Cities around the world are developing strategies to dramatically reduce emissions by 2030, 2040 or even 2050. But as the climate crisis intensifies, long-term planning must not obscure the need for urgent action.
While these detailed plans and weighty reports chart the direction of travel, cities are understanding that they must not be static documents but adaptable based on actual results and external shifts that are not yet known.
More municipalities are beginning to put measures in place to enable greater agility. This includes climate budgeting, which means managing and reporting on climate measures as rigorously as financial spending.
Mannheim in Germany, meanwhile, will digitise its new ‘Climate Action Plan 2030’ when it is signed off next year and track it in close to real-time via a digital twin.
Dominik Stroh, Project Manager for Climate Protection Monitoring in the City of Mannheim, says that although the city is setting targets and measures for the years ahead, without monitoring there is no way to track progress.
He told capitaltribunenews.com: “If we notice in 2023 that a transition target has been missed by a large margin, then we will have to implement more measures behind this goal. On the other hand, if we recognise areas where transition target measures seem to be particularly effective, we could set higher targets. The digital twin is a monitoring tool to enable this.”
From coal to climate neutrality
Mannheim’s previous climate strategy from 2010 to 2020 set a goal of reducing emissions by 40 percent from 1990. As of 2018 data, which is the latest available, reductions are tracking at 28 percent. The city believes the overall goal will be reached due to emissions reductions during the pandemic.
Stroh says the actions outlined in the new plan, which is still being finalised, will be the boldest yet. A date for climate neutrality has not yet been set but “way before 2050, towards 2030” is the aim.
As well as including businesses and other stakeholders in the climate planning process, Mannheim has a citizen engagement platform and a ‘citizen council’ of around 20 residents who attend climate meetings across sectors.
“The overall topic of climate change is more ‘real’ in our city now,” Stroh said. “More people want to reach this goal, and our companies do too. There’s a bigger drive than in the last ten years.”
The plan is to close Mannheim’s coal-fired power plant by around 2033 and the climate strategy will address the shift to renewables and decarbonising district heating, as well as the need to create new green jobs.
Stroh said: “The task of making a large city and an industrial location with a coal-fired power plant climate-neutral in the next 10 or 20 years is very complex. It will be important to create transparency about the progress made so far in achieving the targets that we set in our respective sectors where greenhouse gases are produced, such as industry, mobility and private households.”
Mannheim is using the ClimateOS digital twin platform from ClimateView.
It draws on city data and the experience of other cities, as well as national and international statistics, and uses mathematical models to create a digital twin of a municipality, modelling its current emissions to represent interdependencies and “recreate the complexity of real life”.
The company says: “The result is a living climate action plan which is dynamically updated as new data comes in, allowing cities to monitor the impact of their activities, share progress and refine strategy in a cycle of continuous improvement.”
A city-specific dashboard is being created based on Mannheim’s current greenhouse gas inventory and targets will be added such as goals around cycling, walking and building retrofits.
“These targets are linked to our emission inventory and calculate in real-time how many emissions could be saved. And all factors in these dashboards are interlinked”, said Stroh.
The need to understand interdependencies and adapt on the fly has been highlighted by the huge disruption caused by the pandemic.
It is highly uncertain how post-pandemic trends – from home-working and e-commerce to transport patterns – will play out and what the impact of the ‘new normal’ will be. Sometimes the results could be unexpected and may require cities to rethink their climate tactics.
According to the International Energy Agency working from home is likely to reduce the carbon dioxide (CO2) footprint of people who typically commute by car if their journey to work is greater than about six kilometres. However, for short car commutes or those done by public transport, working from home could increase CO2 emissions due to extra residential energy consumption.
Stroh hopes that using the digital twin will help the city make sense of what is happening and react faster than it could in the past. “Future scenarios and goals can be created, and we can see whether they are realistic or utopian. We can tweak all the parameters and see, for example, how much we need to increase the building retrofit rate to meet our climate target. This is an important insight for us – we have to look at all potential and see how we can still achieve our goals.”
Over 30 cities are using ClimateOS and ClimateView recently raised €10 million (US$11.6 million) in funding for expansion.
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