How smart cities can lead the drive to a cleaner world

As the world’s population continues to grow, so too do urban populations. Cities are growing faster than ever, not just in the number of residents or their size, but also in their density. As the world becomes more and more urbanised, how will we manage our mobility systems while ensuring a clean and sustainable environment?

The United Nations predicts that by 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities, and just one-third will be based in rural areas. By 2030, the number of mega-cities – those with more than 10 million inhabitants – will have grown from 28 to 41. More people need more energy, water, public service personnel, education and other services. Cities already consume three quarters of the world’s energy and produce 80% of carbon dioxide emissions.

This has massive impact on the future of mobility, working life and urban society. If cities are to function properly, they must adapt their resource use. With more people in cities, the need for effective transit and logistics networks is paramount. Urbanization means more traffic, which usually means congestion, smog and noise. If the challenges posed by these are to be met effectively, new approaches will be needed to ensure people and goods get around.

Thankfully, new technologies give city planners more opportunities to make the most of resources, and bigger cities can create synergies to improve the lives of citizens as well as the environment. One critical challenge is moving goods around in rapidly growing cities around the globe. City managers are focusing on traffic management and digitalization projects as they develop initiatives that integrate technology into their infrastructures to create what is known as a ‘smart city’.

Solutions like smart grids deliver energy more efficiently to homes and buildings, dramatically improving energy efficiency and energy consumption. Similar concepts can be applied to mobility, with technology improving traffic management, fuel efficiency, and supporting shifts to low emission alternatives like electric vehicles.

The Global Commission on Economy and Climate, an independent initiative by former finance ministers and leading research institutions says climate-smart cities can spur economic growth and a better quality of life at the same time as cutting carbon pollution. It says that if governments back those efforts, the savings on transport, buildings, and waste disposal could reach up to $22 trillion by 2050. By 2030, those efforts would avoid the equivalent of 3.7 gigatonnes of CO2 a year, more than India’s current greenhouse gas emissions.

Cities can relieve climate change

So, how are cities coping? Many are focusing on new personal mobility and mass transit solutions to get around safely and efficiently, from bike sharing schemes to new public transport networks.

The role of logistics is crucial in supporting a better quality of life in the city. Sustainable development of urban areas is vital. It requires new, efficient, and user-friendly technologies and services, in particular in the areas of energy and transport.

For logistics networks, the focus is on the use of new vehicle technologies in combination with fuel technology. Studies suggest that increased use of low carbon fuels in scenarios with low deployment of electric vehicles would achieve greater emissions reductions than scenarios with high-electrification alone.

However, these solutions need integrated approaches, both in terms of research and development of advanced technological solutions, as well as deployment.

Key to success will be technology neutrality. The focus needs to be on the ends rather than the means. The result has to be a smooth-running city that gets people and products around in a reasonable time, and with minimal environmental consequences.