Will 2015 prove to be a disruptive year?
The bold question was asked by Claire Roumet, executive director of Energy Cities, opening the conference.
Several signs seem to go that way, and in order to reinforce this shared hope, she smartly used somebody else’s words to address the audience: Leonardo Di Caprio’s impassioned speech for his Oscar’s Award. “Climate change is real, it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating…Let us not take this planet for granted”
And then came an interview with Michael Bloomberg, New York’s Mayor, who mentioned the COP21, and the fact that fighting climate change is economically sound, defining clean air and water as rights for all, today and not in 2050.
The tone was set, the conference would highlight that we cannot afford not to cooperate, cooperation is needed for commitment and, furthermore, for action. But are these signs that the message has become universal? Are speeches enough to provoke action to follow?
Ronan Dantec, Environment spokesman for UCLG [see below, 1] and member of the French Senate, depicted climate change as the first common issue for the whole international community in history. This results in two challenges that were relayed by two recent conferences: the UN Sustainable Development Summit last September in New York and the COP21 in Paris. But what about the aftermath of the speeches? Concrete actions are needed, in this century cooperation has to replace competition. And a key point: since funding is essential, besides counting on the Green Fund, it is necessary to check whether the 2000 billions invested annually in infrastructure are enviro-friendly. The question remains: who will do the checking and in what manner?
Regarding concrete examples, Prof. Dr Eckart Würzner (pictured speaking), Mayor of Heidelberg and president of Energy Cities, presented his city’s achievements as part of the 19 model cities selected within the “100% Climate Protection Masterplan” program [See below, 2] and how participation led the city council to vote to become a CO2 free city in 2050. Prof. Würzner stressed that empowerment has to become stronger, including cooperation between cities.
Inspire change through cooperation
Energy Cities is the European Association of local authorities in energy transition. The association created in 1990 represents now more than 1,000 towns and cities in 30 countries. It works like a “project hub” where best practice is enhanced and promoted, information about EU policies and project calls is kept updated, and representatives of the member cities gather once a year to share experiences, formulate questions, confront new challenges. Furthermore Energy Cities meets regularly with EU commission members in order to push energy policy making in the right direction. It can thus be described as the vanguard group of cities from the Covenant of Mayors, acting also as a relay in Brussels.
This year’s choice for the hosting city was quite significant. The conference was held in Bornova, a city with a long and rich history, and part of the Izmir agglomeration, which is also the stronghold of the CHP party, the main opposition to the AKP ruling party. Izmir and its neighbours are the symbol of democratic values and an open society, far from the conservative way of life that the ruling party wants to impose all over Turkey. It is enough to stroll around the streets to confirm this fact and feel the difference with the rest of the country. A strong sign there from the organisers, supporting collaboration between cities and making a clear statement regarding the values of the Covenant of Mayors.
There was still a second intention in choosing Bornova: having a stronger participation of Mediterranean cities, the Union for the Mediterranean took part in the conference, and several cities beyond Turkey were represented. The challenge to merge the different cultures, get together the English speaking Europeans with the numerous Turkish participants wasn’t easy, the more formal presentations of the local speakers contrasted with those of the regular and more relaxed old members of Energy Cities. But it was worth it.
As Dominique Campana, Director of International Affairs of the French Environment and Energy government agency ADEME said, there’s a need to work on a shared vision. Cities have to work together with its stakeholders in building up a common vision of what is wished and desirable for their future in order to set the goals to be attained by 2050 (beyond the shared Factor 4 European goal).
The need for mitigation as well as adaptation actions in order to attain a necessary degree of resilience, reducing emissions can be seen as the “basics”, resilience is indeed more complex and not so evident to evaluate. Beatriz Yordi, Head of Unit DG Climate Adaptation, EU Commission, presented the commission’s approach and informed that although mitigation is being well developed and taken in account, adaptation represents only 20 % of the actions and projects nowadays. We can probably resume that resilience is the result of a sound and smart combination of both, and the proportions depend on every city or territory, its boundaries, weaknesses and strong points.
