Monday, September 25, 2017

Does opening the Northern Sea Route give Russia a vested interest in not tackling climate change?

Icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov in Arctic Waters along the NSR
Icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov in Arctic Waters along the NSR. Photograph by: TheBrockenInaGlory, distributed under CC-BY 3.0. 
The Russian Federation is driving the development of the Northern Sea Route through Arctic waters – becoming more and more ice free due to global warming – in order to exploit fossil fuel extraction, which it sees as a major economic opportunity. Could it be that Russia has a clear vested interest in not helping to tackle climate change?

By 2022, the volume of traffic on the Northern Sea Route (NSR) is projected by consultants Frost and Sullivan (see below) to reach 40 million tons. In 2016, the volume was already a record breaking 7.3 million tons, representing an annual 35% increase.

Russia is commissioning new facilities for the production of fossil fuel liquefied natural gas (LNG) and the development of infrastructure in the Arctic. This is planned to help significantly increase traffic through the NSR – therefore increasing global warming – and therefore improving the ability of shipping to use this route as the ice melts faster.

The Northern Sea Route and other Arctic sea routes
 The dashed arrow shows the Northern Sea Route (NSR) along the Siberian Coast from Murmansk (Russia) to Cape Dezhnev in Bering Strait.

In his speech to the Eastern Economic Forum, which was held in Vladivostok September 6–7, 2017, President Vladimir Putin talked of the "rich natural resources – coal, oil, gas and metals, as well as low energy prices, which are lower in Blagoveshchensk, Vladivostok and Khabarovsk than in Busan, Seoul, Osaka, Tokyo or Beijing" as being chief among the advantages of opening up the region and developing the Forum.

Putin with President of the Republic of Korea Moon Jae-in at the Forum.

Putin spoke of how the Russian long term plan to make NSR attractive is being developed: "New transportation corridors are being built and ports capacities are being increased to give companies an opportunity to deliver their goods from Asia Pacific to Europe and back, as well as to other regions, as quickly and as cheaply as possible. We are scrutinising the opportunity of building a railway bridge to Sakhalin.

"Taken together with the development of the Northern Sea Route, modernisation of BAM and Trans-Siberian Railway and implementation of other projects, this will help us make the Russian Far East a major global logistics hub."

Industrial output in the Russian Far East has, at 8.6 percent, been more than double the average growth rates in the Russian Federation – the gross regional product grew by 4.2 percent indicating its value to the Russian economy.

Shrinking ice

The Northern Sea Route is the shortest sea route from Asia to Europe. According to experts, because of global warming, after 2050 it will be available for year-round passage of conventional vessels with no ice reinforcement.

The sea ice is shrining fast. At the end of the northern summer this year, the ice surface is down to 4.7 million square kilometers. In the 1970s and 1980s it was roughly seven million square kilometers.

This is why Russia is driving development of the route – not only for pure export of natural resources from the Arctic zone or for the "Northern Supply", but also for container transportation.

According to Dmitry Purim, CEO of PJSC Sovfracht, "the main driver of the Arctic development, the undisputed mainstream, is the realization of hydrocarbon projects".

As the ice retreats, the Arctic routes will become shorter and faster. With the current trend, by 2030 the Arctic will completely get rid of ice in the warm season. So, cargo ships will be less likely to require the help of icebreakers, and navigation will be open at least 6 months a year.

Russian plans

The container traffic on routes where the use of the NSR can potentially give a significant payoff to carriers, is about 455 thousand TEU.

The commercial operation of the NSR is in full swing now, especially in the western part (from Murmansk to the port of Sabetta). The traffic volume can already be compared to the European numbers, say Frost and Sullivan (report sent by email, not yet online).

Evgeny Ambrosov, the First Deputy General Director of PJSC Sovcomflot and Vice-President of the Arctic Economic Council, said at the Forum: "The further growth in freight turnover will be due to the commissioning of new LNG production capacities (Arctic-LNG, Pechora-LNG) and the development of oil and gas fields. By 2025, the NSR will transport about 65 million tons of hydrocarbons."

