Think global, act local to transform our planet
With urbanization here to stay, our future lies in our cities. The Philippines’ urban population is projected to double by 2050, while Southeast Asia’s urbanization rate is at an all-time high.
While cities lie at the forefront of climate change, accounting for over 70 percent of global carbon emissions, they can also catalyze change as hubs for innovation, offering solutions for a sustainable future.
As we reflect on World Cities Day this Oct. 31, not only must we continue to recognize the role cities play in realizing global sustainable development, but must also seriously reflect on this year’s theme, “Act Local to Go Global.” The theme stresses that any transformative global agenda must first be localized within our current urban fabric through knowledge, solutions, and partnerships.
A local lens on climate issues. First, we need to apply a local lens to environmental issues and what it means for global climate action. Climate change is affecting countries everywhere. The interdependence of water and energy is intensifying, impacting both energy and water security. However, how these issues manifest from city to city varies, and require a crucial understanding of local conditions and concerns.
The Philippines faces acute climate risks, such as floods and storms, but several cities such as Manila and Cebu have simultaneously suffered from water shortages in recent years, exacerbated by a growing urban population and dry spells linked to El Niño.
It is vital that we do not lose sight of the local context while tackling the global issue of climate change. Only by taking a ground-up approach on understanding climate change can we ensure that no one is left behind.
A global toolbox with local solutions. Local sustainable solutions that cities have been developing and adapting to mitigate their climate future can contribute to a broader global toolbox. A prime example is China’s sponge cities, which use nature-based solutions to address issues that come with grey infrastructure in light of worsening urban floods. While the concept was adapted from predecessors around the world, China’s approach has been touted as a “revolutionary rethink” in urban planning.
Cities are also increasingly incorporating digital technologies to further bolster climate resilience, and achieve greater resource efficiencies, including pilot smart city projects in Cebu, Davao, and Metro Manila.
Digitalization can help cities navigate the trade-offs between more substantial sustainability efforts and their perceived barriers, including reimagining water systems. For example, by working with solution providers to connect pumping solutions in a city’s water processes via a cloud platform, or leveraging advanced analytics and algorithms to predict leaks, some cities are already attaining significant energy optimization in their water and wastewater network. Building solution providers are also increasingly looking at smart technology to achieve systems that can operate in optimized conditions, and use water and energy efficiently.
While many of these solutions were developed with the local urban environment in mind, rapid urbanization means cities are finding greater similarities in their experiences of climate change. Key learnings from such case studies can provide powerful insights, regionally and even globally.
Building inclusive partnerships. Lastly, continuous knowledge-building calls for inclusive collaboration, locally and globally. Global partners can leverage their network and reach to link up the necessary stakeholders, resources, and expertise to bring an initiative to life, while local collaborators can provide not only insights from the local landscape, but also recommendations for the best way forward.
For instance, the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group partnered with Grundfos and the Grundfos Foundation on the Water Safe Cities project, where the first phase of the research quantified the dire impact of climate-driven drought and flooding on the world’s largest cities and its residents, including Quezon City.
These insights have subsequently helped launch the project’s second phase to work on a water accelerator, for cities to pledge action to safeguard their water supply. The project provides a starting point for wider collaboration between cities, national governments, and the private sector, all of whom have an incentive to protect cities from water risks.
Many cities around the world are already formulating and implementing innovative policies and programs designed to achieve sustainable development. The sharing and harmonization of these actions will help us determine the best of what each city has to offer, and allow us to extrapolate these to drive the global push for a more sustainable world and future.
Poul Due Jensen is CEO of Grundfos.
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