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International Code Council focuses on energy efficiency

International Code Council focuses on energy efficiency

Construction Global Dominic Ellis informs that the International Code Council focuses on energy efficiency to mitigate the built environment’s inherent high carbon emission. It is fundamentally evident to everyone that the Environmental Impact of the Global Built Environment is no more a debatable topic. It is about Reducing the environmental impact of the global built environment sector.

New International Code Council framework will drive energy efficiencies but climate change demands quicker implementation.

The International Code Council has released a new framework to assist governments and building industry stakeholders in meeting energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction goals.  

The Code Council Board of Directors, which consists of 18 government code officials who were elected by their peers, adopted the framework, Leading the Way to Energy Efficiency: A Path Forward on Energy and Sustainability to Confront a Changing Climate

This framework includes using the Code Council’s American National Standards Institute (ANSI) approved standards process to update the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC).  

Future editions of the IECC will build on prior successes including an increase of efficiency requirements by about 40%, or an average of 8% a cycle from 2006 to 2021, allowing the IECC to remain a strong avenue for communities to reach their energy efficiency and sustainability goals globally. 

With the base 2021 IECC efficiency requirements just 10% away from net zero for residential buildings, under the new framework future editions of the IECC will increase base efficiency using a balancing test proposed in bipartisan legislation that has cleared the US House and Senate and has been supported by energy efficiency advocates and the building industry

The IECC will be developed under a revised scope and be part of a portfolio of greenhouse gas reduction solutions that could address electric vehicles, electrification and decarbonization, integration of renewable energy and energy storage, existing buildings performance standards and more. 

The Code Council’s new framework will also provide optional requirements aimed at achieving net zero energy buildings presently and by 2030. Using a tiered approach, the framework offers adopting jurisdictions a menu of options, from a set of minimum requirements to pathways to net zero energy and additional greenhouse gas reduction policies.   

The Code Council has also announced the establishment of an Energy and Carbon Advisory Council which will consist of governmental and industry leaders to inform the Code Council’s efforts. 

The Energy and Carbon Advisory Council will advise on which additional greenhouse gas reduction policies the IECC should integrate, the pace that the IECC’s baseline efficiency requirements should advance, plus needs and gaps that the Code Council should work to address. The Code Council will begin outreach to fill the Energy and Carbon Advisory Council in March. 

Focus on climate and energy efficiency globally

The Use of Climate Data and Assessment of Extreme Weather Event Risks in Building Codes Around the World was published last month. 

Climate data is frequently only updated on a 10-year cycle on average, so as weather becomes more severe from year to year, the underlying data simply does not accurately reflect the risk to the building of these extreme weather-related events. International Codes are updated on a three-year cycle.

Climate change, coupled with net zero emission targets, is focusing minds to act faster.

From the end of this year, all new buildings in Singapore will face higher minimum energy performance requirements, according to the Building and Construction Authority (BCA). It will raise the minimum energy performance requirements for new buildings and existing buildings that undergo major retrofit, to be 50% and 40% more energy efficient respectively, compared with 2005 levels. The city state aims to ‘green’ 80% of buildings by 2030.

The Net Zero Home standard developed by CCG (Scotland) is intended to deliver a standard of specification that reduces greenhouse gas emissions arising from regulated operational energy use to a rate less than or equal to 0kg C02/m2/year. 

A new construction products national regulator is imminent in the UK, in a bid to bolster standards following the Grenfell inquiry.  

Could plastic roads make for a smoother ride?

Could plastic roads make for a smoother ride?

The BBC‘s Could plastic roads make for a smoother ride? By Chermaine Lee is an eye-opener in one right way of ridding the World of those nasty tons of polymer derivatives that are encombering the World. When energy is transitioning from fossil fuels to renewables, it is more than reasonable to make fair use of that material. It would be even more useful if all those hydrocarbon related stranded assets have some usage in future infrastructural development. But that is another story.

From lower carbon emissions to fewer potholes, there are a number of benefits to building a layer of plastic into roads.

