Smart cities: the key to a green economy?

This blog series focuses on the interest shared by SmartKlub and myself. In previous week’s I have discussed local authorities and community energy, our third link is smart cities. My research focuses on urban areas as do the majority of SmartKlub’s projects, so this week, I ask why?

In their fifth assessment report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlighted the significance of cities with the following statement: “Urban areas hold more than half the world’s population and most of its built assets and economic activities. They also house a high proportion of the population and economic activities most at risk from climate change, and a high proportion of global greenhouse gas emissions are generated by urban-based activities and residents” (IPCC, 2014). With an additional 2.5 billion people expected to join the worlds urban population by 2050, the way we live in cities will define our climate pathway.

Clearly the urban demographic is significant, but the question remains can cities lead the low carbon transition?  Climate change is a collective action problem, in the form of Hardin’s famous ‘Tragedy of the Commons’, therefore the real measure of mitigation potential is capacity for collective action. A city already relies heavily upon mutual trust, social norms and diverse institutions, all good signs. On the other hand, cities are large, complex and highly heterogeneous.

There is one more factor and this is critical, the impacts produced by a city’s residents are also felt by those same residents. Global warming impacts hit a city fairly uniformly and air pollution affects everyone equally. In the psychology of climate change, direct causal links are very important, they suggest individual agency.  The result being people in cities can work together to fight climate change (although it may take some organisation).

Cities have long been known as centres of innovation whether its technology, policy or fashion where cities go, countries follow. Cities exert enormous economic and cultural influence, changing consumption trends well beyond their boundaries. This means that cities are both the steering-wheel of the economy determining its course and the compass of society indicating its direction.

My research focuses on the compass, using London as an indicator for the UK; while, SmartKlub is working on enabling urban populations to organise, taking the steering wheel and turning society away from climate change.

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