Climate Change and Peak Oil: The Twin Challenges to Assess Cities’ Sustainability

By Bo Miao and Graeme Lang.

Published by The International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The issues of climate change and peak oil are inextricably linked and have profound implications for cities around the world. The realization of sustainable development at city level cannot be achieved without effectively addressing these twin challenges. How to deal with the twin challenges has brought to the fore new discussion of environmental governance. While the urgency to curtail the emissions of greenhouse gases has been widely acknowledged, the great need to tackle the issue of peak oil has not obtained a consensus among international community. However, it appears that the predicted global peak of oil production, followed by inevitable decline of oil supply, is imminent. Some analysts (labeled ‘peak-oil’ exponents) have argued that we are already at or near this peak-production period. The consequences for cities are profound, since most large cities depend heavily on the global economic system of trade in goods and food, and many also depend on mass tourism, and these in turn depend on cheap fossil fuels. Cities will face difficult transitions to types of economic activity which do not require cheap concentrated energy from oil or natural gas, and are sustainable with current technologies. Although there has been little public attention to ‘peak oil’ analysis (climate change issues have dominated the media in recent years, and the recent economic recession has downplayed the importance of peak oil analysis as oil price drops sharply), many cities and towns overseas have initiated ‘peak-oil’ discussions and begun to try to plan transitions to more sustainable forms of production, exchange, and consumption. A key feature of these plans in most places is the concept of ‘localization’. In addressing peak-oil problems, the best of such solutions would also greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and thus dealing with these two twin challenges. In this paper, we review some of these overseas developments and initiatives, and examine their implications for China’s pursuit of sustainable development and better environmental governance. China needs to begin to address the sustainability problem by supplementing the geopolitical search for scarce and dwindling resources with planning and public explanations about the coming inevitable transitions to sustainable cities and urban livelihoods. A first step is to begin to study China’s urban regions on ‘sustainability’ criteria, and then to plan to progressively enhance local sustainability, for the longer-term well-being of China’s cities and countryside.

Keywords: Climate Change, Peak Oil, Local Sustainability, Twin Challenge, Transition

International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp.63-76. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 622.463KB).

Dr. Bo Miao

Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Asian and International Studies, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China

Dr. Bo Miao received his Ph. D in Environmental Law from Macquarie University, Australia, in 2008. He also holds a Bachelor of Law from the China University of Political Science of Law and a Master of Law from the School of Law, Tsinghua University.He is interested in environmental law and politics, especially climate change politics, China’s environmental law and policy, and sustainability issues.

Prof. Graeme Lang

Professor, Department of Asian and International Studies, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China

Professor Graeme Lang is a Professor in the Department of Asian and International Studies at the City University of Hong Kong.


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