Museologia Social e Urbanismo XXIX

Information, Communication, and Technology

Discussion prompts:

  1. What role could information, communication and technology play in making cities sustainable?
  2. Discuss case studies where ICT has made significant difference to how the city is governed

Hello I’m Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network and I’m delighted to join this course on Sustainable Cities to talk about my views about the ways that the new technologies interact with our age-old purposes of cities, to give us the opportunity and the urgent need to build a new kind of 21st century sustainable city. I think it we probably could not make it without the benefit of some of the massive improvements of technology that are how at hand, especially information and communications technologies which I’ll suggest in my presentation are really key tools, pivotal tools for achieving sustainable cities in the 21st century. In order to accomplish this seeming near miracle of incorporating more than 2 billion additional urban denizens by 2050, and doing so in a way that offers jobs, clean environments, social fairness – it’s daunting under any circumstances but it would be I think essentially impossible we didn’t have some of the wonderful tools that we have and the most important breakthrough of our age of course is the Information and Communications Technology revolution, the ICT revolution.

There have been great waves of technology for more than 200 years, the steam engine and what it made possible the Age of Rail for example. The invention of the telegraph, the invention of the automobile which gave us automobile- based cities and automobile-based economies. Our revolution that we are benefiting from in our time of course is the Information Communications Technology revolution – The digital age which really started already back in  the 1930’s and 1940’s with incredible scientific breakthroughs but has come into its own is the Age of Mobile connectivity and Broadband Internet. And the ICT platform will be pivotal for sustainable cities in the 21st century.

First I would say e-governance, because when government itself is transparent, online participative, this will not only provide government services far more effectively, but it will enable democratic participation far more effectively as well. Second aspect of the ICT revolution is the so-called Internet of Things. Not only do we talk to each other on our mobile phones and more than 7 billion subscribers around the world, but now machines increasingly are talking to each other. Sensors and monitors, to make sure that energy use is more efficient, that the power grid is properly managed, that the quality of the water and the air is being continuously monitored so that actions can be taken if something goes wrong, that the congestion of traffic can be monitored so that traffic flows can be optimally rooted. That Internet of Things, the sensors in the cars, in the traffic flow and so forth will mean we’ll be able to design our urban based systems, our urban based infrastructure, transport, water, waste management, recycling with vastly more efficiency and vastly more environmental sustainability that in the past, and one major part of the internet of things will be energy efficiency. I’ll come back to that in just a moment because that’s crucial for fighting the Climate Change challenge – SDG13. Climate change is one of the pre-eminent threats facing humanity.

That’s why the world got together in Paris at the end of 2015 to adopt a Paris Climate Agreement as the basis for implementing SDG13 to stop the human-induced Climate Change and also to live effectively with Climate Change that’s already been built in the system because of the history of Greenhouse Gas emissions.

Well, we know that approximately three-fourths of all greenhouse emissions are carbon-based mainly from energy use, from the way we are now burning coal oil and gas for our residential and commercial structures, for transport in internal combustion engine, cars and trucks and also of course in industrial processes and for power generation. The fundamental message from the climate scientists is we need to stop these emissions, we need to get to a zero greenhouse net emission world economy during the second half of the 21st century if we are to achieve the Paris goal of staying “well below 2 degrees Celsius warming” and aiming to achieve no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius warming, compared to the pre-industrial temperature.

Well we’re already 1 degree Celsius warmer than pre-industrial and we are going to overshoot safety by several degrees centigrade if we continue as we’re doing. What does that mean for cities? Cities are the place where the predominant amount of the emissions are made especially of course in the building sector, and in the use of power and in many, many industrial-based cities as well. So, what does it mean to go to a low-carbon economy? One is that city’s basically need to go all electric and that means that in the future, our vehicles rather than being internal combustion engines that directly burn petroleum, are going to have to be essentially electricity-based vehicles whether charged to the power grid, or using perhaps hydrogen produced by clean electricity. But we’re going to have to have zero emission vehicles. Our buildings rather than being heated in the cold parts of the world during winters through furnaces and boilers that are directly burning heating oil, for example, are going to have to be heated by electricity and heat pumps. Second, zero-carbon electricity because if that electricity that’s going to be in an all-electric city power system comes from coal, we’re not going to gain anything. In fact we’re going to have a disaster. So the way that we produce that electricity for an all-electric city is vital and we need to go to the zero carbon energy sources whether that means wind and solar power, hydro-electric power, nuclear power or advanced biofuels which may have a niche in some places or another technology called Carbon Capture and Sequestration which also may have a niche, not the predominant one. These zero carbon energy sources will be vital.

Third part is Smart – smart-using monitors and meters and information technology to ensure high level of energy efficiency. Appliances that now draw power even when they’re not being used, can with smart systems be shut down to be much more energy-efficient, our grid can be much better managed, our transport networks which will be electric with electric vehicles and other forms of public transportation can be a lot more efficient through the Internet of Things. And the last point I would make about the low-carbon city is that it needs to be connected often to distant power generation that may be coming hundreds of kilometres away from windy places or from desert areas where massive solar arrays can collect solar energy and transported through long-distance transmission lines to cities. So, cities are not self-contained, they are part of a larger energy grid. Now, the Information and Communications Technology is creating a new kind of business model, the so-called Share Economy. So, as people know all over the world, ride on-demand services like Uber – the advent of these services will be much more efficiency and lower costs, because by getting in that vehicle, that shared vehicle which will be used by a different person, a different person all through the day – this is going to be much more cost-effective for us than owning our own vehicle, and already we’re seeing in many places car ownership going down.

But car usage still being very high because personal mobility is very important. But the usage is through a much more intensive use of a vehicle where instead of us owning a car, drive it someplace, parking it for many hours of the day, using it again for perhaps another half hour on a commute back home – now the vehicle is used all day. Massive saving, by the way, in the huge urban areas used for parking right now. And therefore lots of gains of reduced resource use. The reduced resources to produce the automobiles, the reduced land area that’s needed to manage the overall urban fleet of vehicles and so on. What we know that this share economy is coming not only for vehicles it’s coming for buildings, it’s both residential and commercial buildings. In a way it’s coming for jobs also, because we’re going to enter an era I believe, where job flexibility is also going to be increased. A kind of job sharing in essence, because with Information Communications Technology – coordination costs are lower, the ability to share our physical infrastructure, our common space, our capital goods will be much higher; and the essence of this is that we’ll be able to reduce resource use, we’ll be able to reduce congestion, we’ll be able to save on the scarce physical capital and natural capital in order to achieve sustainability. And one of the things that the age of the automobile brought us was sedentary life – you sit, you get in the car, you drive which is sitting some more, you get out of the car, you sit some more and sedentary life combined with the highly processed carbohydrates and fast foods and saturated fats led to an epidemic of obesity in the United States, more than a third of the population, and an obesity and diabetes epidemic and cardiovascular disease epidemic in many places of the world. These are also part of the challenge of resilience of our cities. We need cities that are healthy places to live – clean air, clean water, but also a lot of walking, green spaces, places that give us quality of life – and what I have tried to emphasise is that we need to think ahead, plan ahead, have goal-based development, be trained, well-educated, smart innovative, using our new technologies in order to achieve sustainable cities in the 21st century. Thank you very much.