Why Cities Are the Key to Fighting Climate Change 

Two highly respected commentators and influencers in the world of city devolution and governance have come to the fore this week. As the House of Lords finished its work, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Reform, Decentralisation and Devolution (for which the LGA provides the secretariat) launched a ‘far-reaching’ inquiry on devolution and constitutional reform. The inquiry is to be led by Lord Kerslake, the former permanent secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government, who told us: “The work, so far, has been encouraging. We’ve had some very good names come forward to join the panel and a willingness of some quite senior people to give evidence as well.

“The feedback that I have had is that this is a positive step and could help move devolution on really in every form.”

Whilst Lord Kerslake is a formidable negotiator and well versed in the politics of cities there is an altogether more tub-thumping and positive, outcome led call to arms from Mayor Bloomberg.

“‘The world’s first Metropolitan Generation is coming of age, and as a result, the world will be shaped increasingly by metropolitan values: industriousness, creativity, entrepreneurialism, and, most important, liberty and diversity. That is a hopeful development for humanity, and an overpowering counterweight to the forces of repression and intolerance that arise out of religious fanaticism and that now pose a grave threat to the security of democratic nations… As those in the Metropolitan Generation assume leadership positions, cities will become not just more culturally significant but also more politically powerful.” 

In particular, Bloomberg cites the challenge of global warming to which cities, in the absence of national and even State governments, must respond.

Climate change calls on societies to act quickly, and cities tend to be more nimble than national governments, which are more likely to be captured or neutralized by special interest groups and which tend to view problems through an ideological, rather than a pragmatic, lens. 

For mayors, reducing carbon pollution is not an economic cost; it is a competitive necessity. Earlier this year, Beijing announced that it would close its coal-fired power plants because any marginal financial benefit they offered was swamped by their net costs, including those of health care and forgone economic investment. Dirty air is a major liability for a city’s business environment.

Urban leadership on climate change has also led to an unprecedented level of cooperation among cities. The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, for which I serve as president of the board, has brought together more than 75 cities committed to sharing best practices and spreading proven solutions. The evidence is clear that this networking strategy is working, as many carbon-reduction projects have spread to cities across the globe. For instance, only six C40 cities had bike-sharing programs in 2011. By 2013, 36 had them. As London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, said in 2013, “By sharing best practice through C40—and shamelessly appropriating other cities’ best ideas—we can take action on climate change and improve the quality of life for our residents.”

 

Source: Michael Bloomberg | Why Cities Are the Key to Fighting Climate Change | Foreign Affairs

Source: Lord Kerslake: ‘Immense challenge’ to empower local communities and cities

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Disquiet among Danish city’s residents over Apple district heating deal

Whilst cities continue to take the lead on district heating development, the Danish town of Viborg is unhappy about what they believe is a lack of transparency surrounding a planned data centre, which had been supposed to provide district heating for residents. Indeed, in the UK, the consumer watchdog, Which?, has been calling for consumer protection and it seems like the residents in Denmark would welcome it.

On the back of the recent UNEP report promoting district energy, this is one of those difficult issues that needs to be addressed in the modern 21st century schemes.

It’s very likely that the town is paying the price for being one of the early movers in the integration of data centre development and district heating. Many have been supportive of the concept of capturing purged heat from high density computers for the benefit of those living nearby and high latitude countries remain attractive to the likes of Apple where they can reduce costs of overheating with lower ambient temperatures. Equally, local residents in these high latitude towns demand heat to warm homes and businesses. Sounds like a win-win. Except it’s clear that unless there is transparency over who pays for, and who owns, what there will be legal and financial challenge.

You can read my thoughts on ‘4th Generation Heat Networks‘ and an earlier blog on transparency in district and communal heat network data.

Source: Disquiet among Danish city’s residents over Apple district heating deal

City transport needs saving from itself

A really good piece on integration of systems and a smart city approach published by The Conversation (7th August 2015) “City transport needs saving from itself – here’s how to do it” by Yvonne Huebner. The piece covers energy, grid lock and smart traffic systems.

The desire for ever greater urbanisation is putting unrealistic demands on existing infrastructure, road and rail networks constrained by geology, topography, climate, land ownership, planning (or lack of it) and the unregulated freedoms afforded to personal mobility. Politically, gridlock (or congestion) is always topical and of great local importance to the economy, health, wellbeing and environment within our cities. Smarter cities with integrated systems of movement en masse have to be part of the solution.

4th Gen Heat Networks Coming to Fruition – E.ON renewable heat network demonstration

In January this year DECC funded a number of innovative projects to support heat networks in the UK. Today saw the E.ON ‘s project announced: UK-first renewable heat network demonstration wins DECC funding. It’s encouraging in a week that has been dire for those of us in the sustainability profession, given the Government’s stance on zero carbon homes drop like a stone in the same way its commitment to on-shore wind has fallen, to see something good come from the coalition Government. Ed Davey was clearly able to keep some emphasis on low carbon investment when the Liberal Democrats were in charge at DECC.

E.ON have stood alone as one of the ‘Big 6’ that have recognised the longer term value in heat networks and the scheme in Exeter and the investment in Sheffield are testimony to that. It’s good to see further investment that will decarbonise the heat in the Exeter network through the use of solar thermal energy.