On a road into New Delhi, countless cars a day speed over tonnes of plastic bags, bottle tops and discarded polystyrene cups. In a single kilometre, a driver covers one tonne of plastic waste. But far from being an unpleasant journey through a sea of litter, this road is smooth and well-maintained – in fact the plastic that each driver passes over isn’t visible to the naked eye. It is simply a part of the road.

This road, stretching from New Delhi to nearby Meerut, was laid using a system developed by Rajagopalan Vasudevan, a professor of chemistry at the Thiagarajar College of Engineering in India, which replaces 10% of a road’s bitumen with repurposed plastic waste.

India has been leading the world in experimenting with plastic-tar roads since the early 2000s. But a growing number of countries are beginning to follow suit. From Ghana to the Netherlands, building plastic into roads and pathways is helping to save carbon emissions, keep plastic from the oceans and landfill, and improve the life-expectancy of the average road.

By 2040, there is set to be 1.3 billion tonnes of plastic in the environment globally. India alone already generates more than 3.3 million tonnes of plastic a year – which was one of the motivators behind Vasudevan’s system for incorporating waste into roads.

It has the benefit of being a very simple process, requiring little high-tech machinery. First, the shredded plastic waste is scattered onto an aggregate of crushed stones and sand before being heated to about 170C – hot enough to melt the waste. The melted plastics then coat the aggregate in a thin layer. Then heated bitumen is added on top, which helps to solidify the aggregate, and the mixture is complete.

Many different types of plastics can be added to the mix: carrier bags, disposable cups, hard-to-recycle multi-layer films and polyethylene and polypropylene foams have all found their way into India’s roads, and they don’t have to be sorted or cleaned before shredding.

As well as ensuring these plastics don’t go to landfill, incinerator or the ocean, there is some evidence that the plastic also helps the road function better. Adding plastic to roads appears to slow their deterioration and minimise potholes. The plastic content improves the surface’s flexibility, and after 10 years Vasudevan’s earliest plastic roads showed no signs of potholes. Though as many of these roads are still relatively young, their long-term durability remains to be tested.

By Vasudevan’s calculations, incorporating the waste plastic instead of incinerating it also saves three tonnes of carbon dioxide for every kilometre of road. And there are economic benefits too, with the incorporation of plastic resulting in savings of roughly $670 (£480) per kilometre of road.New roads in India built near large urban centres are mandated to use waste plastic in their construction (Credit: Getty Images)

New roads in India built near large urban centres are mandated to use waste plastic in their construction (Credit: Getty Images)

In 2015, the Indian government made it mandatory for plastic waste to be used in constructing roads near large cities of more than 500,000 people, after Vasudevan gave his patent for the system to the government for free. A single lane of ordinary road requires 10 tonnes of bitumen per kilometre, and with India laying thousands of kilometres of roads a year, the potential to put plastic waste to use quickly adds up. So far, 2,500km (1,560 miles) of these plastic-tar roads have been laid in the country.

“Plastic-tar road can withstand both heavy load and heavy traffic,” says Vasudevan. “[It is] not affected by rain or stagnated water.”

Similar projects have emerged around the world. The chemicals firm Dow has been implementing projects using polyethylene-rich recycled plastics in the US and Asia Pacific. The first in the UK was built in Scotland in 2019 by the plastic road builder MacRebur, which has laid plastic roads from Slovakia to South Africa.

MacRebur has also found that incorporating plastic improves roads’ flexibility, helping them cope better with expansion and contraction due to temperature changes, leading to fewer potholes – and where potholes do happen, filling them in with waste plastic otherwise destined for landfill is a quick fix. The UK government recently announced £1.6m for research on plastic roads to help fix and prevent potholes.The plastic that goes into roads would otherwise go to landfill or the incinerator (Credit: MacRebur)

The plastic that goes into roads would otherwise go to landfill or the incinerator (Credit: MacRebur)

In the Netherlands, PlasticRoad built the world’s first recycled-plastic cycle path in 2018, and recorded its millionth crossing in late May 2020. The company shredded, sorted and cleaned plastic waste collected locally, before extracting polypropylene from the mix – the kind of plastic typically found in festival mugs, cosmetics packaging, bottle caps and plastic straws.

