Nature and Biodiversity

Can cities be the solution to climate change?

Niels B. Christiansen
Chief Executive Officer, The LEGO Group
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This post is part of a series of interviews on the impacts of climate change and the COP21 talks in Paris. The author is one of 78 signatories to an open letter from CEOs to world leaders urging climate action.

What can businesses expect from COP21?

This is a question that many people are asking. We expect a global agreement that will channel investments into low-carbon and efficient technologies. Some voices will claim that the agreement is too weak, not ambitious enough. But for the climate, cities and companies, it is an opportunity. To be successful in business, you need a strong vision and a clear direction. The same applied for these talks. And as a business leader, I know – strategy is key.

So how can we support the successful implementation of an ambitious climate agreement?

Two actors are key to accelerate the uptake of existing technologies which are essential to decarbonizing our economies: companies and cities.

Companies are already demonstrating leadership and have the needed technologies available. Taking leadership on climate change is not only a question of pointing to what everybody else should be doing; it’s about showing a good example yourself. We would like to see more sustainable cities and industries doing more with less energy, in buildings, in industries and in energy systems.

Therefore, improving our own energy efficiency is simply a natural part of taking climate leadership as well as sound business. The focus of the Danfoss Climate Strategy 2030 is to use half as much energy to keep the wheels of business running as in 2007. And secondly, the energy actually used to do so will emit half as much CO2 as in 2007.

What is good for the climate is good for business and communities. Becoming more efficient equals saving money to invest in innovation, infrastructure, healthcare, education, etc.

What examples are we seeing today that could be replicated on a larger scale?

Water is one example where cities could potentially make better use of their resources. In municipalities, water and waste water facilities account for the largest consumption of electricity, typically 25-40% of the local authorities’ total energy use.

As the world population rises and people pursue higher standards of living, more water will be needed in homes and for production of food and products. By 2050, the United Nations projects global water demand to increase by 55%. However, fresh water supplies are limited, and groundwater, which is the source of drinking water for at least half of the global population, is used much faster than it is replenished. In just 10 years, it’s expected that 50% of the world will live in water-stressed areas. The increasing demand for water also leads to growing energy consumption, which affects the climate.

In the Danish city of Aarhus, a local water company has managed to transform a waste water facility from being just a waste water plant into a combined heat and power plant, delivering an energy surplus. The plant produces 90% more energy than it consumes. The excess heat is led into the district heating system in the city, thereby reducing its carbon footprint. Every city could do the same.WaterinfoA second example is the efficient use of fuel with combined heat and power. The concept of combined heat and power is to capture heat from power production and use it to heat water, which is then distributed via underground pipes to homes and buildings for heating purposes. Around 60% of the fuel used in power plants is wasted, lost as heat into the atmosphere. Power plants run at an efficiency of around 30-40%; however, the implementation of a district heating system effectively reuses this energy and raises efficiency up to 60-90%. The system can also be used for cooling, by using recovered energy to power air-conditioning systems.

The technologies needed to realize this potential are ready and available. A growing number of cities, including Munich, Warsaw and Paris, are now leveraging the huge benefits of combined heat and power, more integration of renewables or simply redirecting surplus heat from industry that would otherwise disappear into thin air.

Any final thoughts on the summit in Paris and what you hope to see out of it?

Going green is not a money-saving exercise. It is an investment in business. Many countries and definitely cities have shown that growth and emissions reduction can work together. And every action counts. Global warming must be brought to a halt, and according to the International Energy Agency, energy efficiency can deliver 38% of the greenhouse gas reduction required.

City governments, businesses and civil society are not part of the negotiations – but we stand ready to deliver on technology and implementation. We have the technologies to do so. Let’s collaborate to accelerate the uptake of efficient and low-carbon technology, starting with a strong climate agreement in Paris.

Author: Niels B. Christiansen, President & CEO Danfoss A/S

Image: A view of Asco village and a nuclear plant, which uses the waters of the Ebro river water to cool it, in Asco near Tarragona January 27, 2010. REUTERS/Gustau Nacarino

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