Creating the road map for sustainable cities of the future

12 May 2011

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Today, more than half of the planet’s inhabitants are living in urban areas, with 3m more people arriving in cities every week. By 2050, more than 70pc of the global population is expected to live in cities. Cities are the future, and they are where the climate change battle will be won – or lost.

That is according to Willfried Wienholt, vice-president of Urban Development at Siemens, who will be in Dublin on 31 May to address the second annual Green Economy Business & Leadership Briefing.

In his role, Wienholt supports decision makers in cities to connect the sustainable development of urban infrastructure with green and efficient technologies. He is also a key member of the Urban Infrastructure Initiative of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

"Today, economic life takes place in cities but, because they account for huge consumption of energy, cities are responsible for about 80pc of greenhouse gas emissions globally," says Wienholt. "And that is why cities play such an important role in the debate. This human-induced climate change needs to be resolved by the cities if we want to really combat it efficiently."

Cost is concern in current climate

Cities throughout the world are working towards becoming more sustainable, but in the current economic climate, the question of cost regularly raises its head, says Wienholt. "Today, we know that climate change is unequivocal and that if we don’t do anything, we will have to cope with a cost of 3pc of global GDP by 2030. So now the question has to be not what is the cost of doing nothing, but what is the benefit of doing something?

"Many cities are afraid that if they don’t do everything then they won’t be doing enough, and that’s wrong," he continues. "Cities need to look at what needs to be done in terms of transportation, of buildings, of energy supply and energy consumption, of waste and water, and create a long list, a road map. They need to understand what the initiatives are, and then prioritise. I think that’s key."

In the European Green City Index, a research project conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit in 2008 into the environmental impacts of 30 of Europe’s major cities, Dublin came in just 21st – although it did rank fourth when it came to the air quality category, thanks in no small part to former Irish politician Mary Harney’s legislation to ban unleaded petrol and dirty coal in the Eighties.

If Dublin and other cities like it are to become more sustainable, environmental governance will be key. This has worked for Copenhagen, which came out top in the same European Green City Index, although Wienholt cautions that every city is unique, and will need its own combination of measures.

"If you take Copenhagen, all activities in the city are based on their overall climate plan for the city, which is driven by the Lord Mayor.

"They really address all the topics of quality of life, increased business activity, reduction of CO2."

The municipality created an integrated environmental management framework across all departments, appointing environmental co-ordinators for each administrative unit, who meet regularly to exchange experiences.

"Before choosing the technologies, they set a framework first to ensure that they go for the appropriate ones," says Wienholt. "And the city is working on how to increase co-operation with private companies, which is also key."

He argues that public-private partnerships offer a means for city managers and companies to share their expertise, and enable co-operation between authorities for the city to act as a single unit.

"This can’t be about ‘give me your technology’, and then it’s done," he says. There has to be a real understanding about how the different technological solutions interact with each other to come to a good outcome on the sustainability road map."

Willfried Wienholt will address the second annual Business & Leadership Green Economy Briefing, beginning at 8am on Tuesday, 31 May 2011, at the Four Seasons Hotel, Dublin. Visit the event’s website or contact Niamh Carwood for more information.

Ann O’Dea is the CEO and co-founder of Silicon Republic and the founder of Inspirefest

editorial@siliconrepublic.com