Commenting on the results of the panel, Leonid Petukhov, the General Director of the ANO "Far East Investment and Export Agency", stressed that: "The development of the NSR is moving in all major directions—the icebreaker fleet is gradually growing, the infrastructure is being upgraded, work is being done to remove administrative and trade barriers; on the whole, conditions are being formed for increasing the volumes of container transportations in the medium term, private (including foreign) investors are involved in the projects."

LNG-powered ships

The fleet of Russia's largest shipping company, Sovcomflot, has recently been supplemented by three new MR vessels (6 in total), and in August 2017, Christophe de Margerie (reinforced ice class Arc-7) gas carrier made its first commercial flight delivering LNG from Norway to the South Korea.

The vessel went through the NSR for a record 6.5 days without the help of an icebreaker. "Christophe de Margerie" is the first gas carrier in a series of 15 vessels of this type planned for construction.

There are some climate benefits for the construction of new vessels using LNG as fuel. According to E. Ambrosov, it will reduce the volume of carbon dioxide emissions by 15%, nitrogen emissions by 80%, and sulfur emissions by 90%. The construction will start in 2019 at the Zvezda plant, and the first ship will leave the shipyard in 2022.

Foreign companies are demonstrating high interest in using the Northern Sea Route. "Japan has two main interests related to the NSR. The first one is the diversification of transport routes between Asia and Europe and the second is the development of the energy base,"  said Shinichi Ishii, senior consultant at Nomura Research Institute, Ltd. "The Hokkaido government has a program to participate in the NSR, and in the future, Hokkaido intends to become a gateway to the NSR."

Reduction in the ice area in summer and autumn makes the NSR more attractive for sea container transport. "On the average, over a decade the ice thickness is reduced by 13%" said Riccardo Valentini, professor at the Tuscia University (Italy) and head of the European Mediterranean Climate Change Center. "We need to improve the accuracy of sea forecasts, ice conditions and seasonal risks."

The thematic panel "Development of the Northern Sea Route. From words to action" was held September 6, 2017 within the framework of the 3rd Eastern Economic Forum with the assistance and support of ANO "Far East Investment and Export Agency".

The discussion gathered a number of industry professionals—representatives of Russian and international scientific organizations, as well as functional and top managers of oil and gas, shipbuilding and transport companies from Russia, Japan, South Korea, China, the Netherlands, etc. Among them was Evgeny Ambrosov, First Deputy General Director of PJSC Sovcomflot, Tero Vauraste, Chairman of the Arctic Economic Council, Vladimir Korchanov, First Vice-President of FESCO, Rene Berkvens, CEO of Damen Shipyards Group NV, Riccardo Valentini, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Head of European Center for the Mediterranean Climate Change, and others. Alexander Dyukov, Chairman of the Board and General Director of PJSC Gazprom Neft, also visited the session.

After the discussion, the session moderator, Managing Director of the Russian Frost & Sullivan office Alexey Volostnov and the Director General of the ANO "Far East Investment and Export Agency" Leonid Petukhov signed an agreement on coordination of activities to improve the conditions for the implementation of the socio-economic development strategy of the Far East until 2020, and on the effective assistance to the development of the Northern Sea Route.

The source for many of the quotes above is the Russian Frost & Sullivan office.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

British homes could cost-effectively halve energy demand by 2035

British homes could cost-effectively halve energy demand by 2035, according to a new report.

Man installing insulation on a roof.

A version of this article appeared on The Fifth Estate on 18 September.

In Britain, as a result of efficiency savings in products and efforts to make homes more efficient, homes now use 23 per cent less gas and 17 per cent less electricity than in 2008. Moreover, the average dual fuel household bill was £490 lower in 2015 than it was in 2004, according to the report from the UK Energy Research Council (UKERC).

The report says homes could save a further average of £270 a year at current energy prices, totalling about 140 terawatt-hours (TWh) – or the rough equivalent of the output of six Hinkley C-sized nuclear power stations – in heat and electricity.

