Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Smart cities are key to fight against climate change

  • Written by  Nathan Pierce
  • Published in Opinions
Smart cities are key to fight against climate change Shutterstock
23 Oct
2017
Earlier this month, an international sustainability conference brought together 400 sustainability experts, engineers and political leaders representing 50 ‘Lighthouse’ cities to discuss the threat of climate change

Nathan Pierce is Programme Director of Sharing Cities. To learn more visit sharingcities.eu.

Unlike other sustainability conferences, where discussions rarely ever turn into action, this was a little different. The emphasis here was on the role of residents, businesses, and local authorities in tackling climate change and improving services for the people who live in our cities

It was a conference that was convened almost with an assumption that relying on central governments will not get us anywhere. That instead, we will have to do it ourselves. Cities across Europe are taking concrete steps to reduce their carbon emissions through a variety of innovative solutions that incorporate businesses and civil society to some degree.

Indeed our meeting point for this conference was a city that has led the way in tackling climate change by working with residents, businesses and local authorities. It has reduced carbon emissions by a third since 2007. It was a city that had successfully incentivised businesses within the region to reduce their emissions by ten per cent each year, with those targets often exceeded – a city that now enjoys better air quality, better health for its citizens, greater economic stability and more equality.

This is Sønderborg, a small city in the south of Denmark with a population of just 27,000. As you look out onto the still waters of the harbour, it is hard to believe that you are at the forefront of the global climate change movement.

But surrounded by the sea and prone to regular flooding, Sønderborg has become a global leader in delivering significant urban change by working directly with residents and local politicians. In 2007, Sønderborg pledged to become completely zero-carbon by 2029. As part of Project Zero it will also divest itself from the central energy grid.

In less than ten years, the city has made substantial leaps forward, with the adoption of onshore and offshore wind farms, residential solar PVs, and the use of bio-gas for industry and transport. The result is a 35 per cent reduction in carbon emissions.

But Project Zero is also very business-friendly; businesses that sign up to reduction targets often exceed them. This means savings, less exposure to energy volatility, better relationships with local communities and employees.

While many outside of Denmark may not have heard of Sønderborg, cities and municipalities are taking note of its success. The German town of Flensburg, for instance, sits near the Denmark border and is just 45km from Sønderborg. Both towns formed a partnership to organise the climate conference – a powerful demonstration of how collaboration between cities need not be hampered by borders or jurisdictions.

It is precisely this vision and ethos that underpins the work being done by Sharing Cities. Cooperation among cities – from London, Milan and Lisbon, to Bordeaux, Warsaw or Burgas – is mutually beneficial and efficient. At the Sønderborg conference all of the EU ‘Lighthouse projects’ that are exploring Smart City solutions, which includes Sharing Cities, announced they will work as a collective to jointly develop business models in four key areas: electric bikes; smart lighting systems; digital platform for cities; and retro-fitting social housing with smart measures.

With 50 cities and over €250million in funding (and counting), these business models have the potential to make a real impact on the market place.

At last month’s Sharing Cities consortium meeting in London, we emphasised the importance of collaboration in the delivery of innovative solutions to urban challenges. Collaboration of this nature can be difficult, often because it is conflated with ‘centralisation’. Many think of smart cities as ‘big cities’ – highly complex and centralised structures that equally require complex governance. But in reality it is about thinking small to think big; as Sønderborg’s success attests.

Smart cities are fundamentally ‘decentralised’. They are, in effect, a network of solutions to the challenges our cities face – whether that’s transport, housing or infrastructure. We share the solutions that we find at a local level in order to build scalability. This upward scalability in turn can result in savings of more than 70 per cent to the cities and their taxpayers.

Returning to the hustle and bustle of London, it is great to know that cities like Sønderborg have as much to offer us as we have to offer them.

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the positions of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) or Geographical.

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our weekly newsletter and get a free collection of eBooks!

geo line break v3

Related items

Subscribe to Geographical!

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Sign up for our weekly newsletter today and get a FREE eBook collection!

geo line break v3

University of Winchester

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • Natural Capital: Putting a price on nature
    Natural capital is a way to quantify the value of the world that nature provides for us – the air, soils, water, even recreational activity. Advocat...
    The Human Game – Tackling football’s ‘slave trade’
    Few would argue with football’s position as the world’s number one sport. But as Mark Rowe discovers, this global popularity is masking a sinister...
    Essential oil?
    Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many circles it is considered the scourge of the natural world, for the deforestation and habita...
    Mexico City: boom town
    Twenty years ago, Mexico City was considered the ultimate urban disaster. But, recent political and economic reforms have transformed it into a hub of...
    Diabetes: The World at Risk
    Diabetes is often thought of as a ‘western’ problem, one linked to the developed world’s overindulgence in fatty foods and chronic lack of physi...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in OPINIONS...

Opinions

Architect Kelvin Campbell presents the case for ‘making massive small…

Opinions

Tim Brookes is the founder of the Endangered Alphabets Project …

Opinions

Encouraging beavers’ spread will only benefit the environment – on…

Opinions

City centres in the UK and other countries, could be…

Opinions

Is the world going through another transfer of power? Julian…

Opinions

It’s time to stop relying on traditional commercial methods when…

Opinions

Lack of pollination of commercial crops is an issue of…

Opinions

Where does aid go from here? Pablo Yanguas calls for…

Opinions

Would North Korea give up its nuclear weapons? Would an…

Opinions

It’s time to tackle the hidden superbug menace in India’s…

Opinions

Earlier this month, an international sustainability conference brought together 400…

Opinions

On the Southern edge of the remote Kongsfjorden (King’s Fjord)…

Opinions

Exploring outdoors and in different places is important throughout our…

Opinions

Something has gone badly wrong with our planet’s oceans. If…

Opinions

Taking a wider look at Brexit from a geography standpoint

Opinions

The blockade of imports into Qatar by its Gulf neighbours…

Opinions

Is it time for a new and radical approach to alleviating…

Opinions

Plastic-free aisles in our local supermarkets may just be key…

Opinions

As reports of tourists being fed dog meat in Bali…