As cities are responsible for around 60% of global carbon dioxide emissions, we cannot reach net zero until we make cities net zero. But what are some of the current hurdles standing in the way, and how can businesses and individuals facilitate this change?

In this episode of the Cities of Tomorrow podcast, Matt Rickard speaks to Amandeep Bedi, APAC Director of Sustainable Solutions at ENGIE Impact, a sustainability advisory division of ENGIE to find out.

WATCH – You can also catch the recording of the episode here: Cities of Tomorrow with Amandeep Bedi – in the studio


What roles do cities play in sustainability and net zero transition?

Cities play a vital role in climate change and net zero transition. As countries rapidly urbanise, new cities are shaping up into hubs of economic activity. The top cities take up only a few percentage points in terms of overall surface area, but they house large populations and approximately 60% of global carbon dioxide emissions are coming from them. Therefore, cities need to play an active role in decarbonising and supporting the country’s net zero plans.


How should we envision tomorrow's net zero cities? What strategies are in place or need to be rolled out to meet that vision and what is being done both now and in the future?

There’s definitely a lot of work to be done. If we look at it now, approximately 700 cities across 53 countries have made some kind of net zero pledge with the ambition to try to become net zero by 2050. A big part of this transition is to try and identify the sources of emissions and understand the impact they have on cities. Studies have indicated that primarily inner-city buildings and transportation play a huge role in terms of overall emissions, and in terms of achieving net zero, these are definitely areas that cities need to work on.

Several cities are moving towards vehicle electrification including Singapore, which has made strong and ambitious plans around installing electric charging infrastructure. Whilst automotive companies have been ramping up the production of electric vehicles, it is also important to provide the charging infrastructure for the charging of these Electric Vehicles.

Find out more on ENGIE’s partnership with ComfortDelGro to build up the EV infrastructure across Singapore.

In some cities, around 25% of emissions come from buildings alone and the element of construction and embedded carbon take it past 30-35%, which is where a big chunk of carbon emissions sit. Decarbonisation can start with buildings and understanding how to make them more efficient through the basics around operating air conditioning within an optimal temperature range, energy optimization and making devices more energy efficient are great starting points.


What roles do City Planners and businesses play in helping to achieve net zero?

The role of business is straightforward, which is to provide a solution that generates profit in line with the customer pain point being solved.

However, City Planners have a much tougher job. They need to keep cities economically viable, making sure that they serve the needs of major stakeholders such as the citizens, business interests and the overall community.

That’s where a lot of the design thinking comes in, in terms of how cities are designed, how they attract people, and how they ensure laws and regulations nudge people and businesses to make energy-efficient choices.


Is there a case for starting at the small precinct level and scaling up from there?

Starting work at a precinct level allows Precinct Planners or City Planners a lot more flexibility. They can:

  1. Test a few different solutions.
  2. Institutionalise ways and means of actually doing things which means exploring the behaviours they want to institutionalise to promote a more sustainable lifestyle.
  3. Change things around if they are not working, while things are still at a small scale. This makes managing trialing solutions much easier, as opposed to trying to make adjustments once a solution has been rolled out at scale in a complex city environment.

ENGIE has done some work with NUS (National University of Singapore) and Sentosa where the primary focus was to understand what the baseline problem of carbon emissions was. It’s not so easy to measure when it comes to complex real estate environments as everyone owns their own electricity consumption, water use, and energy use in all forms. Collecting all of this information can be a hard task, so there needs to be an optimal trade-off in terms of the level of detail whilst having a reasonable enough answer.


Which aspects of urban sustainability are achievable today? What are the closest elements to realisation?

There’s a lot of urban sustainability that have been solved which could be implemented now with significant impacts, such as energy efficiency solutions to make buildings, chillers, lighting systems and cooling systems more efficient, a lot of the technology is already available.

Similarly, renewable energy is reachable in many countries. Singapore is quite unique in that aspect as there is limited space to put up solar systems but there’s been a lot of effort to maximise solar in Singapore beyond other regions through offsite solar purchase programs which allow companies to invest in creating renewable energy supplies.


Can the public sector and city planners solve this problem? What is the role of innovation, how can ecosystems work together and what is the best approach to look at these challenges?

City Planners cannot do this on their own, it has to be a societal effort that includes individuals, citizens, businesses, and governments. Decarbonisation efforts need to be a lot more coordinated with guidance coming from the top clearly explaining collective objectives, but we are seeing this begin to take shape with countries starting to set national targets for carbon emissions. However, the planning needs to start encompassing the role each part of society needs to play. We must increase transparency on what can be done at all levels.

Businesses should be constantly looking for ways to find sustainable solutions and services. We are already seeing some greener options available in the market such as easier access to clean electricity, electric vehicle services, green electricity for retail, and consumer choices with more biodegradable or organic packaging.

It all ultimately hinges on individuals being more responsible consumers. We need to start making more responsible choices. This can incentivise both businesses and governments to accelerate their action, and the more we talk with our money about where we spend and how we spend, the more it will influence the rest of the stakeholders to start pushing towards more sustainable cities, by design.


Do you have any closing thoughts?

More needs to be done and the time for action is now. A lot of the plans are there, it’s now about action and not waiting for someone else to tell us what to do. Every part of society needs to get moving on making the choices that will drive us forward down the path of sustainability.


Did you enjoy this podcast? Listen to the previous episode with Wandrille Doucerain here.