Unlike the plastic-tar roads laid in India, the UK and elsewhere, PlasticRoad doesn’t use any bitumen at all. “[PlasticRoad] consists almost entirely of recycled plastic, with only a very thin layer of mineral aggregate on the top deck,” says Anna Koudstaal, the company’s co-founder.

Each square metre of the plastic cycle path incorporates more than 25kg of recycled plastic waste, which cuts carbon emission by up to 52% compared to manufacturing a conventional tile-paved bike path, Koudstaal says.

But once the plastic is inside a path or road – how do you make sure it stays there? Might the plastic content be worn down into microplastics that pollute soil, water and air?

Ordinary roads, tyres and car brakes are already known to be a major source of microplastic pollution. Koudstaal says that plastic-containing paths do not produce more microplastics than a traditional road, as users don’t come into direct contact with the plastic.Plastic bags can be hard to recycle, but they are an ideal ingredient for plastic in roads (Credit: Alamy)

Plastic bags can be hard to recycle, but they are an ideal ingredient for plastic in roads (Credit: Alamy)

The other potential point where microplastics could be released from the paths is from below: the paths are designed to allow rainwater to filter through them, trickling down through a drainage system beneath the path’s surface. But Koudstaal says microplastics are unlikely to leave this way either: “The bike paths include a filter that cleans out microplastics, and ensure rainwater infiltrates into the ground cleanly.”

Gurmel Ghataora, senior lecturer at the department of civil engineering at the University of Birmingham, agrees that using plastics in the lower surfaces of the road minimises the risk of generating additional microplastics. “It is inevitable that such particles may be generated [at surface level] due to traffic wear,” he says.

With India home to one of the world’s largest road networks, growing at a rate of nearly 10,000km of roads a year, the potential to put plastic waste to use is considerable. Though this technology is relatively new for India, and indeed the rest of the world, Vasudevan is confident that plastic roads will continue to gain popularity, not only for environmental reasons, but for their potential to make longer-lasting, more resilient roads.

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The Pros and Cons of Online University Learning

The Pros and Cons of Online University Learning

With the unfortunate obligation to a general lockdown, University eLearning courses became necessary. Students staying at home are offered jam-packed features courses with control over their speed, language, theme, and media. Moreover, interactive content ensures comprehension, and eBook takeaways support the application of learning at home as well as in the workplace. In this context, the story of the Pros and Cons of Online University Learning by Haifaa M. Mussallam is worth reading.


The Pros and Cons of Online University Learning
A semester online had some pluses, including helpful new learning technologies. But the lack of face-to-face meetings was a disappointment (Photo: Frederic Cirou/PhotoAlto/Alamy).

Online learning has been a rollercoaster of emotions for me since it was introduced in my senior year at Effat University, in Saudi Arabia. As an introvert, I found it both a blessing and curse. The online fall semester of 2020 was a learning experience for both professors and students, as typing on a laptop replaced notebooks and pens, and face-to-face interactions gave way to professors with headsets on our computers or phone screens.

I like the fact that students and teachers alike have been forced to adapt to the new normal, and I’d say both sides have been pleasantly surprised by how well everyone has been able to push through and learn the best we can, both with the curriculum and technology.

I was also pleasantly surprised how the quality of education remained the same. But I am lucky to be in a major, English Literature, that doesn’t require practical work like architecture, computer sciences, or engineering.

Still, I can confidently say that I have received the same quality of education I would have received on campus. And the transition to online learning went smoothly for me, thanks to the flexibility of being able to attend from wherever there is an Internet connection and being able to log into classes using a range of devices, such as a laptop or even a cellphone.

Moreover, the fact that lectures are recorded on the learning platform Blackboard Collaborate is an added bonus that I am certain many students are grateful for. Even if a student misses a lecture for one reason or other, all they have to do is replay the recorded session to catch up. This is a double-edged sword, however, because it can cause students to take fewer notes in real time and rely on the recordings.

