Climate change is a global issue that is seeing no signs of backing down. Each year, millions of people are affected by disasters caused by extreme weather and climate change. Notably, with rapid urbanization expected to drive almost two-thirds of the global population to live in cities by 2050, cities are inevitably on the front lines of climate change's growing risks and challenges. Recognizing this, this year's World Cities Day reflects on its theme of Adapting Cities for Climate Resilience.
Indonesia has one of the fastest urbanization rates in Southeast Asia as 40 percent of the population is expected to live in cities by 2045 – but this has come at a cost. As Indonesia's current capital on Java, Jakarta is both one of the most densely populated cities in the world and one of the most threatened by climate change, notably becoming the fastest sinking city in the world. While Indonesia has announced its plans to relocate the capital to Borneo, it is critical to examine how the nation can ensure a sustainable transition for its cities to avoid history from repeating itself.
It is tough to consciously consider our cities' current defenses against climate change as a priority, especially given the ongoing challenges with Covid-19, which has seen our resources redirected to pandemic efforts. However, climate action cannot afford to be at a standstill, and our cities need to continue adapting to prepare for existing and future climate impacts. What we can drive at this point is to identify the biggest risks for our cities and start from there.
Each city faces its unique climate risks and vulnerabilities. With Indonesia sitting right in the heart of Southeast Asia, three core areas call for our focused action for us to achieve climate resilience – urban water management, sustainable cooling, and ensuring water-smart homes.
An interconnected water system
Water as a resource faces tremendous pressure from climate change amidst growing demand. Further adding to the issue, Indonesia's cities continue to struggle with non-revenue water (NRW) – water loss within the system – losing more of the precious resource. While local governments look to expand coverage in the face of growing demand, problems like NRW will only widen the gaps.
Technology can actually play a bigger role in how we can both manage our water resources more efficiently. At the same time, mitigate extreme weather events by establishing interconnectivity across a city's water management systems. Indonesia has recognized early on the importance technology has in addressing the issues of urbanization when it embarked on its 100 Smart Cities Plan back in 2017 and has been making promising progress since then.
Specifically for urban water management, by tapping into the Internet of Things, advanced real-time data collection, and sensors, a city's water networks can access information that allows them to operate in a more predictive manner, spotting trends, patterns, and making predictions ranging from weather alerts to adapting water pressure based on reported water usage data.
Water networks that have achieved this level of interconnectivity also present the potential of transitioning a city towards a circular economy and promote greater water reuse, both from a municipal and industrial level. The wealth of information available means a city can continuously improve the efficiency of public infrastructures inside cities towards collecting, managing, and treating wastewater for further use.
Cooling our cities sustainably
Cooling is an incredibly crucial part of cities in this part of the world. Hot and humid all year round, climate change further exacerbates the situation and has enormous economic implications. On average, between $2.8 trillion and $4.7 trillion of GDP in Asia will be at risk annually from a loss of effective outdoor working hours because of hotter temperatures and more humid environments by 2050. Under climate change, Indonesia is predicted to experience temperature increases of approximately 0.8°C by 2030.
However, the process of keeping cities in Indonesia cool – most notably in our buildings – is notoriously energy- and water-intensive. Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems alone account for up to 40 percent of total energy use. Such high energy consumption ultimately contributes to greater carbon emissions, driving climate change. With the onset of climate change and our natural resources dwindling, it has become imperative for us to examine how we can reduce the impact of our built environment, especially in the face of rapid urbanization, while still ensuring overall liveability and comfort.
By leveraging automation technology, remote monitoring, and the Internet of Things, we can ensure HVAC systems operate in optimized conditions at any time by intuitively regulating the interactions between the various parts within the system. This minimizes unnecessary energy use, and in turn, helps customers reduce their environmental impact.
The case for water-smart homes
Lastly, as more people live in cities, climate action can exist even at a household level. Homeowners can resist adopting sustainable practices because of certain misconceptions that may impact their quality of life. However, innovative home solutions today mean anyone can enjoy a sustainable home that is both energy and water-efficient without sacrificing convenience or comfort.
Today, solutions allow homeowners to control their home water systems from their smartphones, ensuring water on demand and even real-time monitoring. Such connectivity can also help inculcate a culture of water conservation by increasing an individual's awareness of their water usage – effectively empowering them with 'water-wise behavior.
Most importantly, by matching smart cities with smart homes, the results of integrated smart living can be profound. Increasing the digital link between individual smart homes and the surrounding smart urban network presents the potential for a city to better monitor and meet citizen needs while allowing citizens to better access city services from their homes. Additionally, when citizens are empowered to reduce their consumption, municipalities can better focus on improving and upgrading water management without the pressure of rising demand.
Driving change beyond the city
However, to truly reinvent our cities, focusing our efforts on architecture alone is not enough. For us to achieve real change, collaboration is key to knowledge-sharing and understanding learnings and best practices. For instance, the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group – Jakarta joined in 2017 – supports cities to collaborate effectively, share knowledge and drive meaningful, measurable, and sustainable action on climate change. The C40 project on Water Secure Cities for the future is already delivering remarkable results that will pave the way for mayors to deal with their climate-related water risk in the future.
We also need to reflect on how nature can play a supporting role in us reimagining our cities. Nature can be a powerful tool in terms of supporting a city's climate resilience. Restoration of our existing natural resources such as lakes and rivers can help improve a city's water quality and access and play a crucial role in flood management and mitigate coastal erosion. Indonesia recently announced some ambitious goals in this area by setting a target of rehabilitating 150,000ha of its area under mangroves this year, which will play a vital role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Amidst the pandemic and our focus on recovery, to truly emerge stronger, we need to continue our focus on climate action. With numerous humanitarian crises continue to compete for our attention, it can seem like our urban resources are limited. But by strategically identifying the most effective and feasible actions, cities have the power to enact real change for their communities, and in turn, stand firm in the face of our climate reality.
Poul Due Jensen is the chief executive officer of Grundfos, the world's largest pump manufacturer in the world.