At the recent UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (Cop26) in Glasgow, the renewed global commitment to tackle climate change was accompanied by a palpable sense of fresh urgency. How do we turn these pledges into real change with impact that starts today?

Owning a vision and a well-articulated plan may be an essential starting point, yet more than ever, quick wins are needed, too. There should be available means to reduce the carbon footprint of everyday life and improving the quality of lives of citizens and communities promptly, if not immediately.

In the context of sustainable planning for cities, it is particularly important that action is taken swiftly by taking into account the present, given that many climate and sustainability plans are currently set for delivery within the next 10 to 20 years.

Climate urgency and Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic has added new pressure to the sustainability agenda. Repeated lockdowns, the closure of workplaces, restrictions on transport, and disruptions to business-as-usual have shone a new perspective on the inadequate continuity provisions by cities and businesses.

The pandemic has shifted people’s priorities, too. The reduction of industry activity and traffic flow saw air and water quality improving, and nature thriving. Many people discovered a new quality of life, freed from rigid office hours and punishing commutes. Some started to actively invest in their outdoor spaces, or made a more permanent move away from densely-populated conurbations. Others resolved to work from home as much as possible in future.

In the context of sustainable planning for cities, it is particularly important that action is taken swiftly by taking into account the present

As city and business planners review their sustainability strategies in the light of these changes, a number of challenges emerges. These include concerns whether operational costs may rise, new goals to set, and incorporating sustainability metrics to gauge the success of their action plans. A mindset change is needed too, if city planners and businesses are to fulfil growing public expectations that sustainability planning will become a prominent feature of their agenda, and be visible in everyday decisions and actions.

The good news is that while ‘greening’ businesses, infrastructure and services may incur an initial investment, over time more sustainable operations and practices will give rise to greater savings. At the same time, proactive organisations can expect their brand reputation to improve as they are seen to be doing the right thing in supporting the global fight against climate change.

Read more: Building a sustainable and resilient future: a tech-driven plan

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