Climate Action

Could cities hold the key to accelerating net-zero progress?

Decarbonizing the built environment would be a true game changer in the race to net-zero.

Decarbonizing the built environment would be a true game changer in the race to net-zero. Image: Unsplash.

Don McLean
Founder & CEO, Integrated Environmental Solutions
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SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

  • According to a new report some of the world's leading corporations do not have realistic sustainability goals and policies.
  • Digital twin technology is able to provide accurate reporting data to help successfully implement climate targets.
  • In cities, where emissions are incredibly high, this data can track and improve net-zero progress more efficiently.

The need to do something impactful about the climate crisis is well known and widely discussed. At COP26 last year, businesses and governments came together to pledge their commitment to net-zero and most organizations recognize that having sustainability policies in place is almost non-negotiable. Increasingly, customers, suppliers and investors are focusing on green targets and plans, so not only are these policies important morally, but also commercially. However, without considerable intervention net-zero policies could fail.

Unfortunately, exaggerated climate claims and fears of “greenwashing” breed mistrust, but as we charge towards the complete climate crisis threshold, it should be expected that those in power are doing everything they can to mitigate the impending disaster.

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Unfortunately, a report published by Carbon Market Watch and NewClimate Institute, a German science think tank, has revealed that this is far from the case among some of the world’s most polluting companies. Many of these businesses do not have realistic sustainability goals and policies, which is a clear indicator that net-zero policies need to change if there’s any chance of preventing climate disaster.

Making net-zero plans realistic

It is important to emphasize here that the lack of a realistic net-zero plan is not always a result of laziness or lack of care. Decarbonizing a world that has been built on burning fossil fuels is not easy and unrealistic goals are often the result of the complex nature of the task.

We have seen this as a city council currently modelling its city’s net-zero roadmap using IES’s Digital Twin software mapped the national climate action plan, set out by central government across their city using the Digital Twin technology. By using the Digital Twin to assess the impact of the interventions to be taken as set out by the national guidelines, it was revealed that the city would be falling short of its targets by 20%, indicating that those savings had to be made elsewhere and the actions needed to be more dramatic than the guidance set out by the government.


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Net-zero plans cannot be dates, strategies and numbers pulled from thin air; it is far too late for vague promises now. It is a problem rooted in science, and therefore solutions must also be science-led. The good news is, technology is rapidly evolving in response to the issue, and there are tools available now that can ensure net-zero plans are realistic and impactful, rather than a box-check exercise to keep customers and stakeholders pacified.

Using technology in the fight against climate change

Decarbonizing the built environment would be a true game changer in the climate change battle, although its enormous carbon footprint, which accounts for up to 42% of UK carbon emissions, is frequently overlooked. Technology is the key to unlocking this as the world’s building stock is far too vast for a human brain and spreadsheet to realistically work through.

While the digital twin has been instrumental in helping the city council see that national guidance will not get them where they need to be to achieve their net-zero target, this same digital twin model, which reflects the real-life energy use of the city, can now be used to test solutions that will recoup those shortfalls.

For example, what if their retrofitting programme for public buildings was brought forward by half a decade, or if investment in renewable installations, such as solar PV, was accelerated? Using technology in this way means that a roadmap informed by science and evidence can be crafted, rather than relying on guesswork and assumptions. If all cities in the world were to use this technology to see where they truly are on their decarbonization journey, and how they can accelerate and improve current net-zero plans, hope for future generations would be much higher.

Digital twin technology allows for clusters of buildings to be grouped together, tested and optimized to minimize carbon emissions.


Digital twin technology allows for clusters of buildings to be grouped together, tested and optimized to minimize carbon emissions before connecting up with other clusters to ensure they are interacting efficiently. This can start with one street of houses and then be scaled up to entire neighbourhoods, cities, counties, countries and continents.

On smaller scales, corporations can map out their building premises and supply chains to ensure they are running as efficiently as possible. This brings the secondary benefit of keeping energy costs down, something that is desirable as the price of energy continues to skyrocket. They can also use the technology to assess other socioeconomic factors alongside energy, carbon and cost metrics – for example, the comfort, health and wellbeing of their building occupants and employees – to deliver on a broad range of ESG KPIs.

Without science and tech-led solutions which give definitive data, net-zero is little more than a vanity statement.

Why we need data-driven net-zero policies

When the shortcomings of the world’s largest carbon emitters are revealed and just three out of 25 carbon-hungry corporations display legitimate decarbonization dedication, it can be easy to feel pessimistic about the possibility of a net-zero future.

The challenge now is to bring to light that it is possible, but it needs to start with well thought out, data-driven net-zero policies, or else we will reach the point of irreversible damage, gifting future generations the existential problems runaway climate change will bring.

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Climate ActionFourth Industrial Revolution
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