New Technological Resources Are a Plus

Another added benefit of online learning is that new technological resources are being used to enhance learning, which in my opinion is long overdue.

Another added benefit of online learning is that new technological resources are being used to enhance learning, which in my opinion is long overdue. Prior to the pandemic, most students and faculty members depended on the old-fashioned way, using PowerPoint slides and submitting papers in person.

Although slides remain, platforms that were previously unheard of are now at the center of many teachers’ online curricula. One example is the digital educational platform BlinkLearning. Students are able to purchase books, open them via the platform’s website and do the homework assigned by their professors. I can personally attest to the effectiveness of the platform as I am using it myself this current semester to learn German.

A downside to online learning is the lack of face-to-face interactions, and not being physically on campus takes away from the typical college experience. Another negative aspect in Saudi Arabia is that some female students are too shy to turn on their cameras. This is understandable as lectures are recorded, but it does diminish opportunities for the professor to feel a genuine interaction with his or her students. (See a related article, “Universities in Qatar Help Students Stay Connected in a Remote-Learning World.”)

Other facilities on campus have not been used since the pandemic began, such as study rooms, the university’s abundant library, and restaurants. (See a related article, “Pandemic Casts a Shadow on Extracurricular Activities for Egyptian Students.”)

It cannot be denied that some aspects of college life were taken for granted by students and faculty members. I miss passing my classmates or professors in the hallways and giving them a nod or smile. Another downside, other than the lack of physical contact, is that due to the absence of facial expressions, professors tend not to take pauses for questions or discussions while giving lectures. The pandemic has taken away the possibility for spontaneous discussions in a virtual classroom, as both sides are looking at the finish line more than they would have on a physical campus.

Mixed Feelings About a Virtual Graduation

Being so close to my own finish line, with my graduation approaching in a few months, I am excited and disappointed. Any future graduate will surely experience a mix of emotions, but a virtual graduation causes its own surge of feelings, since YouTube is the center of the stage we will stand on, rather than the university’s auditorium. 

Although no plans for graduation have yet been announced at my university, there is perhaps the off-chance that there will be a real physical graduation ceremony.

The university has sent emails about a graduation photoshoot to me and other future graduates, and some of my fellow classmates have participated, but I was not interested due to my lack of love for cameras.

Overall, the learning experience online has been a success and I am grateful for all the effort put in by my professors, the administration of universities across Saudi Arabia, the Ministry of Education, and information technology departments everywhere for making the connection between us all possible and stable.

Haifaa M. Mussallam is a 23-year-old published poet and almost a graduate in English literature from Effat University, in Jeddah.

(See a related article, “Covid-19’s Second Wave Leaves Plans for Resuming On-Campus Studies in Doubt.”)

(See a related article, “Ajman University Caps a Challenging Year with a Drive-Through Graduation.”)

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Smart Villages, Internet Cities or Creativity Engines

Smart Villages, Internet Cities or Creativity Engines

Here is the Abstract and some excerpts of Dr Ali Alraouf’s examining the Discourse on Knowledge Cities as published by Academia. It is of being or planned to being Smart Villages, Internet Cities or Creativity Engines.

The world’s growing cities are a critical fact of the 21st Century and represent one of the greatest challenges to the future. By the year 2050 cities with populations over three million will be more than double: from 70 today to over 150. When knowledge is perhaps the most important factor in the future of city’s economy, there is a growing interest in the concept of the “knowledge city”. Hence, what are the qualities of future cities becomes a crucial question. Leif Edvinsson defines Knowledge City as “a city that purposefully designed to encourage the nurturing of knowledge”.

Knowledge city is not just a city. It is a growing space of exchange and optimism in which each and every one can devote himself to personal and collective projects and aspirations in a climate of dynamism, harmony, and creativity.  There are already several cities that identify themselves as knowledge cities or have strategic plans to become knowledge cities. The list includes the following cities, for example: Barcelona, Melbourne, Delft, and Palmerston North. On the contrary, Arabcities are building technological isolated projects to promote the same concept. An examination of projects like Egypt’ Smart Village and Dubai’s Internet City and Knowledge Village will be helpful in evaluating the knowledge status of contemporary Arab Cities.

