Climate Strategies Member Olga Chepelianskaia writes about her TEDx Rawatpur talk on Thriving Low Carbon Cities of the Future

Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

Building low carbon thriving cities is as critical as ever today. Over 75% of the infrastructure that will exist in 2050 doesn’t exist today (The Global Infrastructure Basel Foundation). The way we build cities now will hence determine our quality of life and the future of our planet for decades to come.

Every year, the world emits over 30GT of CO2 emissions. Nearly 30% of these emissions are related to buildings and nearly 1/3 of this amount derives from manufacturing of conventional building materials such as aluminum, cement, glass, iron and steel. A large portion of these buildings are built in cities. In other words, the way we build cities today creates a major anthropogenic climate change problem.

The biggest challenge of cities in the Global South is to reconcile the need for rapidly building affordable urban infrastructure to address tremendous infrastructure shortages today with the need for sustainable, livable, and unique urban fabric to ensure the city is attractive and competitive tomorrow. Achieving this can only happen by bringing together approaches tailored to the local context and cutting-edge technologies.

To support cities in this transition, UNICITI, launched a non-for-profit initiative A Third Way of Building Asian Cities, which works on breakthrough solutions in alternative building materials, alternative urban design and planning techniques, and alternative policies and financial mechanisms. Over 150 professionals across over 35 countries are helping us identify such solution which can be deployed at scale in Asia, and in the Global South.

A few examples:

  • Compressed Stabilised Earth Blocks (CSEB): The very soil we dig for foundations is actually a construction material. By mixing gravel, sand, silt and clay with 4 to 10% of cement and compressing the blocks, we can now build up to 5 storeys high with CSEB.

  • Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT): Trees are another alternative building material that grows from the soil beneath our feet. Made of thin layers of wood placed across one another at the right angles and laminated with fire-resistant glue, we can make use of Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) to build stronger than steel, fire-resistant buildings. The Canadian building code has already included CLT of up to 12 storeys high.

  • Passive design techniques: Building takes advantage of the local sun, wind and light patterns to naturally maintain a comfortable temperature range. Passive House Institute says that passive design can save up to 90% of energy utilised for space heating and cooling.

  • Modular or prefabricated technology:  Modular bamboo buildings is one of the means which help achieve flexible cities. This means building in such a way that we can change the height, the layout and even the location of our buildings not by demolishing and building anew, but by disassembling and assembling again. For example, Bamboo city in the Anji county, in China, plans for a set of modular bamboo buildings, which can be adjusted to accommodate more living units, more public spaces, bridges and other structures as the community grows.

In other words, all this brings us way beyond only reducing carbon emissions, which is already a lot. We also help cities adapt to climate change, increase sustainability, quality of life and create unique cities that we will be thrilled to live in.

We need to act fast before cities are locked into unsustainable and unlivable patterns for decades. All the more so because every second person in the world is an urban dweller. And whether you are a Mayor, a national policy maker, an urban practitioner, a research institute, a development foundation or a citizen – we can make this change together.

Watch the newly released Olga Chepelianskaia’s TEDx Rawatpur talk on Thriving Low Carbon Cities of the Future to gain more insights and contact us at for collaborations.