Getting a glimpse of new urban planning infrastructure in developing countries has been a revelation to me. Bringing in first world contractors and financiers that adopt a copy-paste approach to rebuilding new cities simply will not do. We are implementing ordinary urban ecosystems with prepackaged solutions – fossil fuel based and car centric. We are about to build cities with the same old shortsighted industrial standards instead of leap-frogging to sustainable solutions like those suggested by the Global Agenda Council on the Future of Cities.

I do not think we are repeating these mistakes because of any major economic conspiracy, but simply because it is the easy option. Bundling finance, energy solutions, water solutions, traffic infrastructure and all general urban infrastructures is too much of an ask for most developing cities.

Only few nations have the power and ability to prepackage city-building solutions on this scale into an aid package. This exercise is close to the type of effort needed for state-building – when external actors (foreign countries) attempt to build, or re-build, the institutions of a weak, post-conflict or failing state. So there is little supply.

These “one-stop-shops” of development can essentially only be provided by a few major global players like the World Bank or Japan’s and the U.S.’s Agency for International Development. Institutions with this capability are like big ocean liners that take a long time to turn. They still do not have proper clean tech knowledge, and are inherently slow to adapt, despite good intentions.

These institutions have a big impact on pollution and global warming and need to take speedy action on climate change – and do it at their core.

The alternative is to go where the new and better parts of a clean systems knowledge is and reassemble them into new competing exportable urban green system, like the Sino-Danish Green Cooperation Model, but on a much larger scale.

The leading companies offering water, heating, electricity, infrastructure, city planning, urban energy and urban transport do not have the backing of the major global players mentioned above – since they generally do not reside in these countries. So despite their expertise, the Nordic and other nations that have these capabilities are not recognized as a big system exporter worldwide. They do not have the one-stop-shop city-building capability. Today, their system export activities have mainly been orientated towards rural donation projects to developing countries rather than complex system export to new urban environments.

Major global institutions need to harvest clean tech knowledge wherever it can be found and integrate it into their major export systems. And the countries that dispose of such clean tech capabilities – again, primarily the Nordic countries – need to create new partnerships and move from a fragmented approach to a new paradigm, where they acknowledge that the future citizens, most often city dwellers, will have an increasing demand for intelligent, integrated system solutions, delivered through a vertical network-based framework.

Regardless, these challenges need to be overcome if we are to create simple, exportable, green city-building systems:

  • Finding and bundling global partners including a major financing partner
  • Aligning strategic intentions among competing companies and across geopolitical poles
  • Securing cross-organizational cooperation between public and private institutions
  • Getting local knowledge, network and presence for each implementation
  • Overcoming major resource demand and overly long processes
  • Aligning risk profiles among companies and institutions

Curbing pollution and global warming takes a global cooperative mindset. Development aid needs to be rethought in this context.

In World Economic Forum’s Outlook on the Global Agenda 2015, the sixth top global trend was “rising pollution in the developing world”.

The challenge of pollution and global warming is no longer the science, or the rate of innovation, but the rate of implementation: We have the clean solutions, now let’s bundle them and install them.

The Summit on the Global Agenda 2015 takes place in Abu Dhabi from 25-27 October

Author: Jens Martin Skibsted, Founding Partner, Skibsted Ideation. Member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Cities.

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