This implies that the UK government would be much better off rekindling its home energy efficiency program – moribund for six years – than investing in new nuclear power stations – although much more electricity will be needed to charge the growing number of electric vehicles.

The report (using the government’s own guidance for policy appraisal) says that such investments would deliver net benefits worth £7.5 billion to the UK economy. This could rise to £47 billion if benefits such as health improvements and additional economic activity are counted.

The UKERC is therefore calling for the government to set a long-term target for energy efficiency – as it did on 26 July with a target to ban petrol and diesel cars by 2040 (a target beaten by eight years by the Scottish Government’s announcement to phase them out in 2032, made five days later).

The Committee on Climate Change believes that as much as 85 per cent of potential carbon emission savings in buildings are at risk of not being realised due to poor take-up of measures, implementation or standards enforcement.

The UKERC report makes an estimate of which of these savings are achievable under three scenarios of increasing ambition:

Table of home energy efficiency savings ranked by action, cost and achievability

This makes clear that more efficient appliances and boilers are easy wins – mostly thanks to EU policies (we won’t mention the ironies of Brexit here) driving greater efficiency in household appliances and boilers, and a new EU Regulation setting a framework for energy labelling, which simplifies and updates the energy efficiency labelling requirements for products sold in the EU.

The tough ones are help with insulation – particularly of walls and floors – and heat pumps. It is here where government support could therefore be most usefully targeted.

This graph shows where savings could be made over the next 18 years, and how much impact savings in different areas will make, compared with making no savings at all (the top dotted line):

Graph of home energy efficiency savings possible over the next 18 years

Source: CCC dataset

What is the cumulative value of this investment in the energy efficiency of the housing stock? The report analyses this in the “cost-effective” scenario. In the graph below, anything below the horizontal line is a cost compared to current levels, and anything above is a saving.

It shows that while the core savings come from energy use and a reduction in emissions and pollution, this has a knock-on benefit in health savings and GDP.

Graph of home energy efficiency savings and costs by method over 18 years

Source: produced from BEIS, 2016 using outputs from CCC dataset model

The headline takeaways are that “one quarter of the energy currently used in UK housing could be cost-effectively saved by 2035”, and that, “allowing for falling equipment costs and including the wider benefits of energy efficiency improvements, it should be possible to cost-effectively halve energy demand in UK homes.

“With innovation in technology and delivery, appropriately supported by government, it is likely we can go significantly further than this too.”

But to do so there needs to be significant policy change and public investment. The report points to the forthcoming opportunity in the expected (and delayed) Clean Growth Plan and National Infrastructure Assessment. Plus, to fill the current policy vacuum a new white paper on heat and energy efficiency is urgently required.

Two years after the government scrapped its Green Deal energy efficiency loan scheme, it has yet to announce a replacement. The company which bought the Green Deal Finance company (and some of the Green Investment Bank's investments from Macquarie) is also yet to announce a new scheme.

David Thorpe is the author of Energy Management in Building and Sustainable Home Refurbishment.

Monday, September 18, 2017

European battle continues over 2030 energy efficiency target

Members of the European Parliament’s environment committee have voted for a legally binding target of a 40 per cent increase in energy efficiency by 2030, as well as for the closing of a number of loopholes that undermine annual energy savings.

A version of this was published first on The Fifth Estate on 11 September.

In doing so they have set a challenge to the disappointing compromise of 30% delivered by EU energy ministers in June – a non-binding target.

Will the EU eventually settle on a 30% or  40% target when it votes later this year? Battle is raging in Brussels between lobbyists of differing persuasions. It is particularly the coal industries of eastern European countries who are most vociferous in arguing for low targets.

You can tell your Member of the European Parliament what you want them to do by writing to them. Find out who they are here.

The environment committee wants to see Europe's nations being much more ambitious on saving energy in order to reach the Paris Agreement targets. They want to see a change in the text of the redrafted Energy Efficiency Directive from:
"Member States should set their national indicative energy efficiency contributions taking into account that the Union’s 2030 energy consumption has to be no more than 1321 Mtoe [million tonnes of oil equivalent] of primary energy and no more than 987 Mtoe of final energy."
"Member States should set their national binding energy efficiency targets taking into account that the Union’s 2030 energy consumption has to be no more than 1129 Mtoe of primary energy and no more than 825 Mtoe of final energy."

