Parag Khanna is a CNN Global Contributor and Senior Research Fellow in the Centre on Asia and Globalisation at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore
"In a world defined by crowded mega-cities, mankind has no higher priority than sustainable urbanization."
Parag Khanna has travelled to more than 50 countries in an attempt to understand how the world and its cities are changing. His latest book, “Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization” explores how global connections and knowledge flows impact the world while demonstrating the power that mega-cities have in leading the way.
The C40 News Team recently spoke with Khanna to find out more about the role that cities and connectivity will play in a low-carbon, climate safe and sustainable world.
What are “connectivity” and “connectography”, and what does this mean for cities?
Connectivity is our growing capacity for interaction through transportation, energy and communications networks. The rapid expansion of these networks that enable the efficient transfer of goods, people, knowledge, technology and capital all give rise to a new world order of "Connectography." Mayors now have the ability to build relations directly with each other, gaining expertise and best practices from each other.
"I've never met a mayor who said to me, "I want my city to be cut off." They know that their cities belong as much to the global network civilization as to their home countries."
Better connectivity can mean improved public transportation and less automobile ownership, commuting, congestion and emissions. It also can mean more high-speed internet connections, telecommuting, and sharing economy activity that includes poor populations. There are so many ways in which having greater connectivity in all its forms empowers smarter and more sustainable cities.
Cities have been thought of as part of the problem of emissions and pollution, but they can also be the site of the solution because they are where the most innovative technologies are developed and deployed. This means everything from electric car sharing to waste-to-energy power generation to zero-emissions buildings. Cities are already our drivers of economic growth, but in these ways they can be more sustainable as well.
How can global connectivity help with the implementation of the Paris Agreement, signed on Friday, and limit warming to 1.5°C?
I recently discussed this in my TED talk on "How megacities are changing the map of the world". We know that, ultimately, agreements have to be implemented to be meaningful. This means more emphasis and funding for technology transfer across cities so that those most responsible for emissions can bring them down quickly. We need more connectivity to make this happen.
"We know that summit after summit in New York and Paris is not going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But what we can see is that transferring technology and knowledge and policies between cities is how we've actually begun to reduce the carbon intensity of our economies. Cities are learning from each other. How to install zero-emissions buildings, how to deploy electric car-sharing systems…Cities have been part of the problem, now they are part of the solution."
What is “diplomacity”, and what are the implications for national governments?
"Diplomacity" is cities trading, exchanging and learning from each other, and through networks such as C40, it is thriving today. The history of diplomacy since ancient times is in fact the diplomacy among cities, so we are "returning" to something that is actually an eternal reality. National governments should put their full weight behind this concept because it represents functional cooperation rather than legal stasis; "Diplomacity" is all about action.
Credit: University of Wisconsin-Madison Cartography Lab
We now need to focus on cities as the main pillars of change that require stronger federal support on matters such as financing long-term infrastructure transformation towards more sustainable technologies and practices. Right now, governments are far too focused on the short-term and don't appreciate the long-term economic value embedded in investing in change.
You’ve travelled around the world over the last few years – what are some of the urban sustainability patterns you’ve seen during this time? Which cities stand out for you in terms of climate leadership?
I've seen a far greater emphasis on mixed-use developments to diminish commuting times, as well as many more electric cars and car-sharing services so there’s less traffic in large cities. I’ve also seen an increasing number of important efforts to diminish food waste and promote recycling. All of these are very positive steps many cities are undertaking.
A number of Indian cities – particularly Jaipur which recently reached the top 3 of India’s Smart Cities campaign – have demonstrated strong and ambitious visions and plans for climate action, based on changes that citizens want to see.
Also, Chinese cities, such as Wuhan and Nanjing, are investing in metros and strictly regulating car usage in certain areas or on certain days, and are doing the right thing in order to incentivize new patterns.
Lastly, cities that are investing in solar and wind power, such as Seoul, Melbourne, and Copenhagen, are also taking the right steps to ramp up the share of their energy consumption that comes from alternatives and renewables. It takes all of these steps related to transportation and energy, workplace practices and building design, and many other areas to make cities sustainable and viable for the decades ahead.
Watch Parag Khanna's TED talk on How Mega-Cities are Changing the Map of the World.
Visit his website to learn more.