Life has always been hotter in cities. Concrete soaking up and radiating sunlight, and the concentration of people, cars and machinery crank up the temperatures, making them on average 5–9°C warmer than rural areas.
This has led to fast growth of power-hungry air conditioning units delivering cooling. The problem is that this cooling has been pumping out excess heat and greenhouse gas emissions, which warm the planet and so lead to an ever-greater need for cooling.
Cities will still have to keep their citizens cool. We have already witnessed growing heat waves, both in frequency and amplitude. They severely affect the functioning and health of cities and their citizens. Rising temperatures contribute to heat-related deaths, reduced workforce productivity—estimated at 2.2 per cent of working hours lost worldwide by 2030—and poor air quality, which disproportionately affects the poorest communities. Rising temperatures mean that 1.6 billion people could face average summer temperature highs of 35°C by 2050, approximately 1.4 billion more people than today.
We need better ways to keep cool.
“About 40 per cent of energy consumed by buildings worldwide is used for space heating and cooling,” said Martina Otto, who heads the secretariat of the Global Alliance on Buildings and Construction at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). “Space cooling is amongst the fastest-growing building end uses, and with higher temperature, more urbanites and rising standards of living, we will need a multiplicity of solutions to provide thermal comfort and protect human health.”
Active cooling needs to be cleaner and more efficient while we design buildings for more passive cooling and include nature-based solutions in buildings and cities’ public space. And we need to shift from the notion of cooling down space to providing thermal comfort.
Cities already starting to deliver
There are global and local efforts to address the energy efficiency and climate impact of the cooling sector, in particular through the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol. These actions can make a huge difference, but cities can do a lot more.
The Cool Coalition—a global network connecting over 80 partners—is working towards a rapid global transition to efficient and climate-friendly cooling. It will work with C40 cities and its network of more than 90 members to share expertise and integrate urban cooling into their climate action plans, as well as with the GlobalABC, who issued a call: “Buildings—keeping cool, naturally”.
By implementing clean cooling strategies, cities can not only reduce the demand for cooling but align their policies with other areas of importance, such as air quality, public health and energy resilience.
Cities are working on innovative solutions, and C40 cities are delving deeper into them as they meet in Copenhagen this week for the C40 World Mayors Summit. These range from scaling up district cooling initiatives to cool roofs and green roofs and facades, to urban landscaping with nature-based solutions such as green corridors, a well-articulated offer of green public spaces.
“Cities have a critical role to play in delivering efficient, clean cooling for their citizens” said David Aitken, Director, Innovation at Cool Coalition partner the Carbon Trust. “In their role as a facilitator, planning authority, asset owner and financier, cities have many levers to pull that can influence the way cooling is produced and consumed. Taking action on cooling at the local level will also leverage co-benefits relating to health and wellbeing, air quality and living standards.”
There are examples from all over the world.
Following the 2010 heatwave, Ahmedabad in India developed a plan for cool roofs, awareness raising and cooling stations. Since 2013, the city has avoided an estimated 1,100 deaths per year. It has acted as a blueprint for 30 cities in India, who have now released or are developing their own plan.
As part of their commitment to the Paris Climate agreement, Melbourne, Australia is banking on nature-based solutions. The goal is to plant 3,000 trees—which provide shade, reflect sunlight and release moisture into the air through their leaves—every year and cool the city by 4°C.
Copenhagen, Denmark, uses seawater in its district cooling system, reducing CO₂ emissions by up to 30,000 tonnes per year. The goal is to expand district cooling further and contribute to Copenhagen’s target of becoming CO2-neutral by 2025. Other initiatives in Copenhagen include green roofs for municipal buildings and a smart city energy lab that demonstrates how electricity and heating, energy-efficient buildings and electric transport can be integrated into an optimized system.
Cool roofs and new building materials on the rise
Cool roofs are gaining traction globally. Through its CoolRoofs Initiative, New York City has already painted more than 5 million square feet of its roofs with a reflective coating. Meanwhile, the Global Cool Cities Alliance has launched the Million Cool Roofs Challenge, a US$2 million global competition to rapidly scale up the deployment of highly solar-reflective roofs in developing countries.
“The concept of cool roofs is simple, but implementation faces barriers in the global south,” said Kurt Shickman, Executive Director of the Global Cool Cities Alliance. “We need to raise awareness of the opportunity. The availability of coatings and other cool roof solutions is often limited or non-existent. There is a lack of financing and investment. The Million Cool Roofs Challenge seeks to address each of these challenges.”
Green roofs and facades provide thermal insulation and help clean the air by trapping particulate matter. They offer the opportunity for urban agriculture and onsite wastewater treatment, adding further benefits. Bio-based building materials, which have a lower climate impact than concrete and store less heat, also offer real potential to improve the building envelope. While concrete has a high thermal mass, it’s extremely energy intensive to produce: 8 to 10 per cent of the world’s CO₂ emissions come from cement. “Alternatives such as bio-based materials are increasingly being used and can help reduce environmental impacts, while also providing the desired thermal mass,” said Otto. “For example, we have engaged in a partnership with Yale University to explore the use of such alternatives, from certified timber to bamboo and use of agricultural waste products such as coco fibre.”