This would represent a saving of 162 Mtoe – or 1884 million megawatt-hours of final energy use.

That’s equivalent to the output of 129,041MW of coal-fired power stations operating at a capacity factor of 60 per cent!

Seen in this way, it’s easy to understand the importance of this battle that is raging between the leaders of European countries and their environmentally inclined  MEPs.

Because of their concern that extreme weather events such as heatwaves, floods and droughts are expected to affect many parts of Europe more frequently, the environment committee also called for cities to create their own sets of targets for addressing climate change.

These would represent a system of Locally Determined Contributions, directly linked and complementary to their host countries’ National Determined Contributions, which are what every country has to produce to detail how it will help to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Target low-income households

Buildings constitute a substantial potential for increasing energy efficiency and the buildings sector accounts for 40 per cent of Europe’s energy consumption, making it a sector of prioritised importance for achieving further substantial energy efficiency gains.

The MEPs said they wanted a significant share of the 40 per cent energy efficiency target to be aimed as a priority at improvements to the energy efficiency of buildings that particularly benefit low-income consumers at risk of energy poverty, because they won’t have the means to make the necessary investments themselves.

“Investments in households at risk of energy poverty will reap significant benefits for those households and wider society,” they said. “With around 50 million households in the Union being affected by energy poverty, energy efficiency measures must be central to any cost-effective strategy to address energy poverty and consumer vulnerability and are complementary to social security policies at the Member State level.”

One loophole MEPs want closed is to let Member States have the discretion to decide how best to design measures providing better feedback on energy consumption for occupants of units in multi-apartment or multi-purpose buildings who are supplied with heating, cooling or hot water from a central source.

MEPs also ramped up the target for publicly owned buildings. They want to see three per cent of publicly owned buildings over 250 square metres to be eco-renovated a year – up from the current draft’s target of three per cent of central government-owned buildings over 500 square metres.

Even more crucially, they want to see sales of energy used in transport to be fully included in the targets.

Energy performance of buildings

The committee also called for a strengthening of the new Directive on the Energy Performance of Buildings to ramp up the current slow annual renovation rate of European buildings (around 0.4-1.2 per cent depending on the Member State).

Currently, there is an urgent need for widely available financing products that would include and support the positive aspects of energy efficiency renovations, such as the higher asset value and healthier living conditions for the occupants.

If adopted, this would call upon Member States to establish a long-term strategy for mobilising investment in the renovation of residential and commercial buildings, both public and private, to decarbonise the total building stock by 2050.

Spanish energy firm Iberdrola’s director of climate change, Gonzalo Saenz de Miera, has said his company would support this target by “improving the insulation on windows that will reduce the consumption of gas, or by improving the efficiency in the transport sector”.

“We’re not going to provide insulation services ourselves. Energy efficiency businesses will sell their services to companies that are obliged to make the reductions” and make those available using a system of white certificates, he said.

The next step in the European legislative process will be taken on 28 November when MEPs in the energy and industry committee are due to consider it.

Dora Petroula, energy savings policy coordinator at Climate Action Network Europe, commented: “This position brings us much closer to meeting the Paris Agreement goals which require the EU to up its game on energy efficiency. The industry committee needs to follow suit and support a 40 per cent efficiency target and a strong set of rules to ensure all EU countries limit energy waste.”

David Thorpe is the author of Energy Management in Building and Sustainable Home Refurbishment.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Bitcoin is the future of local and community renewable energy trading and EV charging

Dr Jemma Green, co-founder and chair of Power Ledger
Dr Jemma Green, co-founder and chair of Power Ledger.

A new bitcoin company has raised AU$17 million (£10.3m or $13.7m) in 72 hours to support a revolutionary technology platform that will allow electricity producers and consumers to trade directly with each other in tiny units of power.

This article first appeared last week on The Fifth Estate.

