Thursday, September 21, 2023

Think Global, Act Local to Transform Cities and Our Planet

Poul Due Jensen
October 25, 2022 | 3:27 pm
A clean water trader pushes his cart across the tidal flood that inundated Jalan Lodan Raya, Pademangan, in North Jakarta on July 12, 2022. (B1 Photo/Joanito De Saojoao)
A clean water trader pushes his cart across the tidal flood that inundated Jalan Lodan Raya, Pademangan, in North Jakarta on July 12, 2022. (B1 Photo/Joanito De Saojoao)

With urbanization here to stay, our future lies in our cities. All around the world, countries are experiencing the most significant wave of urban growth in history.

Indonesia has one of the region's fastest urbanization rates, with over 70 percent of the population expected to live in cities by 2045, while Southeast Asia's urbanization rate is at an all-time high. Because of this, cities now lie at the forefront of the most pressing global challenges, including climate change, accounting for over 70 percent of global carbon emissions.

While ensuring a sustainable urban future has always been on the global agenda, with cities being hotspots of the global carbon cycle, what steps are necessary to achieve this?

Despite their carbon footprint, cities have great potential as catalysts for change. Contributing over 80 percent of global GDP, cities are hubs for innovation and creativity, offering solutions that can pave the way toward a sustainable future.


As we reflect on World Cities Day, not only must we continue to recognize the role cities play in realizing global sustainable development, this year's theme of 'Act Local to Go Global' highlights that any transformative global agenda must first be localized within our current urban fabric.

As we place cities at the heart of sustainable development, the blueprint for linking local to global urban sustainability lies in three ways: through knowledge, solutions, and partnerships.

Applying a local lens on climate issues

Firstly, we need to use a local lens on environmental issues and what it means for climate action at a global level.

Climate change is affecting countries all around the world. Notably, the interdependency of water and energy is set to intensify in the coming years, impacting both energy and water security.

However, these issues manifest from city to city vary – from water supply issues to urban flooding – and require a crucial understanding of local conditions and concerns. Notably, Indonesia is ranked in the top third of countries regarding climate risk.

Its cities, in particular, face unique challenges due to the impacts of rapid urbanization, including increased urban heat island effects due to high-density built environments and flooding worsened by urban development.

As cities and the communities housed within them experience varied climate impacts and different vulnerabilities, we mustn't lose sight of the local context while tackling the global issue of climate change. Only by taking a ground-up approach to understanding climate change can we ensure that no one is left behind.

Expanding our global toolbox with local solutions

Meanwhile, local, sustainable urban solutions have the potential to contribute to a broader global toolbox that can be adaptable anywhere in the world.

Being on the frontlines of climate change, cities have long been developing and adapting urban solutions to mitigate and address their new climate future while keeping their local environmental challenges and issues in mind.

A prime example is China's sponge cities. As China faces worsening urban floods, sponge cities utilize nature-based solutions to address these issues that come with grey infrastructure. While the concept was adapted from predecessors worldwide, China's approach has been touted as a "revolutionary rethink" in urban planning.

Cities also are increasingly incorporating digital technologies to bolster their climate resilience further and achieve greater resource efficiencies. Indonesia initiated the "100 Smart Cities Movement" in 2017 to build 100 smart cities across the country by 2045 to address urbanization challenges effectively.

Digitalization can help cities navigate the trade-offs between more substantial sustainability efforts and perceived barriers. Specifically, digitalization can reimagine water systems in cities. Water plays an undeniably important role in cities, supporting both lives and livelihoods.

However, not only is it a finite resource; it requires a considerable amount of energy to move, treat, and process water for municipal and industrial use, which calls for urban solutions that are both energy and water efficient.

For example, by working with solution providers to connect the pumping solutions in a city's water processes via a cloud platform, some cities are already attaining significant energy optimization in their water and wastewater network through intelligent technology.

By leveraging advanced analytics and algorithms to predict leaks, municipals can also pre-emptively fix problems in the water network before they happen, preventing wasting resources and energy. Beyond our municipal water systems, buildings worldwide – powered by water and energy – also utilize intelligent technology to tailor to specific circumstances.

Building solution providers are increasingly looking at intelligent technology to achieve systems operating in optimized conditions at any time, efficiently using water and energy. While many of these solutions were developed with the local urban environment in mind, rapid urbanization means that cities worldwide find greater similarities in their experiences of climate change and its profound consequences.

Gathering key learnings and best practices from such case studies can provide powerful regional and even global insights.

Building inclusive partnerships at all levels

Lastly, continuous knowledge-building calls for inclusive collaboration locally and globally.

Climate objectives cannot be achieved without commitment at every stage involving individuals, industry, and government. Collaboration is key to knowledge-sharing and understanding learnings and best practices to achieve real change. Global partners can leverage their network and reach to link the necessary stakeholders, resources, and expertise to bring an initiative to life. At the same time, local collaborators can provide insights from the local landscape and recommendations for the best way forward.

For instance, the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group conducted the Water Safe Cities project. The first phase of the research quantified the dire impacts of climate-driven drought and flooding on the world's largest cities and their residents. The study found that, in the current climate, flooding costs Jakarta $96 per capita per year.

Under a business-as-usual scenario, this is projected to increase by 75 percent to $168 per capita per year by 2050. However, if emissions and the impact of climate change are stabilized, this would sit at $139 per capita per year by 2050.

The insights from this phase have subsequently helped launch the project's second phase, where they will work on a Water Accelerator for cities to pledge ambitious action to safeguard their water supply.

The project provides a starting point for broader collaboration between cities, national governments, and the private sector, all of whom have the incentive to protect towns from water risks. Many cities worldwide are already formulating and implementing innovative policies, projects, and programs designed to achieve sustainable growth and development.

Sharing and harmonizing these goals and actions will help us determine the best of what each city offers and allow us to extrapolate these to drive the global push for a more sustainable world and future.

Poul Due Jensen is the chief executive officer of Danish multinational company Grundfos, the world's largest pump manufacturer. 

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