If you go to a conference on cities and climate change, you inevitably hear the statement that “countries talk…but cities act”. This message was loud and clear at the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Summit in Johannesburg last month, where a new report released by the C40 and ARUP detailed the 8000+ initiatives that C40 member cities are undertaking to either reduce GHG emissions or increase their climate resilience. Since the first such report came out in 2011, more cities are reporting on their efforts, and those reporting are doing ever more, expanding the array of initiatives they have launched.
The climate, energy and resource challenges facing the planet are daunting. The world’s population continues to grow rapidly, and the majority of people now live in cities. While cities are projected to be home to nearly 70% of our population by 2050, this won’t happen unless society drives significant efficiency gains in all aspects of resource use. Leveraging information will lie at the heart of optimizing resource use.
While projections for city growth are common, we need ask ourselves a simple question -- how much longer will cities be able to service increasing demands for energy, transportation, water, and food without a wholesale transition in the way resources are managed? If we are going to accommodate billions of new urbanites, they will need energy for lights, for heating, for cooling; energy for transportation, housing and emergency services; energy for water systems and sanitation.
Amsterdam is aggressively developing its ‘smart’ electrical grid. The smart part is the inter-linked power system, and the efforts made to involve all parts of the community. The result to-date is impressive: in just two years 71 partners have joined (and growing), pilot energy savings of 13 percent were achieved, and a possible reduction of 1.2 million tonnes CO2e already identified if pilots scaled-up city-wide. The program grew from a smart electrical grid to a ‘smart city’; in eighteen months Amsterdam Smart City or ASC, hosted or attended more than 50 smart city conferences.
The four pillars of ASC program are: (i) cooperation; (ii) smart technology and behavior change; (iii) knowledge exchange; and (iv) seek economically viable initiatives. Much of the impetus of ASC came from the establishment of a Euro 60 Million catalytic climate and energy investment fund created when the electricity and gas company was privatized.
Recently I saw Masdar City for the first time. I was excited to visit since over the last few years at almost every ‘Green Cities’ Conference I attended someone mentioned Masdar. Masdar City seemed the big hope: with potential and excitement of a whole new city in the desert. After $20 Billion in infrastructure investments, 50,000 people would live in this “emissions free”, closed-system suburb of Abu Dhabi. Masdar is to be a city of the future; a living laboratory to develop new technology. Planners, engineers and financiers are rushing to get in on its development. Easily a dozen times in the last two years someone enthused over coffee or lunch. ‘You need to visit’, I was told many times.