Retrofitting existing buildings is essential, and the existing practices are not enough to respond to the challenge properly, Energy Cities is carrying different initiatives, ideas and pilot projects are emerging everywhere.
And then smart cities, with such a key word, who wouldn’t want to have his city become “smart”? The new tendency of smart cities solutions was well represented, both by Lyon and Milton Keynes with the data hub, or data deposit. An open, city owned, transparent, accessible, scalable solution, far from the ready-made, onerous systems coming from the big data companies.
Remunicipalisation. Although the focus was set on water services as presented by Célia Blauel, Paris Deputy Mayor for Environment, the issue is how local authorities can be effective regarding climate change mitigation and adaptation. Assuring, at the same time, its inhabitants of satisfactory services. The different presentations made clear the fact that the private sector’s sheer logic of profit is in contradiction with what’s at stake. This leads to a wider debate asking the question if public service and resources should be seen as a common good. Once again we can see that it is through the empowerment of local communities that goals will be met.
Verteego at the Energy Cities conference
We were probably the only SME at the conference since the few other private sector representatives were consultants. It certainly was a good opportunity to confront our point of view, our approach regarding digital solutions for sustainable cities and the energy & ecology transition. During the different discussions it came out clear that the public sector, and especially innovative communities setting up pilot projects, need to include the know-how and the capacities of innovative companies with existing software capabilities.
Furthermore it was certainly comforting to see that our last developments are sound and correspond to the needs of the crucial times we’re going through, achieving the goals for 2050 is a matter of working together. A few examples: for the town of Lavelanet, in the SW of France, we took part from the beginning in the definition of the TEPCV [see below, 3] project and in organising a ‘common vision workshop’, the common vision being now tuned to including indicators of resilience and transition in line with sustainable development goals, as well as reporting systems to make sure everyone is on the same page; we set up the proposal for a massive retrofit program, enabled by a digital sustainable renovation project tracking tool, with the authorities of the Sarreguemines Confluences Urban Agglomeration for the EU UIA project call; we are working on a data hub solution for the Paris Ouest La Defense Urban Agglomeration portraying a tool to monitor economic development KPIs behind the action plan of three of its cities: Nanterre, Suresnes and Rueil Malmaison.
Indeed, when accountability is at stake, Verteego’s monitoring solutions help municipal authorities track the performance of the action plans that are meant to achieve carbon neutrality and resilience. The fact of being able to define a tailor made solution, using KPI’s that are pertinent for every situation, offers the possibility of a specific tool for each city. It gives the possibility to monitor an on-going process instead of the old static and sporadic evaluation schemes. Considering what was discussed during the Energy Cities conference, we felt reassured on our direction that transparency is a driver for shared value creation.
Change is happening
All the people present in Bornova certainly hope that 2015 will be seen as a disruptive year, and everybody is working actively to have that wish come true. We all need to be actors of change, in today’s context – which might be called “post COP21”- the demand for excellence is that cities, companies and projects have a “climate neutral now” ambition.
The goals are set, the solutions are known and are being tested, new ones appear every year. A crucial issue is how to set action plans or road maps to achieve these goals.
Furthermore: how to monitor these on-going processes in order to make sure that actions are done at the right pace, that goals are attained or to know on time when they’re not so action can take place, to include stakeholders in the on-going process; so carbon neutrality will be reality by 2050.
See you in Stuttgart in 2017?
1- United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) represents and defends the interests of local governments on the world stage, regardless of the size of the communities they serve. See more at: https://www.uclg.org
2- By 2050, Heidelberg will reduce CO2 emissions by 95 percent and reduce the energy demand by half. Masterplan 100% Klimaschutz (https://www.klimaschutz.de/de/programm/masterplan-100-klimaschutz)
3- Territoire à Energie Positive pour la Croissance Verte : http://www.developpement-durable.gouv.fr/Un-territoire-a-energie-positive.html