
  5. From the city in the region: Extending the municipal/local perspective to regional governance structures.
Good Practice Examples

The Planning and Climate Change Coalition Case Study sets out exemplar legislative and policy context for action on climate change, and offers principles and good practice which local authorities and communities may find helpful in preparing plans and implementing them through development management.

The PCCC guide ‘Planning for Climate Change – Guidance for Local Authorities’ can also be downloaded from here - http://www.tcpa.org.uk/pages/planning-for-climate-change-guidance-for-local-authorities-2012.html

Links, literature:

Related presentation at SPECIAL Training Week in Berlin/Germany, September 2013

German Climate Protection Initiative and Funding System by Katharina Voss, Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, Berlin

Related presentation at Project Management UK Training Week UK, April 2013

Climate Change, Energy Policy and Planning - Kate Henderson, Chief Executive and Dr Hugh Ellis, Chief Planner, TCPA