Preparing to scale climate solutions in cities

23 Nov 2020

In November this year, we launched the first stage of the Climate Smart Cities Challenge. With this initiative, we hope to find the most important challenges to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and implement the most promising solutions in cities globally. But what does it take to scale climate solutions in cities?

In 1867, the first prototype of an electric vehicle was displayed by Franz Kravogl at the World Expo in Paris. We must have done something terribly wrong failing to scale electric cars. It’s only now, over 130 years later, that we see more and more non-fossil fuel vehicles on the streets. This is just one of countless examples of promising solutions not reaching full-scale implementation. There is no lack in early ideas, concepts and tests that can drastically reduce carbon emissions in cities. In fact, there are already enough existing solutions out there that can transform cities to climate-neutral.

World Expo in Paris 1867 - "Exposition Universelle". Image: Imágenes por Temas

World Expo in Paris 1867 - "Exposition Universelle". Image: Imágenes por Temas (CC License)

So, what is the problem when it comes to implementing climate solutions in cities? It’s not only about the technological solutions. Just as important is the competence and mandate of local government, choices made by people living in cities, viable business models, infrastructure and policy frameworks. As it is quite a task to take so many factors into account for sustainable transformation, we need tools to overcome the barriers for implementing solutions.

Three examples of tools cities can use to scale

At Viable Cities, most of the cities that have received funding from our programme use a combination of tools that will help them become climate neutral. Examples of such tools are:

  • Preparing for a Climate City Contract within the mission of climate neutral cities by 2030. The purpose of the Climate City Contract is to identify the policy and implementation gaps as a basis to inform a roadmap for transition and coordinate all stakeholders within the city towards common climate goals.
  • Establishing innovation teams with the competence and mandate to lead the change in the cities. Together with the Swedish innovation agency Vinnova, Viable Cities has just funded a consortium that will develop and offer innovation management services for cities, a capacity that is very important to overcome the barriers and lead the change.
  • Test and demonstrate their solutions in real environments, or testbeds. Such testbeds can show the feasibility of the solutions and engage the stakeholders for a large-scale approach. When focusing on cities, the testbed is preferably set up in a real environment and includes the end users.

Let’s dig a bit deeper deeper on how testbeds help scaling solutions

As just mentioned, there are multiple factors that are needed for anything system changing to scale. A well designed testbed can meet many of these factors. For example, a testbed can show that a business model works. This is of course important to the companies behind the solution, but just as important for further investment and procurement of the solution, or similar solutions. A test that is carried out in real environments – in the city – can involve multiple stakeholders and help them build capacity necessary for larger implementation

A real world test might even help reach a tipping point to behaviour change when involving many citizens in it, thus influencing many others. Such a setup can be a tangible vehicle for change, demonstrating what is possible at the level of entire systems. It enables transformative approaches to solving multiple societal challenges in an integrated and holistic way. A testbed can also demonstrate an emerging technology for regulators and engage regulators and policymakers in anticipating and shaping new regulations. 

The results of the testbed activities and the lessons learned can be a key element in the next steps in the process – including accelerators, procurement and follow-on investment – as the test results can show working business models and important organizational aspects for scaling the solutions.

Swedish Pavillion at World Expo in Dubai. Image: Alessandro Ripellino Arkitekter/Studio Adrien Gardère/Luigi Pardo Architetti

lessandro Ripellino Arkitekter/Studio Gardère/Luigi Pardo Architetti.“

Climate Smart Cities Challenge and the World Expo

In the first stage of Climate Smart Cities Challenge (until January 22, 2021), we – Viable Cities, Teknikföretagen, UN-Habitat, Vinnova, Smart City Sweden and the Swedish Energy Agency – are looking for cities to partner with us to run a challenge, host a real-world testbed, and invite problem-solvers to compete to develop and scale potential solutions to their greenhouse gas challenges and create other social benefits.

The next step is to launch the city challenges during World Expo in Dubai (Fall 2021) to find solutions that can be tested in real environments and thus paving the way for scaling such solutions. When planning for the launch at the World Expo, we do it in the spirit of the theme of the Expo – ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’. We hope that local governments, private companies of different sizes, researchers and others will collaborate with us to find and implement solutions – and bridge barriers – to the key challenge of our time.

 Olle Armstrand Dierks is Portfolio strategist at Viable Cities. You can find him on LinkedIn and Viable Cities on LinkedIn and Twitter

Viable Cities is a strategic innovation programme with a focus on smart sustainable cities. The programme’s mission is to transition to climate neutral cities by 2030 with a good life for everyone within planetary boundaries. Viable Cities is a catalyst for new forms of cooperation between cities, industry, academia, research institutes and civil society. This is to mobilise to change the way our cities work in line with our national environmental and climate goals and our international commitments linked to the global sustainability goals – Agenda 2030 – and the Paris Agreement. The programme’s time frame is 2017-2030 and is jointly funded by Vinnova, the Swedish Energy Agency and Formas. KTH Royal Institute of Technology is a host organization.

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