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How to Make Cities Safe and Sustainable?


Ashgabat / UNDP Turkmenistan

Mark Chao, UNDP International Expert on Energy, Environment and Climate Change

UNDP: Why was the topic of sustainable cities included into the list of the Sustainable Development Goals?  What’s its relevance?

Mr. Chao:  In 2008, for the first time, the number of the urban population in the world has exceed the rural population.  By 2050, that figure will have risen to 6.5 billion people – two-thirds of the humans on our planet.  The same tendency is observed in Turkmenistan, where the number of urban population exceeded rural in 2014. And this trend is accelerating.

This growth of cities puts great pressure on existing infrastructure for energy, water, and transport.  It also can increase problems of waste management and pollution. Thus, our task is to support and improve the level and quality of life of all citizens even under conditions of urban population growth and limited resources.


UNDP: What are the necessary conditions for a city to become sustainable? What shall residents pay attention to to make the city comfortable for living?

Mr. Chao:  Sustainability requires planning based on robust data, strong policies and state financial support, and modern technical solutions for infrastructure.  But it also requires the attention of citizens, who can play a very large role by their choices and behavior.  We make progress toward sustainability when citizens decide to use energy and water resources rationally and efficiently.  We make progress toward sustainability when citizens consider walking, bicycling, taking public transportation, or riding with friends instead of driving in one’s private vehicle.  And we make progress toward sustainability when people decide to dispose of trash properly, especially when there are special processes for handling recyclable materials.


UNDP: What activities are planned as part of the new UNDP project?

Mr. Chao:  We are considering a number of activities. However, all of the proposals are at the stage of consideration and development now. We are still conducting research and holding discussions with national partners.

I have visited two cities in Turkmenistan nominated as pilot regions for the project: Ashgabat and Avaza. I need to admit that I was impressed by the amount of work already being conducted as part of the national projects aimed at improving energy efficiency of the two cities.

For example, street lighting. In both cities, the regular bulbs are replaced buy new LED-lamps. This is already a very progressive and energy-efficient solution.  It would be good to replicate this practice in other cities of Turkmenistan.  And within our new project, we expect to conduct pilot projects on the use of street lighting powered by solar panels.

We are planning various activities involving transportation.  We recognize that the Government of Turkmenistan has already introduced the condition that allow importing only high-quality, technologically advanced vehicles.  But we would like to consider what incentives or norms would encourage Turkmen drivers to use energy-efficient cars, including hybrid or electric cars.  Electric cars are increasingly popular around the world, because they are enjoyable to drive but also because they generate much less pollution than regular cars.  Introducing them in Turkmenistan could therefore have significant benefits.  But there is a need for standards, as well as infrastructure for charging the vehicles.

Bicycle lanes might be another solution for sustainability in transportation, even given the climate conditions of Turkmenistan. I’ve heard that the Government is actively promoting healthy lifestyles.  Bicycles fit within this national priority on health, but also helps prevent traffic jams, reduce pollution, and slow our contribution to climate change.  

Finally, national partners proposed to consider potential work in the sphere of recycling. There is already a recycling plant in Ashgabat.  In our new project, we will assess the possibility of a new process of sorting recyclable waste at the household level. This measure could make it possible to steeply increase the volume of recycling, thereby reducing waste and also reducing the consumption of raw materials and energy.  At the same time, the new project will also seek ways to reduce people’s creation of waste in the first place.


UNDP: Could you bring examples of successful UNDP projects in the sphere of sustainable cities?

Mr. Chao:  In Armenia, UNDP supported the transition from the sodium lamps to LEDs for street lighting.  First the project conducted pilot replacement of 482 lamps along two busy roads.  On average, the replacement resulted in brightness at twice the previous levels, while also reducing the number of fixtures by 36 percent.   Electricity consumption was reduced by 60 percent, or US $3000 per month, with a corresponding reduction of 223 tons per year of CO2 emissions.  These financial savings were then used to a revolving fund that accumulates saved money and uses them for further installation of new efficient lights.

In Almaty, UNDP project worked with city officials to develop and create an express bus line, which operates like an above-ground metro but at a fraction of the investment cost.  The project constructed 12 bus stops along this special line, as well as new paths for bicycles and pedestrians, and a green rest area at the route of 4 km.

These solutions are particular to the needs of Yerevan and Almaty.   We understand that they are not fully applicable to Turkmenistan – for example, because Turkmenistan is already very progressive with regard to LEDs even without UNDP’s help.  In the new project, UNDP and the Government and the city administrations will create solutions particular to the needs and priorities of Ashgabat, Avaza, and possibly other cities. 


UNDP: What would be the effect of successful implementation of the project in Turkmenistan?

Mr. Chao:   One effect would be the reduction of CO2 emissions in Turkmenistan by many thousands of tonnes.  Such a reduction, together with other efforts around the world, are our best hope of limiting the effects of global climate change.  Meanwhile, the other main effect of our project would be creation of long-term solutions for ensuring that Turkmenistan’s cities, even as they grow, remain clean, comfortable, beautiful, and capable of serving the needs of citizens for many decades into the future.

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