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Journal article

Low-carbon precincts for low-carbon living

10 Apr 2014

Evidence continues to mount concerning the contribution that carbon emissions from human activity are making to climate change, the costs that this will impose on future generations if unabated, and the challenging GHG mitigation targets and strategies required to minimize temperature increase. There are multiple pathways available for the decarbonization of modern societies and they tend to fall under three principal categories: technological change, sustainable urban design and behavior change. All are necessary and require transformational change from current practice.

Technological change offers the clearest and most certain path to a low-carbon future, with renewable energy at its core, linked to solar-electric and solar hydrogen systems for buildings and transport [5]. However, the speed with which this transition is currently occurring is not commensurate with the window of opportunity for the scale of carbon mitigation required, given the current path dependency of most developed and developing societies on fossil fuels, and the regimes and infrastructures built around them.

Voluntary behavior change represents the holy grail for a sustainability transformation, given its potential for occurring rapidly and at relatively low public cost. However, research to date points to a significant and persistent ‘attitudes–action’ gap among populations generally in relation to actual behaviors linked to GHG emissions and resource use [6]. In the current absence of any exogenous pressure that will force a tipping point in mass behavior, and lack of evidence that grass roots ‘spontaneous interventions’ have a capacity to snowball [101], attain critical mass and scale-up, uncertainty will continue to surround this vehicle for change until it is possibly too late. Indeed, there are those that argue that “today’s focus on ‘behavior change’ ….is a distraction because it diverts attention and resources from the problem of building wider and more durable public demand for ambitious interventions” [7].

The third pathway to more sustainable low-carbon cities is via urban design. It is now estimated that urban environments account for 80% of all global carbon emissions [8].

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