Power Ledger is at the forefront of a disruptive wave affecting the energy market that will see the end of the dominance of centralised generation and the increasing participation of building owners, smaller renewable energy suppliers and electric vehicle owners in a peer-to-peer marketplace, all made possible by the new, internet-based encrypted currency, bitcoin.

Consumer are the ultimate disruptors, David Martin, Power Ledger’s co-founder and managing director says. “Consumers have said, ‘I don’t want to buy energy from a coal-fired station’, instead saying this model of energy transaction is what they want to participate in’.“The concept of peer-to-peer [energy] trading is something that has universal appeal to customers … it’s a demonstration that the community wants to be part of the power economy of the future.”

“The concept of peer-to-peer [energy] trading is something that has universal appeal to customers … it’s a demonstration that the community wants to be part of the power economy of the future.”

Dr Jemma Green is the other co-founder and chair of Power Ledger. Her background is in financing and accounting at JP Morgan in London but also financing environmental sectors. In 2013 she returned to Perth and did a PhD in Energy Markets and Disruptive Innovation and also featured as a member of our Sustainability Salon for Perth and WA.

In a podcast with website she explains how she came by the idea for Power Ledger. She saw that in Australia 20 per cent of houses have rooftop solar but hardly any are on high-rise apartment buildings. She saw the potential for these buildings acting as energy retailers, supplying their residents, and designed a system for a building in Perth.

However, she was unable to find software that allocated the electricity to each apartment until she met some blockchain developers in January last year, and realised blockchain was perfect for her needs.

A problem was identified with the power grid, which is that if some apartment residents are using local energy, fewer are using the grid and so those consumers will pay proportionately more. Power Ledger was formed in May last year, just after the birth of her daughter, to explore how blockchain could circumvent this problem by allocating small transactions to each apartment.

A pilot project in a retirement village south of Perth from August to December 2016 proved the success of the concept. A second trial was conducted in Auckland with the local network operator and linked up with the banking sector to complete the loop.

Sell your solar power when you’re out and don’t need it

“It means that I can sell to others the electricity I might have utilised when I’m not in my apartment,” Green says.

“Schools and any partially occupied building owners can do the same. If I’m not using that electricity, then it can be spread equally across everybody in the apartment block or network. This also incentivises people to use less electricity as they can sell their unused power and make money.”

Power Ledger’s platform connects to smart meters to tally how much power is generated and how much is used. Its software is installed and the revenue information is extracted into the blockchain. It is priced differently according to the time of day and the laws of supply and demand.

The blockchain can be used to fractionalise the power stored in the battery or that is directly generated, and allocate it.

Some of the power may be owned by a third party. For example, a solar farm can be part owned by investors, say a pension scheme, which recoups the revenue from sales.

Presently, if an apartment has rooftop solar and is selling its surplus back to the energy company it will typically not be paid for 60 days. With Power Ledger’s system, participants can monitor their revenue in real time.

“You could also have a marketplace, and this could bring the price down,” Green says. “Supply and demand would set the price. The cost curves for batteries and solar are coming down. It’s low cost electricity.”

Power Ledger issues tokenised values called Sparkz for a unit of electricity, representing one low-value unit in the host country. Electricity is priced in the local currency. Suppliers will be paid in Sparkz at the local cost of power. If the unit price is 30c/kWh they will receive 30 Sparkz. E.g. 1 Sparkz = 1 AUD.

POWRs are another token, which represent investments in the company. Their price can vary, but this does not affect the cost for electricity for the everyday consumer. It is these tokens which are being offered on the market.

“The more application posts offer these, the more competition there is. We’ve created one billion and are selling 350 million at the moment in an initial coin offering (ICO),” Green says.

“We sold 190 million of these last week to raise 17mAU$ in 72 hours in a public pre-sale of 100 million Power Ledger tokens — called POWRs — and a discounted private pre-sale of 90 million POWRs.

“On 8 September we open the public sales and our supporters and platform users say they want to have the option at buying at a market price. This will be determined by the number of tokens left divided by the amount of money pledged in the sale.”

