If any doubt remained, a spate of new reports makes it clear that climate change is real and our efforts to rein it in are falling short. In fact, a report released by a United Nations panel in April reveals that greenhouse gas emissions are growing faster than ever. In the U.S., this finding is supported by the National Climate Assessment and the Climate Change Indicators Report released late last month by the Environmental Protection Agency. These reports predict dire consequences if we fail to manage the problem. President Obama’s science advisor, John P. Holdren, said, “The longer society waits to implement strong measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the more costly and difficult it will become to limit climate change to less-than-catastrophic levels.”
But the reports also offer hope—if we take immediate and sweeping action. So I ask you, in the face of the latest data and projections, what will you do now? It’s your move. I urge all city leaders to take action against climate change in these three ways, starting right now:
1. Cut consumption using smart environmental systems.
This is urgent. We need to work together to implement technologies that make a quantifiable difference quickly. Start by taking on environmental systems in your city to reduce energy and water consumption. Number one should be smart lighting, which can quickly reduce energy consumption by up to 60 percent. Also take steps to make your city’s buildings intelligent for energy conservation of 10 to 30 percent. Next comes water conservation, including leak detection. Not only is conserving these natural resources critical to managing climate change, it’s also key to reducing costs for citizens and fueling economic growth.
2. Reduce demand with smart meters.
The first rule of conservation is to give real-time visibility to demand. When you do, you can change behavior. To achieve this, you need to leverage the Internet of Things and put three solutions in place: Smart meters with embedded software that provides digital readings; network connectivity to ingress, process, and egress data; and visualization and analytical tools, such as those developed by Iconics, Schneider Electric/Telvent, or OSIsoft. By cooperating with your local utilities to roll out these solutions, you’ll drive conservation throughout your city for a nominal fee.
3. Get creative about funding.
There is a cost to conservation. But “we don’t have the funds” isn’t acceptable. It will cost your city more if you don’t act now. And when it comes to paying for changes to environmental systems, you have options. The first is public-private partnerships in which grantors and private investors make the initial capital investment, so you don’t have to find funds or add new taxes. The second is private capital from large investment funds. Some of these can be set up as pay-for-performance contracts, so unlike with loans, the city has little or no financial obligation. For more ideas, check out Joel Cherkis’ post, 3 Ways to Fund Smart-City Initiatives.
If you take away one point from the newly released reports, let it be this: Act now. Follow the three-point plan I outlined, or start by comparing your city’s performance against the International Standards Organization’s environmental management standards. The present-day snapshot that comparison provides will help you see where to begin—and where you need to go in next 10 to 15 years. Another great resource is Microsoft CityNext, which has comprehensive solutions for environmental systems such as energy, water, buildings, and transportation—the very systems that will help us fight the effects of climate change. Lead author of the UN report, Ottmar Edenhofer, says, “There is a clear message from science: To avoid dangerous interference with the climate system, we need to move away from business as usual.” I couldn’t agree more.