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Smart city strategies not joined up with environmental ambitions, report finds

The proportion of smart city initiatives focused on environmental problems has not increased over the last five years, according to new analysis.

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Reports finds a disconnect between environmental policies and smart city strategies
Reports finds a disconnect between environmental policies and smart city strategies

There is a disconnect between environmental policies and smart city strategies finds a new report, which also warns cities face “huge challenges” to deliver their environmental ambitions.

 

The report, released by the Environmental Industries Commission (EIC), analyses the extent to which cities are capitalising on the potential of smart environmental opportunities.

 

Carbon Disclosure Project

 

According to Strategy to reality: getting smart cities to deliver for the environment, cities that have recorded 2020 emissions targets though the Carbon Disclosure Project are on average still 47 per cent short of meeting those targets.

 

In addition, while all the 12 cities analysed for the report had comprehensive environmental strategies, cities on average only had one other smart environmental initiative (aside from smart energy management initiatives).

 

Furthermore, the proportion of smart initiatives that are focused on environmental problems (23 per cent) has not increased over the last five years. The report also examines city recycling rates and air pollution.

 

“Cities need to join-up their smart strategies with their environmental ambitions and look again at their procurement practices.”

 

The report finds several factors are responsible for holding back the adoption of smart environmental technologies, including:

  • siloed approaches in city governments
  • compliance-led environmental policy-making
  • difficulty of developing business models for smart environment innovations
  • procurement methodology.

"Many cities face entrenched environmental challenges: low recycling rates, poor air quality and a struggle to meet emissions targets,” said Matthew Farrow¸ executive director of EIC.

 

“We need to leave no stone unturned in the battle to clean up our cities, and despite the enthusiasm for the smart city agenda, smart environmental applications have real potential that is not being fully utilised. Cities need to join up their smart strategies with their environmental ambitions and look again at their procurement practices.”

 

The report also sets out an “agenda for action” and suggests the following actions would help cities’ efforts to deliver a better environment:

  • Maximise the amount of open environmental data: the amount of open environmental data in cities is currently variable. The falling cost of sensor and satellite technology is leading to a rapid increase in the amount of earth observation and local environmental data. Making this available, and in usable formats, to citizens and businesses is vital. It will engage the public, spur behaviour change and create opportunities for commercial smart innovations.
  • Develop ambitious environmental strategies covering all relevant topics: this will help avoid the risk of silo-thinking and a sole focus on compliance – the European Environment Agency found that a focus on compliance with specific air quality “limit values” has undermined progress on air pollution). The Canadian approach of requiring continuous improvement in pollution levels under its “keeping clean areas clean” strategy is a good example of a better policy.
  • Link smart city and environmental city strategies: this could be done by creating a joint team from both smart and environmental departments with city staff, or ensuring an environmental section in any smart or digital strategy and vice versa. The creation of a “smart environment” champion within cities could also help.

EIC is the main trade association for the UK environmental services and technology sector. Its smart cities initiative is supported by Aecom and Bird & Bird.

 

The full report can be accessed here.

 

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