This sale will last for four weeks. Tokens can be bought from the website tge.Power David Martin believes it is “not unreasonable to expect” that this next offer will raise $20-30 million.

The Sparkz power tokens are effectively a means for markets to trade and self-regulate, says Green. Utilities will purchase the tokens and use them as bonds to trade with customers.

People in the banking industry are a little sceptical of blockchain. This is because there is much vapourware out there, Green believes. “A country’s laws needs to be attached to a project in order to support and validate it,” she explains.

“Power Ledger has a platform, the first in Australia. Our lawyers say our tokens are not a financial product as such, but they are designed to the same standard, with a constitution, shareholders and rules under national corporate law, in order to provide confidence.”

The second pilot was across networks and included banks, which it was really hard to persuade to be involved.

Use bitcoins to pay for charging electric vehicles

In the future Power Ledger hopes to use the experience in a project involving solar-powered apartments in Fremantle, Perth. One of these will possess a shared electric vehicle (EV), charged from the panels, which any member of the public can use.

They will be able to pay for it with the bitcoin platform. They will also be able to charge their own electric vehicle on the charging point. All of this gives the building an income stream on the sale of their generated electricity to EV owners.

This means of selling investment in energy projects could replace power purchase agreements in the future. Instead of a generator selling to a small number of large customers they could sell to many small consumers.

Therefore a developer of a community energy project could sell small amounts to purchasers and in so doing provide liquidity by using the tokens for trading the assets. Power Ledger calls this “fractionalised ownership” or “asset germination”. Green says that this approach will be deployed on a project in the near future and that they are in conversation with financial exchanges that could partner on this.

“Not everyone can afford solar panels,” she says. ‘The people who are paying for it are those who can afford it the least. So our platform will provide low cost renewable power to people who don’t have solar panels while utilising the grid and maintaining its relevance.

“It will also work for any type of electricity. It’s ambivalent about the source, so could be used for wind. Wind and solar are good partners as one is often providing power without the other, lessening the need for storage.”

Green recently attended a gathering hosted by Richard Branson about blockchain on his island where she heard about other social uses for blockchain. For example blockchain is being used to eliminate land theft in places like Georgia and Afghanistan where it’s being used to update the land registry.

“It’s about the democratisation of power,” Green says. “We see ourselves as being a distributed ledger for distributed energy markets. It’s a revolution, away from the one way street of the century old system.

“The old centralised system will continue but we will have a hybrid one. This disruption is happening with our without Power Ledger but what I think our system offers is to do this without the destruction of value.”

David Thorpe is the author of Solar Technology and The One Planet Life.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

UN leads new global push to make cities more sustainable

A meeting of the United Nations General Assembly beginning today, over 5-6 September, is expected to approve the creation of a first-ever official international body focused on urban sustainability – UN Urban.

It signals that the UN is finally getting to grip with the fact that the world is now more urban than not, and rallying itself to address its sustainable development efforts accordingly.

The reorganisation follows last October’s adoption of the New Urban Agenda at the Habitat III Conference in Quito, Ecuador by UN member states. This agenda sets a new global standard for sustainable urban development and aims to help the world rethink how to plan, manage and live in cities.

The new body will reform the UN’s current lead agency on urban issues, UN-Habitat, the body tasked with making human settlements more sustainable, but which has lately been struggling.

The proposal for the body represents part of UN secretary-general António Guterres’ drive to bring up to date the UN bodies concerned with development issues.

This, it is hoped, will rekindle the confidence of member-nation donors to finance its efforts.

Earlier this month, a report by a high-level independent panel was published – requested by Guterres – designed to assess and enhance effectiveness of UN-Habitat.

The report made several recommendations. At the top is a transformed governance structure for UN-Habitat that includes universal membership. The transformed UN-Habitat will continue to help member states implement the New Urban Agenda and incorporate the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into their development operations by providing guidance and tools for strengthening urban work at the country level.

But to help it, the new UN Urban body will be established. This will be “a coordinating mechanism similar to [other thematic UN bodies] UN-Water or UN-Energy, as part of the system-wide UN reform”.

