Author: Petra Hurtado
As part of the North American Climate Summit, that is currently taking place in Chicago, initiated and organized by the City of Chicago in partnership with the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy and C40, City Digital hosted the event “Call to Action: Forum on Cities, Technologies, and Climate” today. The event featured local urban sustainability experts and city and climate leaders from across the U.S., discussing technology solutions for climate mitigation.
In June 2017, President Trump announced the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement. However, sub-governments and actors in the U.S. did not agree with this step and catalyzed the mobilization of thousands of cities, counties, states, and businesses, to sign America’s Pledge “We Are Still In” declaration.
The main goal of the North American Climate Summit is to sign the Chicago Charter, a commitment among U.S. cities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with reduction goals that are as ambitious as those in the Paris Agreement. Chris Wheat, Chief Sustainability Officer of the City of Chicago, however, mentioned in his welcome speech that this Charter is not just about reducing and monitoring greenhouse gas emissions but also about the cooperation between government agencies and corporations within the city. As important as this cooperation is, so is the collaboration between science and the public sector to create real world applications and solutions, emphasized Charlie Catlett, Director of the Urban Center for Computation and Data (a research initiative of the Computation Institute at the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory). His project, the Array of Things, provides “real-time, location-based data about the city’s environment, infrastructure and activity to researchers and the public” in order to tackle issues together with all involved stakeholders. This project has gained international attention during the past years and it will enable a variety of pilot projects in this field.
The three core discussion topics of the Call to Action event were transportation, energy, and waste. According to Jamie Ponce, Director of Innovation at the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago, who moderated the transportation panel, last year was the first time that the U.S. transportation sector overtook the energy sector in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. Apparently, we are able to tackle the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in almost any sector, except for the transportation sector.
Underscored in this panel was the collaboration between public and private as a main theme. Using real-time traffic data as a tool to reduce GHG emissions generated by traffic congestion can allow vehicles to operate more efficiently if the required data is available. Monali Shah, Director of Intelligent Transportation at HERE Technologies, emphasized the need to break existing data silos and to foster the collaboration between the different actors for improved data sharing. People usually operate individually, but new technologies and the use of big data can accelerate public-private collaboration. In addition, change from an individual level to a network level of action will promote behavior change at scale towards more sustainable lifestyles.
The mayors of Portland, OR; Santa Monica, CA; Honolulu, HI; and Milwaukee, OR presented their approaches and discussed climate action in their cities. Projects in the transportation, waste management, and energy-efficient building sectors are the main actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Cities are obviously poised to be the problem solvers, but there are still policy issues that need to be overcome, especially when it comes to the users of all these technologies. For example, will smart technologies be able to solve issues such as the tenant-landlord paradox when it comes to energy savings in buildings? Mike Nicholus from Accenture said during the energy panel: “Technologies and public-private partnerships may be able to raise the ceiling, but governments are able to raise the floor.” In the end, the base has to be stable to be able to further develop innovations and new technologies.
During the waste management panel, it became obvious that a solid base from the government is needed so the private sector can work more efficiently. Currently, “40 percent of waste in the U.S. is organic material. And 40 percent of the food in the U.S. is wasted.” says Jim Fish, President of Waste Management. But solutions can’t always be found by trying to make existing procedures and technologies more efficient. We need to allow new processes to apply new technologies, says Bridget Croke from Closed Loop Fund. Building on this point, Jim Fish added there are three main requirements for technology: it has to work, it has to be scalable, and it has to be economically competitive. However, city governments need to change their procurement regulations so that new technologies and procedures can be implemented, said Croke.
In summing up the event, Rick Saines from Baker & McKenzie pointed out: “Cities don’t have an obligation to the Paris Agreement; but they have the opportunity to lead this effort.” And this leadership of the local level is what is needed and was for the first time recognized during COP 23 in Bonn this year.
It is now up to cities and sub-actors to lead by example and demonstrate how climate action can be implemented in all aspects of life – revisiting the lunch utensils that were used during the Call to Action event would be a good start.
Tonight, after this event that was open to the public, Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago and Mayor Anne Hidalgo of Paris, current C40 Chair, welcomed over 50 mayors from North America during the Opening Ceremony of the North American Climate Summit. Tomorrow they will meet again behind closed doors to discuss further climate action and to sign the Chicago Charter. Urban Breezes will be there and we will keep you posted.