Green lush fields that later in the season turn golden; or the expanses of red fertile soil intertwined with the harvested piles of grain. This is how I remember the entrance to the city of Irbid in the north of Jordan. The road from Amman to Irbid used to be full of greenery and beautiful natural scenery. Today, there is less green and more buildings, and wider highways are eating up the mountains they cut through. Nature still manages to come through in all its glory throughout Jordan, as with the green mountains in the north, the wonderful rose-colored desert in the south, the water-filled mini canyons running through the Jordan Valley, or the amazing valleys such as Wadi Mujib or the Zarqa-Ma'in Wadi. Jordan's natural scenery, however, is changing as the years go by, and its green areas continue to shrink. Jordan's forested areas currently amount to only 1.1% of the country's total area. Climate change and low levels of rainwater have contributed to the loss of many green areas, along with urban sprawl and the lack of policies that would effectively protect the little green areas that Jordan has.
Only a few years ago, Amman and Aqaba underwent a thorough planning process. This was a positive development, but I am not sure there was any sustainable green planning included in those plans. So how sustainable are the cities of Jordan? Or let us start with the more basic question of what is a sustainable city?
In the 1980's, the planning of cities concentrated on developing huge infrastructure projects, including extensive highways and high-rise complexes. People were – and still are - attracted to big cities. By the 1980s, large rural populations had abandoned village life and the numerous economic difficulties that accompany it, and moved to cities where more job opportunities exist. With that, they began to lose their connection to nature, and, with increased urbanization, we all began to lose Nature itself. Today, however, creating "sustainable cities" is the new trend in urban planning. Cities compete on which of them is the greenest or more sustainable, and connections with nature are being regenerated.
Greening cities helps improve health levels and raises the overall quality of life for city residents. Cities have become very keen about becoming sustainable in order to reduce continuously-rising energy costs, eliminate diseases, reduce ever-increasing commuting hours, traffic congestion, crime rates, and poverty, as well as to conserve natural areas and to be environmentally responsible. Achieving sustainability is proving to be very affordable for the city and its residents.
Cities are now setting targets to become greener and to reduce their carbon emissions. The shape of modern cities is even changing. In some cities, we are seeing highways being reduced, parking spaces eliminated, and cycling lanes taking over streets. Incentives are being given to develop energy-efficient buildings that produce renewable energy or incorporate new greener appliances. In such cities, recycling bins are a must in all buildings, and space is being allocated in public areas for community gardens where people may plant their own vegetables and herbs.
Studies have identified certain indicators for assessing a sustainable city. These concentrate on issues of energy, water, waste, CO2 emissions, land use, buildings, transportation, air quality, and environmental governance.
Of these, let us examine CO2 emissions. In Amman, such emissions measured 3.25 tCO2e/capita (tons of CO2 equivalent) in 2008, which is a low number compared to cities around the world. For example, a recent study of green cities indicates that green cities in the USA and Canada present an average of 14.5 tCO2e/capita, European green cities present an average of 5.2 tCO2e/capita, and Asian green cities present an average of 4.6 tCO2e/capita, which is close to the average for all of Jordan, which in 2000 was 4.04 tCO2e/capita. Jordan faces many challenges, especially relating to energy and water. However, Jordan produces low carbon emissions by international standards, and these may even be further and easily reduced through certain measures and policies.
National strategies are very much needed in Jordan, but these should be implemented from the bottom up, along with top-down strategies. Local authorities must be empowered to become part of the implementation process within the broad guidelines of national strategies. Mayors should start developing environmental plans for their cities. Even though the Ministry of Environment recently has been undermined through merging it with the Ministry of Tourism, local associations, with their bottom-up approaches, can fulfill a very important role by starting to develop environmental policies and monitoring services.
Jordan faces difficult conditions regarding energy and water, but this may allow it come up with innovative ideas for dealing with such challenges. This requires an extensive revision of current approaches regarding the environment in a manner that is transparent and that empowers local authorities and communities. Now is as good a time as ever to start doing that.
Nourhan Al Kurdi
January 22, 2013