United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres
In light of the global urbanisation phenomena, cities occupy a mere fraction of less than 2% of the Earth’s geographical space yet accommodate more than 50% of the world’s population. This concentrated urban living also comes with significant environmental implications, as cities are responsible for emitting over 60% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and consuming a substantial 78% of the planet’s finite resources, as reported by the UN-Habitat. Amidst the pinnacle of this catastrophic period of global climate change, cities- as both significant consumers and producers of energy- are indispensable in the discourse of climate resilience as a panacea to alleviate the adverse effects of urbanisation, industrialisation, and consumerism practices and propagate a green recovery for urban futures.
Climate-smart cities are urban centres that have systematically adopted a holistic and proactive approach to confront the multifaceted challenges of climate change while concurrently championing the cause of sustainable urban development. These municipalities have undergone intentional design and management processes geared towards the dual objectives of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adeptly adapting to the observable alterations induced by climate change.
In essence, climate-smart cities are at the forefront of climate change action. They manifest a heightened awareness of the exigency intrinsic to the global climate crisis, effectively embodying the dual role of mitigators and adaptors. In this capacity, they serve as exemplars of urban locales that wield substantial influence in mitigating the repercussions of climate change, all while concomitantly ensuring a superior standard of living for their inhabitants. The profound significance of climate-smart cities lies in their potential to serve as archetypes of sustainable urban development, thereby augmenting the overarching endeavour to combat climate change globally.
In accordance with these principles, an integral aspect of the United Nations Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals is the notion of a ‘just transition’ towards a climate-resilient society that ensures ‘leaving no one behind’. This calls for an “equitable distribution of the benefits and burdens of adaptation measures,” as noted by the European Environmental Agency. In line with research conducted by the United Nations on Climate Action, the Green Transition has the potential to attract investments amounting to up to $7 trillion, leading to the creation of approximately 144 million new jobs by the year 2030.
Examples of Climate-Smart Cities and Their Infrastructure:
Several cities worldwide have made significant strides in becoming climate-smart by implementing innovative infrastructure and practices.
San Francisco, California, USA – Smart Waste Sensors:
The City of San Francisco’s Department of Public Works has faced the challenge of escalating cleaning expenditures along with an annual influx of 10,000 public grievances concerning the unclean and unsanitary state of its streets.
In response, Nordsense was engaged to assist the city in mitigating issues such as overflowing waste containers, optimising the strategic placement of bins, and enhancing waste collection routes. The initiative commenced with installing sensors in 48 of the city’s 3,800 public street bins. This innovative solution proved instrumental in elevating the cleanliness of San Francisco’s streets and fostering more reasonable resource allocation. During the pilot project, the city harnessed data-driven insights, which resulted in the following notable outcomes:
● 80% reduction in overflowing waste
● 64% reduction in illegal dumping
● 66% reduction in street cleaning requests
Following the resounding success of the pilot project, the city opted to expand the implementation of these intelligent sensor solutions to encompass over 1,000 trash receptacles throughout its municipal area.
Aarhus, Denmark – Digitalisation of District Heating
In 2017, Kredsløb (formerly known as AffaldVarme Aarhus), Denmark’s second-largest city, completed the installation of a smart metering solution by Kamstrup, incorporating 56,000 remote hourly read heat metres. This marked the initial phase of their district heating system optimisation, essential for accommodating more buildings and achieving carbon neutrality. The increased metre data enhanced network transparency, enabling effective troubleshooting and improvements. Consequently, Kredsløb experienced notable operational improvements and cost savings, including reduced administrative efforts in data collection and rectification of inaccuracies. Kredsløb is advancing the digitalisation of Aarhus’ district heating system, using analytics to enhance customer relations, optimise operations, and effectively target investments.
Copenhagen, Denmark – Data-Driven Traffic Management:
Health issues linked to poor air quality are a significant global concern. Research indicates that over 80% of the world’s population is exposed to pollution levels exceeding recommended limits, with traffic emissions being a major contributor. In Copenhagen, a novel project prioritises signal regulation based on minimising air pollution rather than reducing travel time. This initiative aims to enhance data-driven traffic management to improve city air quality. The experiment involves monitoring two similar intersections in Copenhagen, collecting data on air quality and traffic volume, and integrating it with external environmental data on traffic speeds better to understand the relationship between traffic regulation and air pollution, ultimately leading to more environmentally focused traffic management and potential health benefits.
In summary, as our global population increasingly gravitates toward urban living, with a projected two-thirds of the world’s population expected to reside in urban areas by 2050, we stand at the threshold of immense potential. The majority of our urban infrastructure and environments are yet to be constructed, offering a vast canvas for implementing innovative solutions that can effectively combat the climate crisis and pave the way towards a sustainable and resilient future.