It will have a small secretariat based in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs in New York and “convene all UN agencies and partners on urban sustainability”.

UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said “the secretary-general considers rapid urbanisation and its links with poverty, inequality, public health, migration, climate change and natural disasters to be one of the most pressing concerns of the United Nations”.

A new global Urban Assembly

Therefore, next year, according to the report, the world will see the establishment of a universal “Urban Assembly”, under the presidency of the UN General Assembly, to which UN Urban will report. All member states and their local governments will be eligible to participate. Together, this gathering will define a new set of institutional, financial and citizen engagement strategies.

The need for such an effort is paramount. An unprecedented amount of sustainable infrastructure, building and housing is required around the world as the world urbanises.

Providing this is core to the priorities of the SDGs. Cities are being helped to move towards achieving the 17 SDGs by 2030 by the establishment of platforms for city-to-city learning.

These are called Local 2030 Hub for Sustainability Solutions.

Plugging the data gap

Working out whether cities are making progress in realising the SDGs depends on the provision of accurate data and here there are huge gaps, especially in Africa. Cities also need access to finance and to sustainable energy sources.

All three topics are supported by Local 2030 Hubs. The Local 2030 project, involving 25 UN agencies, is encouraging cities to create their own hubs.

There are plans to create a global data hub in Toronto, as well local and regional hubs in Buenos Aires, Cambridge (Canada), Dubai, Haiphong (Vietnam), Johannesburg, Los Angeles, Makati (the Philippines) and Minna (Nigeria).

The World Council on City Data (WCCD) is among the groups behind the initiative. It seeks to harmonise city data so that cities can compare their performance. It is working with the Geneva-based International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and has just released a major report mapping ISO indicators to the SDGs.

This massive 546-page report is the world’s first attempt to standardise data collection in cities everywhere. It optimistically points to a post-2030 future in which all cities have achieved the 17 SDGs, and in which these achievements can be verified and compared.

Cities in the WCCD network highlighted in the report use standardised indicators from ISO 37120 (Sustainable development of communities: indicators for city services and quality of life) to compare their performance, exchange knowledge and share solutions with other cities.

The 38 participating cities include Brisbane and Melbourne, London and Amsterdam, as well as Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), Buenos Aires, Johannesburg and Taipei. They have built a numeric reporting system for cities to embrace the SDGs at local level and monitor their progress to 2030.

Many of these cities are rich. Cities after all represent 80 per cent of global GDP. Some have already achieved all of the SDGs. But most cities in the world are far from rich and have a way to go. The successful cities have a responsibility to help the poorer ones and they are doing so. It is this process that the UN hopes the new UN Urban and the Urban Assembly will encourage.

Urban includes rural too

But UN Urban won’t only focus on cities. One of the panellists who produced the report, former Johannesburg mayor Mpho Parks Tau, explained that “UN Urban must challenge the artificial urban-rural dichotomy and work to mainstream a territorial approach to development across the UN”.

“We have called for ‘the urban’ to be understood in its broadest sense: encompassing metropolitan areas, intermediary cities, peri-urban areas, and the rural surroundings with which they are interdependent.”

To this end, the new body will be staffed not just by personnel from UN-Habitat but staff from other agencies with urban expertise, such as UNESCO’s World Heritage Cities Programme and the UN Development Programme’s Sustainable Urbanization Strategy.

The expert panel recommended two priority areas:

  • promoting inclusion in urban development so “no one gets left behind”
  • a focus on the urban planning, legislation and standards, along with environmental sustainability and economic robustness.
It will mean there will be a greater emphasis – budgets allowing, and particularly in developing countries – on training programs, policy guidance, promotion of good urban management governance, and the compilation of research and data on global trends in urban and human settlements.

Looking beyond the daily headlines in the news of war and terrorism – which, though significant, are short-term compared to the immense global challenges the world faces – you could say that the world is slowly growing up and, like any growing individual, unless it does so it will not survive. The above efforts represent attempts by the UN and its allies to accept responsibility for this process.

David Thorpe is the author of Energy Management in Buildings, Solar Technology and The One Planet Life.