It is clear that cities have a wide menu of options to choose from. They can walk the talk through public procurement decisions regarding their own buildings, set performance standards, use their planning authority and enter into partnerships with the private sector. By taking advantage of these options, cities can turn down the heat in the city and help put the world on track for a cooler future.
Regional City Networks: Bringing the 4IR to Small and Medium-Sized Cities
The World Economic Forum is launching two regional networks of cities in Latin America and South Asia to share knowledge on smart city development while protecting public interests related to privacy, security and sustainability. Under the umbrella of the Forum’s G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance the two city networks will connect leading pioneer cities from the Global Alliance with smaller cities in the region.
Smart city technology improves sustainability, resiliency and quality of life, but about 50% of the world’s urban population live in smaller or medium-sized cities. With cyberattacks on municipalities rising and digital technologies becoming central to economic competitiveness, these cities need to invest in new technologies, but have less capacity than their larger global counterparts to implement the ensure effective governance.
Set up in Medellín and Mumbai, the networks will be hosted by the Centres for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in Colombia and India, and efforts will be supported by partners of the World Economic Forum and the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (C4IR) Global Network. The roll out follows the successful establishment of this model in a number of Japanese cities, led by the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Japan.
Cities in Latin America and India will be invited to meet regularly to analyse smart city policies and will receive technical support from the Forum’s network of global experts. Founding members of the Regional Alliance for Latin America are Bogotá, Colombia; Brasília, Brazil; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Córdoba, Argentina; Medellín, Colombia and Mexico City, Mexico. Founding members of the National Alliance for India are Bengaluru, Bhopal, Faridabad, Hyderabad, Indore, Kohima, Mangalore, Raipur, Shillong and Thane.
“When we launched the G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance during Japan’s presidency, we could see city governments asking for global best practices that would allow them to compete in a global, tech-driven economy. But we also knew that smaller cities would struggle to implement these practices without local support,” said Chizuru Suga, Head of the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Japan. “That is why we launched the global alliance in parallel with a national initiative to unite cities across Japan for adapting and sharing global best practices.”
“For over a year now, Kaga City has been sharing knowledge with 12 other cities to make sure we have the policies we need to deploy technology quickly and safely,” said Riku Miyamoto, Mayor of Kaga City. “We can learn from global best practices and still get a local perspective on issues that matter to our residents.”
“Latin America is home to some of the most exciting initiatives in smart cities today, but that success is not evenly spread,” said José Manuel Restrepo, Minister of Trade, Industry and Tourism of Colombia. “Colombia is honoured to take on the task of coordinating the regional activities of the G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance in Latin America, so that cities across the region can benefit from both global and regional knowledge exchange.”
“India already has one of the world’s most ambitious smart city programmes, driven by the Government of India’s Smart Cities Mission,” said Purushottam Kaushik, Head of the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution India. “Now with input from the G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance, Indian cities will have access to the world’s foremost expertise in smart city policy-making.”
“India’s Smart Cities Mission is dedicated to being at the forefront of policy innovation in data and technology for the urban sector. With the launch of the National Urban Digital Mission we hope to scale new heights,” said Kunal Kumar, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Government of India. “The G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance being extended to regional alliances in India, led by the World Economic Forum, is a pathway in that direction.”
Moscow to host international online forum – the Smart Cities Moscow
On May, 25-26 Moscow will host the Smart Cities Moscow, international online forum dedicated to the development of smart cities and current topics of adaptation of the urban environment to the realities of the “new normal”.
The forum hosts over 50 speakers, including heads of administrations of the world’s largest megacities, professors and experts from the world’s leading educational institutions, business representatives and international experts in the field of informatization and development of smart cities.
Smart Cities Moscow Forum will bring together speakers from countries and cities boasting the best urban infrastructure in the world, based on advanced IT technologies. The online format of the event provides a unique opportunity for millions of people from around the world to join sessions and participate in discussions. The event will become a prologue to the Smart Cities Moscow offline forum, which will be held in 2022.
As part of a series of online conferences, international and Russian experts will discuss how large metropolitan areas are being transformed in the modern conditions, dictated by the society and environment. Speakers will share the best success stories for the development of healthcare, city transport logistics, telecommunications, culture and education of the city.
The business program will cover three major areas: Smart city’s infrastructure and technologies, Smart City for a Smart Living, and Smart city’s sustainability. The experts will discuss urban development in the post-covid period, changes in the sustainable development strategy, infrastructure challenges and the deployment of IoT, Big Data, and AI technologies. The sessions will also focus on city renewable energy, creation of a favorable urban environment, and other topical issues. Various communication formats are provided within the framework of the forum: from panel discussions and expert sessions, to show-cases and case studies.
