According to United Nations Development Programme, local governments are responsible for more than 70% of climate change reduction measures and up to 90% of climate change adaptation measures. According to the United Nations Environmental Programme, 75% of CO2 emissions come from cities, with transportation, buildings and food being the largest emitters. So, the government and local communities should do what they can to lessen the impact of climate change wherever it is possible and adapt to it when it isn’t. Here are a few possible solutions.
Things the Government Can Do:
While the debate about taxi mafias and electric buses vs. light rail rages on in Phuket, a partial solution to reducing the congested streets of the island is seldom talked about. That is improving the walkability and bikeability in the most trafficked areas of the island, such as Phuket Town and Patong.
Many major cities such as Paris, Madrid, Ottawa, Seattle and Melbourne are already doing this by turning their densely packed downtown areas into so-called 15-minute cities in which cars are banned or limited and all essential services are strategically placed within walking or biking distance, which is easy to do because of the close proximity of the shops and restaurants.
Studies show that when downtown areas limit vehicle traffic, businesses in those areas generally thrive as do property values, while pedestrian deaths go down, and the air gets cleaner resulting in a lower incidence of asthma, heart attacks and cancers, which also reduces the burden on the healthcare system.
A recent report from the Centre for London shows that reduced traffic neighbourhoods are one of the easiest ways to save money, improve health and make cities quieter, and let’s face it the quality of life on Phuket would be immensely improved if we had less traffic.
Flood Mitigation. Phuket’s annual floods are getting worse, which is leading to millions of baht in property damage. However, there are ways to mitigate flooding and lessen the damage.
One strategy that China is using is redesigning its metropolitan areas into sponge cities that restore floodplains and wetlands and create retention ponds, sunken parks and water-permeable parking lots. Not only does this reduce flooding, but it also cleans the air and water and creates habitats for wildlife and pollinators to live, while giving people access to nature, which can improve mental and physical health.
Phuket can imitate the success of sponge cities by replacing grass lawns in parks with trees and native species of plants that have deep root systems and can increase the soil’s capacity to store water, reduce runoff and, consequently, flooding. It can also build rain gardens, plant more trees, create pocket parks (mini parks) and put up rainwater collection systems. Rainwater collection alone has been shown to reduce flood costs by up to 30%. Combining these solutions with better drainage in the areas that are most likely to flood, can reduce the damage to roads, buildings, businesses and homes while saving millions of baht and preventing unnecessary deaths.
Food Security. Maintaining the food supply chain is something else we need to be concerned about on Phuket. One solution is turning our lawns into gardens. In the United States lawns are the single largest irrigated crop using tens of thousands of litres of water annually, while not producing any food. They are also a desert for biodiversity, which means our pollinators don’t have a home.
A study from Virginia Tech found that lawn chemicals contaminate our water supply, and pollute our drinking water. Other studies have found that these pesticides can lead to an increased risk of cancer for you, your pets and the local wildlife, and can increase the risk of childhood leukemia by almost seven times.
So replacing some of the lawns around government buildings and in parks and turning them into edible gardens, while also promoting rooftop gardens and vertical farms, is a way that we can reduce the threat of supply chain issues while, also decreasing our use of fertilisers and pesticides and increasing biodiversity, all of which can lead to greater environmental resilience and macroeconomic stability.
Keeping Cool. Globally we’ve seen an average increase in temperature of about 1°C since the 1950s. Finding ways to stay cool without using greenhouse gas producing air conditioning is important. While planting trees, growing rooftop gardens and creating more green spaces will play a crucial part in keeping Phuket cool, there are additional measures that we can take to stave off the so-called urban heat effect, which comes from concrete buildings and black tar roads absorbing and radiating solar energy.
For example, we can paint building rooftops white, which can reduce the temperature inside by up to 30% compared to the outside. Likewise, we can coat roads in solar reflective paint, which can reduce ambient temperatures by up to 12°C. Buildings can be covered with living walls made of moss or plants, awnings and canopies can be erected to provide more shade and inexpensive terracotta and bamboo water passive cooling systems, which use evaporation to cool the ambient temperature by between 5-10°C, can be placed in public areas where people are most vulnerable.
Although these changes won’t take place overnight, they need to happen over the next five years. Climate change is already affecting Phuket and the longer we wait to deal with it, the worse it will become.
In next week’s article, we will look at personal changes that you can make in your lifestyle to help stave off the worst effects of climate change.
Palmer Owyoung is an environmental activist working with the Kamala Green Club and the Global Sustainability Hub.