Smart urbanization

 By Amanda Saint

Global urbanization rates are booming — more than half of the world’s population now live in towns and cities. By 2030, it’s forecast that 5 billion people will have moved to urban centers, with the fastest departure from rural areas to cities happening in Asia and Africa. To make sure cities are sustainable, urbanization has to be smart…

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Cities the world over are racing to keep up with growing populations and the resulting pressures on infrastructure, so how can the smart revolution deliver smart urbanization?

According to the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) issued in 2015 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the opportunity exists to develop smart urban centers that can reduce the amount of energy used in cities worldwide by 25%.

The report also shows that despite the measures introduced to reduce greenhouse gases, particularly over the past 20 years as the development of new technologies has increased, emissions levels have continued to rise since 1979. With the decade at the start of this millennium having the highest emissions levels yet. City infrastructure needs to get a lot smarter as the demand for energy and transport continues to grow.

Global urbanization rates are booming

Making cities and energy smarter

As well as improving the environmental impacts of energy generation through increased use of renewables and phasing out of fossil fuels, a big part of cutting greenhouse gas emissions has to come from making homes, workplaces, public buildings and transport more energy efficient. Combined, electricity and heat generation, buildings and transport are responsible for just over 45% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The electricity and heat generating sector makes up 25% of these emissions so there is an urgent need for reduction. The results of a study published in March 2016 in the Applied Energy journal suggest that we are already dangerously close to the limit of being able to keep global warming at 2oC (36 oF) maximum. To achieve this goal, no more carbon emitting electricity generators can be built after 2017. The research has been based on the carbon budgets detailed in the IPCC’s AR5 report scenario database.

So what needs to happen?

Investments in renewables must be increased and any remaining fossil fuel power generation has to utilize advances in technology to cut emissions significantly and quickly. Carbon capture and recycling technologies can play a big part in delivering the cuts in carbon while new renewable infrastructure is built. The oil and gas sector has to focus more of its investments on developing alternatives to fossil fuels, rather than on new ways to access them.

What has been learned in the developed economies needs to be put into play to help developing countries be smart right from the start and make sure that all new buildings, infrastructure and transport options are carbon neutral. Initiatives such as BREEAM and Passivhaus show the means to deliver this for buildings already exists.


SEE MORE: Satellites find sustainable energy in cities by Benjamin Plackett



Smart urbanization in action

Despite the alarming statistics, the focus should remain on the outcome in the AR5 report that says: “We have the means to limit climate change and build a more prosperous, sustainable future.”

These means are already being deployed in smart city plans across the world. In the UK, Bristol is one of the country’s fastest growing cities with forecasted population growth of another 20% by 2036. It has been at the forefront of smart city plans, was named European Green Capital 2015, and since 2005 the initiatives implemented across the city have seen absolute emissions fall by 17.4% and energy consumption by 18%. These range from digital inclusion, education initiatives, and using data from the Internet of Things advances to improve transport routes and cut traffic. The Go Green programme, has been working with the city’s businesses, charities and community groups to help improve performance in five designated areas: Sustainable Sourcing, Planning & Resilience, Travel & Transport, Energy & Efficiency, Happy & Healthy.

So what can Bristol teach other rapidly growing cities?

The biggest factor is collaboration — recognizing that it has to be a city-wide ambition to be greener and smarter. In order to achieve sustainability and carbon cutting goals, city leaders, businesses big and small, residents and universities all have to come together to make and implement the plans that ensure urbanization is smart. It’s essential to use the technology now available to improve life for people in cities while at the same time limiting the impact on global warming through smarter energy generation, smarter buildings and smarter transport. The smart revolution has to be a human one as well as a technological one.

about the author
Amanda Saint
Journalist and content writer, specialised in engineering and technology with a focus on environmental sustainability, urbanisation and biotechnology.