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Technology already offers many solutions for urban problems, but it can also be a game-changer on sustainability

Many organisations understand that we are at a critical juncture where adopting sustainable practices is no longer a choice, but a necessity. At this pivotal moment, speedy technological progress offers hope for a sustainable future. In this fast-developing and expanding global infrastructural landscape, smart cities, as we view them, will be truly smarter when they embrace the concept of climate resilience in its entirety, with technology leading the way.

At the World Economic Forum’s recent annual meeting in Davos, global leaders focused on the climate agenda, emphasising the pressing need for climate resilience, sustainable practices and the minimising of carbon emissions. A central topic of discussion was how to work towards a sustainable future. It highlighted the instrumental role of artificial intelligence in fostering sustainability, from optimising urban infrastructure in smart cities to introducing precise agricultural practices that cut greenhouse gas emissions. The integration of blockchain for transparent carbon credit trading and the utilisation of big data in climate science further showed the multifaceted approach being taken towards climate action.

The collective vision articulated at Davos paves the way for climate-smart cities where technology and real-time analytics merge to foster a prosperous future. But how can AI and other technologies actualise the concept of smart cities, and set a global paradigm for sustainability and resilience?

In our interconnected world, smart cities symbolise progress, powered as they are by an intricate web of new technologies. The convergence of smart cities and the Internet of Things has the potential to reshape urban living by providing new opportunities to improve cities’ efficiency, sustainability and overall quality of life.

A wide range of smart solutions for urban management are available, including intelligent traffic management systems with features that can read number plates or detect vehicles that jump red lights. AI-powered cameras can detect those who are speeding. Security systems can incorporate facial recognition technology. This is in addition to smart solutions for parking and environmental monitoring as well as managing water, energy, sewerage and waste more efficiently. All these technologies can be integrated into a command centre that allows for real-time monitoring and a co-ordinated response in various scenarios, including emergencies.

Technology offers many ways for city planners and developers to advance climate goals. Many successful cases demonstrate the power of AI to help developers with sustainable urban planning. For instance, according to a UN report, Beijing reduced deadly airborne pollutants by roughly 20 per cent in less than a year by closely tracking the sources of pollution and then regulating traffic and construction accordingly. I recently came across an innovative startup in Bengaluru that uses AI to decarbonise the agriculture sector, controlling fertilizer use to help farmers achieve better yields and reduce emissions.

Cities across the world are leveraging AI to enhance public transport. The GCC is uniquely positioned to lead the Middle East in sustainable living. Dubai has installed a smart traffic management system to reduce congestion. AI algorithms dynamically adjust traffic signal timings based on real-time traffic conditions. By analysing the traffic patterns, these systems aim at reducing congestion and optimising traffic flow.

An inherent tenet of blockchain in scaling climate action is its ability to create transparent and verifiable carbon credit trading platforms. These platforms help policymakers and organisations accurately track and validate emissions reductions. Blockchain can be a powerful tool in providing breadth and depth to climate mitigation and adaptation efforts by democratising ownership, enhancing transparency and integrity, and giving real-time visibility to emissions reduction and sequestration efforts.

Developing new climate databases as digital public goods could lay the foundation for greater global co-ordination on climate action. Ensuring that this data and technical infrastructure remain publicly accessible and open source will enable future design iterations and contextualisation.

But we must focus on climate adaptation at scale. This requires strengthening our ability to adapt to current and expected climate events. AI is proving to be a critical enabler, owing to its climate modelling capabilities. AI can gather and analyse vast datasets, helping us to factor in climate change and make informed predictions about environmental changes. Destination Earth, or DestinE for short – a European Commission flagship initiative for a sustainable future – envisions creating an AI-based model of the Earth to monitor and predict the interaction between natural disasters, such as droughts.

By envisaging complex climate data through interactive graphics and infographics, scientists can effectively communicate the urgency of climate change to policymakers. Researchers from Stanford University and Arizona State University have already explored the use of data analytics in identifying early warning indications of severe weather patterns. Through this research, they identified historical warning indicators of extreme heat waves using historical global climate data.

In envisioning climate-smart cities, we peer into a future that is not just sustainable but thriving. It's a future where our urban landscapes harmonise with the environment, where cleaner air invigorates our lungs, and where innovative technologies drive economic prosperity.

The journey towards climate-smart cities is undoubtedly challenging, but it’s a journey worth embarking on. The vision of climate-smart cities offers hope and a clear path forward. It’s a call to action to unite in building cities that not only withstand the challenges of climate change but also lead the way in crafting a brighter, more sustainable future for all.

The time to act is now, and with determination and collective effort, we can turn our cities into beacons of resilience, innovation, and environmental stewardship.

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Autor(en)/Author(s): Vikram Nair

Quelle/Source: The National News, 24.01.2024

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