Decarbonizing Cities – How to Harmonize Buildings, Mobility and Infrastructure
By Francesco Starace and Jean-Pascal Tricoire
Why is it so important to decarbonize cities? And how can we do it?
The first question is easy to answer: The cities in which more than half of us live account for nearly two-thirds of the CO2 emissions that lie at the root of our planet's looming climate crisis. Skyscrapers in megalopolises, shopping malls, SUVs in the streets, air conditioners in a growing number of places throughout the globe – all consume a vast amount of high CO2-content energy.
The answer to the second question is to take an integrated approach: leveraging clean electrification and digital technology to harmonize urban energy systems, while also thinking beyond individual projects to consider their impact within the surrounding communities and the built environment.
In fact, urban energy, transport and building infrastructures are gradually becoming greener: There are more electric vehicles on city streets, better water treatment and recycling schemes, and more solar panels on rooftops around the globe. According to International Energy Agency estimates, renewables like solar and wind are set to become the largest source of electricity generation worldwide by 2025, supplying one-third of the world's electricity and ending coal's decades-long dominance of the global power mix.
All this is, of course, welcome.
But with climate change accelerating, we need more comprehensive decarbonization actions on three fronts. First, we need even more energy to come from renewable sources. Second, we need more cars, heating and other activity to be powered by clean electricity. Third, we need everything from factories, to office buildings, homes, transport systems and consumer devices to become more energy-efficient.
This third lever might not as headline-grabbing as the rise of solar panels or electric vehicles. But it is a big piece of the decarbonization puzzle, with an even larger potential enabled by digital technologies.
Consider, for example, the technologies that make buildings more energy-efficient, by automatically adapting the amount of cooling, heating or lighting to occupancy levels at any given moment. Or digital tools that allow the operators of a manufacturing site in Sweden or a public utility in India to run their operations or distribution systems more efficiently and even remotely, rather than in person (a feature that has proved critical in these times of social distancing and lockdowns).
Imagine how much more we could achieve if we digitally integrate ultra-efficient buildings, public services – e.g. transport or lighting – and electric vehicle charging stations into a wider, highly efficient urban system, delivering better quality services for citizens and accompanying benefits such as local job creation, health, and well-being. Integration and interaction between assets are the key to disrupt the traditional equation of energy and efficiency in cities. An EV battery can store power not only for just one car, but, while a car is not in use, also for the surrounding community thanks to smart-charging infrastructures. Excess power generated by an office building's or warehouse's rooftop solar panels might be used to help power the wider neighborhood.
The technologies, digital tools and data analytics capabilities to enable this efficient urban system already exist, as do concrete examples of such an integrated approach. Therefore, integration and collaboration of systems and stakeholders are the fundamental drivers to accelerate and scale the transition in cities.
Integration of energy, buildings and mobility requires cross-cutting industry collaboration, ranging from utilities and real estate, to technology companies and financial institutions. City- and state-level administration can enable and facilitate such collaboration through public-private cooperation. The public sector can drive on governance, policy and licensing, while the private sector provides agility, technology and resources. This cooperation can share and balance risks and liability between stakeholders for mutual gains and value creation for the broader community.
All of this comes against a backdrop of great urgency. Epidemics, climate and economic pain have all created unique challenges in 2020. But combating climate change must remain top of mind. Cities lie at the heart of this fight and have now the chance to build back better. We have joined the World Economic Forum in the effort to promote dialogue and mobilize action together with a group of global leaders. As co-chairs of the Net Zero Carbon Cities initiative, our ambition is to accelerate a sustainable transition in cities, supporting mayors in creating value for their communities. It is up to all of us to ensure we become part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
Reposted with permission from World Economic Forum.
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By Kate Whiting
From Greta Thunberg to Sir David Attenborough, the headline-grabbing climate change activists and environmentalists of today are predominantly white. But like many areas of society, those whose voices are heard most often are not necessarily representative of the whole.
1. Wangari Maathai<p>In 2004, Professor Maathai made history as the <a href="https://www.nobelpeaceprize.org/Prize-winners/Prizewinner-documentation/Wangari-Maathai" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize</a> for her dedication to sustainable development, democracy and peace. She started the <a href="http://www.greenbeltmovement.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Green Belt Movement</a>, a community-based tree planting initiative that aims to reduce poverty and encourage conservation, in 1977. More than 51 million trees have been planted helping build climate resilience and empower communities, especially women and girls. Her environmental work is celebrated every year on <a href="http://www.greenbeltmovement.org/node/955" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Wangari Maathai Day on 3 March</a>.</p>
2. Robert Bullard<p>Known as the 'father of environmental justice,' Dr Bullard has <a href="https://www.unep.org/championsofearth/laureates/2020/robert-bullard" target="_blank">campaigned against harmful waste</a> being dumped in predominantly Black neighborhoods in the southern states of the U.S. since the 1970s. His first book, Dumping in Dixie, highlighted the link between systemic racism and environmental oppression, showing how the descendants of slaves were exposed to higher-than-average levels of pollutants. In 1994, his work led to the signing of the <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/experts/albert-huang/20th-anniversary-president-clintons-executive-order-12898-environmental-justice" target="_blank">Executive Order on Environmental Justice</a>, which the <a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/01/27/executive-order-on-tackling-the-climate-crisis-at-home-and-abroad/" target="_blank">Biden administration is building on</a>.<br></p>
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Pollution has a race problem. Elizabethwarren.com
3. John Francis<p>Helping the clean-up operation after an oil spill in San Francisco Bay in January 1971 inspired Francis to <a href="https://planetwalk.org/about-john/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stop taking motorized transport</a>. Instead, for 22 years, he walked everywhere. He also took a vow of silence that lasted 17 years, so he could listen to others. He has walked the width of the U.S. and sailed and walked through South America, earning the nickname "Planetwalker," and raising awareness of how interconnected people are with the environment.</p>
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4. Dr. Warren Washington<p>A meteorology and climate pioneer, Dr. Washington was one of the first people to develop atmospheric computer models in the 1960s, which have helped scientists understand climate change. These models now also incorporate the oceans and sea ice, surface water and vegetation. In 2007, the <a href="https://www.cgd.ucar.edu/pcm/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Parallel Climate Model (PCM)</a> and <a href="https://www.cesm.ucar.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Community Earth System Model (CESM)</a>, earned Dr. Washington and his colleagues the <a href="https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2007/summary/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Nobel Peace Prize</a>, as part of the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change</a>.</p>
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5. Angelou Ezeilo<p>Huge trees and hikes to pick berries during her childhood in upstate New York inspired Ezeilo to become an environmentalist and set up the <a href="https://gyfoundation.org/staff/Angelou-Ezeilo" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Greening Youth Foundation</a>, to educate future generations about the importance of preservation. Through its schools program and Youth Conservation Corps, the social enterprise provides access to nature to disadvantaged children and young people in the U.S. and West Africa. In 2019, Ezeilo published her book <em>Engage, Connect, Protect: Empowering Diverse Youth as Environmental Leaders</em>, co-written by her Pulitzer Prize-winning brother Nick Chiles.</p>
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