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2012: Back to 2006 or leapfrog to the Clean Revolution?

19 January 2012
2012: Back to 2006 or leapfrog to the Clean Revolution?

By Molly Webb, Head of Smart Technologies, The Climate Group.

January 19, 2012 

It’s 2012. It is tempting to think that globally, we have backtracked on the political and business ambition to tackle climate change. Some could point to Durban’s outcomes and be right that current commitments from nations add up to a 4 degree world in 2060, and we aren’t likely to get more ambitious international action before 2015. 

Is climate change back to where it was before Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth?

We can be cautiously optimistic. This blog is focused on transformative ICT solutions for climate change, but it might be time to widen that focus a bit to take into consideration the wider alignment between innovation and climate change, not only at national policy level but from entrepreneurs, organisations, cities, states and regions. 

First, the news from businesses is mixed. As the 2012 Year in Green Business report highlights, the economic crisis over recent years has taken its toll on businesses, but some are pursuing sustainability because it is good for cutting waste – and therefore cost – off the bottom line.

Clean tech spending does continue, according to a Ceres report, totaling $260 billion in 2011, with the US surpassing China as last year’s biggest clean energy investor (the U.S. investment was $55.9 billion up 35% over 2010). Ceres counts 45 new carbon-reducing policies around the world. Much of the action is at state level. For instance, 22 US states have introduced some type of renewable portfolio standard, and 24 have set energy efficiency resource standards that save 1-2% energy annually.

The challenge with a lot of the clean tech investment is that it comes from the public sector – and with plans to cut those programs, the private sector will need to take over.

Turning to ICT specifically, we are seeing the continued rise of  “big data”, and big businesses as well as social activists are getting more vocal on how to use it to solve societal challenges, including transport, energy and the environment.

I’m seeing more hackathons, city app challenges, smart city initiatives and actions. Connected cities holds the #1 spot on 2012 trendspotter’s lists, and not just ours.  

Our Information Marketplaces report found 400% growth since 2005 in Open APIs related to smart cities, in areas like government, transport and energy. About half of the C40 cities are taking ICT-enabled actions (even if they don’t think of them as ICT-enabled!) 

This year may also see some of the hype around ‘smart’ cities reach a peak. The mainstream definition seems to be broadly moving from new-built cities like Songdo, to existing cities (see this ranking of the top ten smart cities – Vienna is a surprise at #1). And last year the smart city conference circuit seemed too crazy to persist – but I may be underestimating our ability to talk shop, over and over again. 

The practical view is that in cities, public infrastructure needs to be built, and spending is expected  to be $350 trillion, or seven times the current global gross domestic product over the next 30 years, according to WWF and Booz & Co.

If we find ways to invest a further $22 trillion in ICT alongside the basic infrastructure, then we have the potential to save future emissions by up to 50%.

And businesses also see the opportunity: the market for smart city technologies is expected to be $40 billion by 2016 (according to Boyd Cohen who gave us the smart city ranking above). 

Cities are our opportunity, where we know investments will be made to ensure that we apply the connectivity and human ingenuity needed to accelerate a Clean Revolution.

That won’t change in 2012.

This year we’ll tackle the smart city challenges by supporting innovative city services pilots with Living Labs Global Award, developing smart city strategies as a follow up to the Information Marketplaces report, and continuing our energy modeling work (more on this soon). 

Time to get to work!

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