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Cities and the Ethical Turn: Cities and Climate Change

Published by CitiesProgramme on 

Pictured: The Metro Station University of Chile, the most extensive Metro Network in South America, powered by 60% renewable energy. Sadly 80 stations have been destroyed in the recent protests. About Santiago’s Metro.
Author: Beatriz Maturana

The words ethics and cities have recently been combined by philosophers and urbanists to focus on a turn towards sustainability in the urban century. Climate Change charges this turn with an alarming urgency. While we know that there is no single solution to meet this challenge, today it is recognized that cities have the capacity, resources and ability to find solutions within the UN Sustainable Development Goals.  As stated by the C40 organization, “the outcome of climate change begins in the cities”.
In Chile, our National Urban Development Policy, Sustainable Cities and Quality of Life (NUDP 2014), lays the foundations and guidelines for the improvement of our cities in not only in their physical but also cultural aspects and in pursuit of sustainable objectives. In this way, we want to highlight the significant role of cities and their ability to improve the conditions of the planet and the lives of its inhabitants. This policy is based in the “conviction that our cities and populated centres could be much better than they are if, as Chileans, we agree on some fundamental aspects that govern its formation and development”.

Why Cities?

The NUDP places the urban issue as a “national theme” and a key pillar for our development. The policy objectives of quality of life and sustainability force us to urgently face the challenges of climate change.
  • 70% of cities are already suffering the effects of climate change and 90% of all urban settlements that are located on the coastal edges. It will be these settlements and among them the poorest, that are first affected by the rise in the level of the oceans.
  • Of the 9 criteria of vulnerability to climate change, Chile and its cities meet 7 of these: Low-lying coastal areas; Arid zones and Forest zones; Territory susceptible to natural disasters; Urban areas with air pollution; Areas prone to drought and desertification; Mountainous Ecosystems. [1]
  • Changes that affect the water supply will impact more than 50% of the world’s population living in cities today. [2]
  • In the case of Chile, 87% of its population lives in cities, and its capital city faces the effects of desertification.

How can cities, which are considered as a source of the problem, be re-thought as the source of a solution to climate change?

To discuss these issues and to better prepare us to face the challenges imposed by climate change, we will hold a day of forums, talks and interdisciplinary round tables. We will discuss the key aspects that, in line with our urban policies, highlight the urgency and allow a refocus and reassessment of the guidelines to strengthen our commitment to sustainable cities and quality of life. A report will be produced at the conclusion of the seminar.
In the wake of the October demonstrations Chile’s world standing as host for COP25 has shifted from its credentials of achieving carbon neutrality by 2040 to be the epicentre of the people’s movement for social justice. In the process, our cities and our urban conviviality have been severely wounded by vandalism at an infrastructural scale and civil disorder in widespread looting and arson. In this democratic republic, the institution of government is steering solutions to long due social justice issues that had not been met by governments of various tendencies for the last three decades of economic growth. With COP25 at our doorstep, the attention must draw together the social, the urban and the challenge of climate change.
The seminar ‘Cities and the Ethical Turn: Cities and Climate Change’ endorsed by COP25 will run on December 10.
Dr. Beatriz Maturana is a Cities Programme Global Advisor, an Adjunct Professor of the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University, Associate Professor at the Institute of History and Heritage, Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism (FAU), University of Chile and the founder of Architects for Peace. Her teaching is in the areas of sustainable urban development & heritage, and interventions in public space and undertaking research on urban social integration. Beatriz graduated in Architecture at RMIT University, later undertook a Master of Urban Design and a PhD from the University of Melbourne. In Australia she practised as an architect, urban designer, and taught at RMIT, Monash and University of Melbourne.

[1] Ministerio del Medio Ambiente. (2019). Simulaciones Climáticas.
[2] Plan de Adaptación al cambio climático para ciudades 2018-2022, 6/2018 (MMA, MINVU 2018).

Original Publication in UN's Global Compact Cities Programme:

Note: this text was written before the Chilean Government had to decide to move COP25 to Madrid, given the situation in the country, and before the team preparing the University´s conference decided to postpone the event for the same reasons. 


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