Energy experts on the best global solutions to decarbonize climate-stressed cities

Energy efficiency and renewable energy strongly support our path to a climate-resilient future in cities like Singapore and beyond.
Energy efficiency and renewable energy strongly support our path to a climate-resilient future in cities like Singapore and beyond.
Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto.
  • Achieving net-zero by 2050 and halving emissions by 2030 calls for urgent decarbonizing solutions.
  • A new platform 'Toolbox of Solutions' helps city leaders, national governments and businesses identify decarbonization solutions.
  • Three experts outline their favourite solutions for immediate impact in climate-stressed cities around the world.

This month, all eyes turn to Egypt where world leaders will gather at COP27 to mobilize a global response to the climate crisis. While carbon and climate remain at the central focus, it is impossible to ignore the shifting landscape in which governments will seek to negotiate agreements. Extreme poverty, exacerbated by years of COVID-19 pandemic – along with energy and food insecurity driven by geopolitical conflict – loom large over the summit.

Though the race to halve emissions by 2030 and achieve net-zero by 2050 has never been more urgent, decarbonizing solutions must be increasingly aligned with the pursuit of important outcomes such as resilience, security, and social equity.

At COP27, the World Economic Forum, along with its collaboration partners, will launch the Toolbox of Solutions, an inclusive, open-access platform containing over 300 practical solutions to help city leaders, national governments and businesses identify proven decarbonization solutions. Toolbox users can search for the most relevant solutions based on system value and the holistic planning priorities of their city.

We asked three collaborating partners on the Toolbox of Solutions to describe their favourite solution that can bring immediate impact for climate-stressed cities around the world.

Cooling cities with nature-based solutions

Brian Dean, Head of Energy Efficiency and Cooling, Sustainable Energy for All

Globally in 2022, rapid urbanization coupled with marginal electricity access, COVID-19 induced poverty, and the urban heat island effect created deadly conditions that resulted in over 821 million people in cities living at high risk due to the lack of sustainable cooling solutions. Cities have a unique opportunity today to use urban planning strategies to mitigate urban heat island effect, leverage their natural resources and set up their community for success to thrive in a warmer world. Combined with efficient and climate-friendly active cooling, cities can beat the heat with sustainable cooling measures that do not require operational energy or refrigerants.

Nature-based solutions are an ideal way to deliver the first level of relief for heat stress in cities. Planting trees and vegetation, providing urban green spaces, and well-designed placement of water storage and flowing waterbodies can reduce temperatures, help offset the urban heat island effect and improve urban air quality. Such nature-based solutions can further reduce demand for active cooling and optimize how and when energy-driven technologies are used. Investments in nature-based solutions can be made at asset level by individual property owners or by city governments at community scale through intentional design and urban planning.

From Ahmedabad, India to Medellin, Colombia, cities around the world are increasingly turning to nature-based solutions and are adopting them in their heat action plans. The Green Corridors project in Medellin, Colombia effectively helped reduce urban heat island effect by 2°C on average and is expected to mitigate 160,787 kg of CO2 per year. Raising awareness and information-sharing programmes such as the #ThisIsCool campaign, heat action plans and the Cooling for All Solutions Tool are key tools for preparing the population to respond to extreme heat.

Changing business models to deliver efficiency

Dimitris Karamitsos, Senior Energy Efficiency Business Development, Basel Agency for Sustainable Energy

Energy efficiency and renewable energy strongly support our path to a climate resilient future in cities. However, energy-efficiency solutions are often disregarded by off-takers due to higher upfront cost and lack of trust towards new and unconventional technologies. Servitisation or “Products as a service” is an innovative business model which successfully tackles the market barriers limiting the deployment of climate solutions: it is the shift to companies charging customers for the use of their products instead of selling the product.

An example of this model deployed in a building efficiency application can be seen in a case study of ESR-REIT, a property management firm in Singapore, which considered several options to upgrade the aging cooling system of a building housing critical data centres. A local cooling technology provider offered an innovative cooling-as-a-service contract. Under this model, the service provider was able to provide the data centre with a state-of-the-art cooling system, which resulted in an energy efficiency savings of 15% than the highest international standards to the ESR-REIT’s facility.

Energy efficiency and renewable energy strongly support our path to a climate-resilient future in cities and beyond. By turning upfront capital cost into a regular and affordable fee, servitisation is a critical solution to accelerate its deployments. The model also introduces economic incentives to transition toward a circular economy as an opportunity to enhance sustainability on the path to net-zero. Leaders around the world can scale this approach by learning from success stories, integrating digitalisation and connecting with initiatives such as the global SET Alliance, which can provide useful tools and a community of experts deploying this approach.

Urban Transformation

How is the World Economic Forum improving the future of cities?

The World Economic Forum’s Platform for Shaping the Future of Urban Transformation advances public-private collaboration in cities, enabling more resilient and future-ready communities and local economies.

Contact us for more information on how to get involved.

Achieving water and energy efficiency through hydroponic farming

David Porter, Senior Director, Electrification & Sustainable Energy Strategy, Electric Power Research Institute

Today, 80% of the world’s arable land is in use. The global population is projected to grow to 9.8 billion by 2050, increasing pressures to feed the world and conserve scarce water resources. Those needs, coupled with the fact that 80% of the population will also live in urban areas by 2050, require new approaches to agriculture. EPRI’s Indoor Agriculture project has brought together energy providers and community partners across the US to utilize controlled environment agriculture in container farms powered via urban electrification.

Container farms are roughly the size of a semi-trailer, have no windows and are very well insulated. Each container yields annual produce roughly equivalent to that produced on one acre of a traditional land-based farm. These container farms have a 52-week growing cycle with minimal water consumption even though the systems are hydroponic.

Impacts of controlled environment agriculture are significant in a variety of ways including:

  • Uses no soil to grow crops.
  • Avoids use of farming equipment powered by fossil fuels.
  • Vertical farming can produce as much as 50 times greater yield than a conventional farm.
  • Crops consume as much as 95% less water than conventional farms.
  • Year-round availability of crops which cannot be grown locally outdoors.
  • Opportunity to diversify crops for existing farming communities.
  • Much shorter transport distances to deliver fresh produce to markets.
  • Workforce development and jobs to manage and harvest the crops.
  • Providing fresh produce to underserved communities in urban food deserts.

These controlled environment agriculture facilities fit virtually anywhere, may be stacked or placed inside an existing building, providing immense flexibility and scalability for implementation. Only a small electrical service and water connections are necessary to create a functioning container farm. Continuing growth in this space over the next decade can significantly improve health and nutrition outcomes in urban environments in an energy and water efficient way.

The World Economic Forum’s Net-Zero Carbon Cities mission is to catalyze urban decarbonization and resilience by shining light on proven solutions and fostering public-private collaboration among city stakeholders. The programme aims to enable transformation towards net zero through energy efficiency, clean electrification, and resource circularity, using integrated solutions across energy, mobility and the built environment.

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