The Forum is supported by The Government of Moscow, Department of Information Technologies.
Cities and Pandemics: Towards a more just, green and healthy future
A new report on pandemics and cities from UN-Habitat, points the way to how hard-hit urban centres can reduce the impact of future outbreaks and become more equitable, healthy and environmentally friendly.
‘Cities and Pandemics: Towards a more just, green and healthy future’, launched on Tuesday, describes how urban areas have been at the forefront of the COVID-19 crisis.
“95 per cent of all cases” were recorded in cities in the first months of the pandemic, Maimunah Mohd Sharif, UN-Habitat Executive Director, said.
Cities on the frontline
“Throughout this pandemic, it has been up to local governments and communities to move quickly and decisively to stop the spread of COVID-19 and ensure an effective response,” Ms. Sharif added.
Despite these pressures, many local governments and community leaders responded quickly and effectively to prevent the spread of the pandemic and mitigate its effects.
The UN-Habitat report recommends actions for a sustainable recovery based on evidence from more than 1,700 cities.
Life and death inequalities
It found that patterns of inequality, due to a lack of access to basic services, poverty and overcrowded living conditions, have been key destabilising factors in increasing the scale and impact of COVID-19.
Eduardo Moreno, Head of Knowledge and Innovation at UN-Habitat, said that due to the pandemic, an estimated “120 million people in the world will be pushed into poverty and living standards will reduce by 23 per cent”.
“The conclusion is that income matters”, he added.
According to the text, urban leaders and planners must rethink how people move through and in cities, using lessons learned from the last year of COVID-19.
This includes an increased focus at the local level on planning neighbourhoods and communities that are multi-functional and inclusive.
The report explores how well-planned cities combining residential and commercial with public spaces, along with affordable housing, can improve public health, the local economy and the environment.
It calls for cities to be at the forefront of moves towards a Social Contract between governments, the public, civil society and private sector.
The new social contract should “explore the role of the state and cities to finance universal basic income, universal health insurance, universal housing”, said Sharif.
For one real-world example, Claudia Lopez Hernandez, Mayor of Bogota, explained how in the Colombian capital, their new social contract prioritises women and children.
It is a “social contract that includes women, that provides them with time, with time to take care of themselves, with time to educate themselves, and with time and education skills to come back to the labour market”.
“To have self-sustainable women is to have self-sustainable societies”, Hernandez explained.
The Report outlines how a new normal can emerge in cities “where health, housing and security are prioritised for the most vulnerable, not only out of social necessity, but also from a profound commitment to human rights for all.”
This requires governments to focus on policies to protect land rights, improve access to water, sanitation, public transport, electricity, health and education facilities and ensure inclusive digital connectivity.
The Report recommends strengthening access to municipal finance to enable city leaders to build a new urban economy that reduces disaster risk as well as addressing climate change by developing nature-based solutions and investing in sustainable infrastructure to enable low carbon transport.
The Cities and Pandemics Report makes it clear that the way urban environments recover from the pandemic, will have a major impact on the global effort to achieve a sustainable future for all – in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
New project to help 30 developing countries tackle marine litter scourge
A UN-backed initiative aims to turn the tide on marine litter, in line with the global development goal on conserving...
Regional City Networks: Bringing the 4IR to Small and Medium-Sized Cities
The World Economic Forum is launching two regional networks of cities in Latin America and South Asia to share knowledge...
Climate Finance: Climate Actions at Center of Development and Recovery
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) called access to climate finance a key priority for Asia and the Pacific as governments...
Migrants left stranded and without assistance by COVID-19 lockdowns
Travel restrictions during the COVID pandemic have been particularly hard on refugees and migrants who move out of necessity, stranding millions from home, the UN migration agency, IOM, said on Thursday. ...
Reform of mental health services: An urgent need and a human rights imperative
Already in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organisation (WHO) was warning that substantial investment in...
US-China Developing Confrontation: India and QUAD
At the request of the editors of International Affairs magazine, the renowned Kanwal Sibal, India’s Foreign Secretary and Ambassador to...
Advancing Harmonized Travel Protocols and Financing Tourism’s Survival
The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has again convened its Global Tourism Crisis Committee to lead the sector in harmonizing travel...
Middle East3 days ago
The Exceptionality of the Hashemite Rule in Jordan
New Social Compact3 days ago
Comparative Status of Women in Pakistan and Bangladesh
Middle East3 days ago
The analysis of developments in relations between Turkey and Israel
Middle East1 day ago
China-Arab Relations: From Silk to Friendship
East Asia3 days ago
Chinese Foreign Policy in a Global Perspective
Africa3 days ago
Towards the Second Russia-Africa Summit
South Asia2 days ago
India’s Naxalbari Achilles’ heel
Intelligence2 days ago
Will the enduring Proxy-war be ever ended in Afghanistan?