How Smart Cities can combat climate change

In a blog published today Catherine Cameron sets out “How Smart Cities can combat climate change“.

Cameron opens with some well repeated facts: “Cities consume over two thirds of the world’s energy and generate over 70% of global CO2 emissions. Cities are centres of commerce and culture but over 90% of all urban areas are coastal, exposing them to sea level rise and storm surges. Climate impacts such as storms, flooding and drought have financial impacts, with major disruption to business operations and city finances.”

As cities become home to a greater proprotion of the planet’s human population it’s only expected that cities face some of the biggest challenges, but also have some of the best resources, in facing climate change. “Cities are rising to this challenge. Urban density provides an opportunity for a better quality of life and a lower carbon footprint through more efficient infrastructure and planning. Low carbon mass public transport, cycle hire and walking, with higher density urban living, smart grids, green roofs, rainwater harvesting and garden cities can all add up“.

Those of you who read my tweets and blogs will know I am an advocate of open data to support smart cities. By ‘smart’ I mean: resilient, adaptable, integrated, intelligent, low impact, high value. Only this week there has been recognition of the opportunity to use smart data to achieve integration not just at neighbourhood or district level but at city and between cities scale. 

In a piece published only this week ICLEI USA Executive Director Michael Schmitz said “We want cities to be able to see all the things that contribute to their overall carbon footprint … If they have accurate data, and the ability to measure it, smarter policy decisions will be made.”

But before we can expect cities to be inherently ‘smart’ there are many faced with huge challenges of facing fundamental needs. With more than half the world’s population now in cities, scientists are warning that inadequate surface water supplies will leave many at increasing risk of drought and cities are facing failure of their most important, but often neglected, infrastructure.

The argument put forward by Cameron is one of leadership and governance being devolved to the city scale through elected and accountable mayors. This, of course, is well played out policy discussion in the UK – albeit there is a long way to go before there are elected mayors in all UK cities. Indeed, the concept of the ‘mayor’ is directive in itself. What cities need are effective decision making by accountable individuals and collectives who can take a longer term view of their city’s needs.

In a blog I wrote last October I said The last century has seen unprecedented change. The next 100 years could me make or break for the human species” and it will be in our cities that this unprecedented change will be felt most. Cities, as Cameron acknowledges are responding – and they need to. Not only are they home to the failing infrastructure, they are home to an ever more demanding and constrained population. A population that houses the very rich and the poorest of the poor. As city populations become more diverse, younger, older and living longer, the pressure created by climate change will only exacerbate the widening gap between those who can adapt and those who will, simply, fail. Successful cities need to be climate resilientWe are seeing what some have referred to as ‘global weirding’ – with abnormally high (or low), dry (or wet) seasons across the globe. Significant rainfall, falling in extreme bursts that our landuse patterns and drainage systems simply cannot cope with, has caused massive damage in the Indian Sub-Continent, China, Australia, the USA and Europe in the last couple of years. Close to home, here in the UK, we have seen a warmer summer for the first time since 2006. But that has come at a cost” wrote John Metcalfe in the excellent Atlantic Cities blog.

In conclusion, Cameron suggests setting targets has been successful and the C40 are mobilising knowledge transfer, ambition and progress. Targets set out an objective for inherently competitive humans to achieve. In doing so we should remember that collaboration between cities is every bit more important than competition if we are to succeed. 

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Author: Andy Nolan

An experienced director-level professional with expertise in sustainable development, cities, universities, governance, policy and strategy. 15 years of experience working in the field of sustainability in both the private and public sector. Has worked within a local authority, in multi-authority partnerships locally and nationally. Experience in higher education across four universities in the UK plus representative bodies. Particular areas of interest and expertise include; energy; transport; climate change; waste management; air quality; decentralised energy; education for sustainability; smart cities; knowledge transfer; research.

One thought on “How Smart Cities can combat climate change”

  1. It’s definitely a big issue to address and it’s made more daunting by the fact that the design of modern cities is inherently unsustainable. One of the challenges that I am trying to tackle is transforming urban infrastructure into decentralized, walkable, village-sized communities in pursuit of sustainability. Thanks for the informative read!

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