A presentation I made in July 2013 set out what a 4th Generation, 21st Century, heat network should achieve. The scheme in Exeter is clearly edging in that direction. In a previous blog I suggested heat networks should seek to achieve a number of things, including:

  1. Greater resilience, through heat storage, back-up and optimisation;
  2. Lower carbon heat, through the adoption of lower carbon fuel sources, such as geothermal heat, biomass, biogas, solar;
  3. Choice and product differentiation, offered through multiple heat providers inputting to a singular (independent possibly) network over which consumers buy their heat. Products could be differentiated by temperature (return temperatures are lower than those temperatures leaving central plant), carbon intensity (fuels of varying intensities of heat can command different prices and values shaped by carbon markets and carbon targets).

You can read previous blogs on heat networks on consumer protection; the Nottingham city scheme; the use of rivers for heat; the role of cities in heat network development;

‘Smart’ technology offers the prospect of cities doing more with less | Centre for Cities

Manchester has been promoting the concept of a ‘smart city’ for some time and has embraced the concept without the level of pump priming enjoyed by Glasgow, London and Bristol. So it’s great to see the launch of programme with carbon reduction at its very heart. Combining its cross-institutional approach into a defined geographical area, the Triangulum project, a smart city vision for three European cities was launched last week. Led by Fraunhofer IAO and funded by £4.5 million of European Commission funds, the project aims to create ‘smart quarters’ in Manchester, Eindhoven in Holland, and Stavanger in Norway. This scheme offers a new approach, bringing together a number of green initiatives in one area of the city to test the potential of new technologies.

Triangulum aims to transform Oxford Road in Manchester (also known as the ‘Manchester Corridor’, the city’s student district) as an exemplar for smart technology. There will be a particular focus on reducing carbon emissions, including technologies to improve energy use in buildings and encouraging the use of sustainable transport. An autonomous energy grid for heat and electricity will be introduced alongside a centralised control platform, which will allow Manchester to manage its energy in a localised, energy efficient manner. The system will also allow the city to identify new revenue sources and savings for the system, improving energy and resource efficiency.

 

‘Smart’ technology offers the prospect of cities doing more with less | Centre for Cities.

Three Commissions – One Outcome?

I wrote a recent blog about the use of commissions in helping cities form and develop visions, strategies, policy. Often this has been in response to two key factors:
– addressing the perception that policy is not co-designed with the citizens of the city the officials are representing; and
– the lack of policy and strategy capacity within local authorities who have prioritised investment in front line services at the cost of those teams who look further ahead beyond the current financial horizon of ‘end-of-year’.

I promote this as the City of Sheffield – my home city – promotes its latest activity of the Fairness Commission (http://www.ourfaircity.co.uk/ and follow on twitter via https://twitter.com/FairSheffield) – challenging individuals and organisations to demonstrate their commitment to a fair and equal society.

https://aardvarknoseface.wordpress.com/2014/08/13/sustainable-cities-commissions/

This sits alongside two further activities – the City’s Green Commission (https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/your-city-council/policy–performance/green-commission.html) and the city’s economic commission.

To take such an approach is noble, open and engaging when undertaken well. The challenge will be to identify the ‘sweet spots’ where the outcomes of the three commissions land on the same priorities and actions – but, even more importantly to reconcile the conflicts between ambitions where they occur. This is where a maturity of elected members comes in to play. These decisions are the crucial ones. Is priority given to local environmental quality, health or economy? Does the city prioritise global environmental impact over local economic growth? These decisions remain difficult but those decision takers should use the commissions they have brought together to ensure they have an expert input to a robust argument informing their recommendations and decisions.

Only when you get in to these difficult spaces and conversations do you add real value. It would be a pity of the commissions are cosmetic and only airbrush over the issues for this generation and give the future generations of Sheffield no chance at all.

My suggestion is, at the end of this commissioning process, a symposium for the city is convened to draw together and debate both the opportunities that have been identified and where conflicts need to be reconciled. It should be Chaired by an independent member to whom the Chairs of the three commissions report their findings. It would prove to be an effective way of re-engaging with the wider stakeholders – not just those who have been involved in the process of the individual commissions. Only then can a clearer vision for the city be set out with confidence.

My hope is the city doesn’t fudge this and try and be all things to all people. It needs to differentiate itself. It can only do that through a process of prioritisation with an outcome that makes it a distinctly different place that people can identify with. Otherwise it will be simply re-providing every other city of half a million people in western Europe. And it is better than that.

The truth about smart cities: ‘In the end, they will destroy democracy’ | Cities | The Guardian

The truth about smart cities: ‘In the end, they will destroy democracy’ | Cities | The Guardian.

The smart city concept arguably dates back at least as far as the invention of automated traffic lights, which were first deployed in 1922 in Houston, Texas. Leo Hollis, author of Cities Are Good For You, says the one unarguably positive achievement of smart city-style thinking in modern times is the train indicator boards on the London Underground. But in the last decade, thanks to the rise of ubiquitous internet connectivity and the miniaturisation of electronics in such now-common devices as RFID tags, the concept seems to have crystallised into an image of the city as a vast, efficient robot – a vision that originated, according toAdam Greenfield at LSE Cities, with giant technology companies such as IBM, Cisco and Software AG, all of whom hoped to profit from big municipal contracts.