We’re working for smart cities in Turkmenistan — here’s how

Mark Chao is an expert working with UNDP on energy, environment and climate change.

We spoke to him briefly about UNDP’s latest plans on creating sustainable cities in Turkmenistan.

Nazik Myradova: Before we focus on Turkmenistan, I want to start with a broad question. Why was the topic of sustainable cities included in the list of the Sustainable Development Goals? What is its relevance?

Mark Chao: In 2008, for the first time, the number of the urban population in the world exceeded the rural population. By 2050, that figure will have risen to 6.5 billion people — two-thirds of the humans on our planet. In Turkmenistan, the number of urban population exceeded rural in 2014, with no sign of slowing down any time soon.

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. So 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.

NM: What are the necessary conditions for a city to become sustainable? What are some factors that residents should be paying attention to when it comes to making a city that is comfortable for living?

MC: Sustainability requires planning based on data, policies, financial support, and modern solutions for infrastructure.

But citizens can also play a very large role through their choices and behaviour.

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.

NM: What kind of activities are you planning with UNDP’s latest initiative?

MC: We are currently developing our proposals. We are conducting research and holding discussions with national partners.

Some things we are considering are more efficient street lighting, initatives that encourage use of electric or energy-efficient cars, creation of bicycle lanes, and activities that promote healthy lifestyles.

We also would like our national partners to consider working on recycling. There is already a recycling plant in Ashgabat. We are exploring opportunities for scaling up this effort. We need to also encourage people to reduce their waste creation in the first place.

As you can see, we need to create better infrastructure but we also need to encourage healthier behaviours.

NM: UNDP has done similar work in this field before. Can you give us a few successful examples?

MC: In Armenia, UNDP supported the transition from sodium lamps to LEDs for street lighting. Streets became twice as bright. We also reduced the number of fixtures by 36 percent, electricity consumption by 60 percent, which saved US $3000 per month, and a corresponding reduction of 223 tons per year of CO2 emissions.

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, 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.

NM: What do you hope to achieve in Turkmenistan?

MC: We are aiming for 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. We also want to create 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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