I’ll argue in this paper that the concept of ‘Knowledge Cities ‘is rooted in the urban, cultural structure of traditional Arab cities. Therefore, an attempt to foster this concept in today’s Arab cities would not be possible by building isolated technological statement scattered around the city. Alternatively, the rise of the network society, global networks, linked cities, and existence of smart communities should construct the basis for shaping Arab Knowledge Cities.  In addition, the paper will introduce the concept of “Urban Creativity Engines”, and examples of various types will be presented. I’ll argue that this is a more comprehensive concept for constructing and evaluating knowledge cities. Although this concept and its terminology is new, the paper will prove that there are many historical examples, regionally and internationally, of “knowledge cities” and “Innovation/Creativity Engines

Castells (1996 & 1998) has argued that a new type of society is rising in our contemporary cities due to the consequences of the information revolution. From a sociological point of view, Sassen (2000) has argued that cities in the information age should be reperceived as nodes of an immense network of commercial and political transactions.

The Emerging Knowledge Cities: International Attempts

Smart Villages, Internet Cities or Creativity Engines
Smart Village project in Cairo – Egypt, is it really smart?

There are already several cities that identify themselves as knowledge cities, or have strategic plans to become knowledge cities. These cutting edge cities are aiming to win competitive and cooperative advantage by pioneering a new environment and knowledge ecology for their citizens. The list includes some of these cities according to the Knowledge Cities Observatory (KCO) classifications: Melbourne, Australia – its strategic plan for 2010 emphasize the path towards enhancing its position as a knowledge city.  Delft, the Netherlands – the city clustered its knowledge intensive projects included in the “delft knowledge city” initiative in 5 themes: soil & water, information technology, innovative transport systems, environmental technologies.  Barcelona, Spain – the activity of Barcelona Forum 2004, which manifests the cultural perspective which Barcelona adopted as a main theme for its knowledge sensitivedevelopment. Accordingly, the city was chosen to host the founding meeting of the distinctive Knowledge Cities Observatory (KCO).  Palmerston North, New Zealand – this relatively small city puts education in the heart of its “knowledge city” manifest.  Monterrey City, Mexico – the new governor set the goal of becoming a knowledge city among his top 5 priorities.

Knowledge Cities/Zones: Regional Attempts

In an attempt to actualize the high-performance knowledge city different initiatives took place in the Middle Eastern cities. Experiences and lessons learned from real-world knowledge zone initiatives.  On the contrary of the strategic planning of European and American cities, Arab cities are building technological isolated projects to promote the same concept of claiming its new identity as knowledge cities. An examination of projects like Egypt’ Smart Village and Dubai’s Internet City and newly lunched project Knowledge Village will be helpful in evaluating the knowledge status of contemporary Arab Cities. 

Read more in the Academia‘s

Ali A. Raouf, PhD, M. Arch., B. Sc is an Egyptian architect based in Bahrain and interested in research related to architectural and environmental design.

Ali A. Raouf, PhD, M. Arch., B. Sc is an Egyptian architect based in Bahrain and interested in research related to architectural and environmental design.


Relying on High-Tech Networks in a Warmer World

Relying on High-Tech Networks in a Warmer World

Or as originally titled as The perils of relying on high-tech networks in a warmer world (commentary) by Simon Pollock in this Article published by Willie Shubert in Mongabay. We all know that Smart cities, e-governance help urban resilience but would it be the case in these circumstances of a warmer world.

The picture above is for illustration purpose and is of Smart Cities World.

The perils of relying on high-tech networks in a warmer world

25 February 2021

  • Wild snowstorms paralyzed electricity infrastructure in Texas, a state in the country with the world’s largest economy.
  • Just imagine what climate change fueled extreme weather will do to our cities as infrastructure and ICT systems become increasingly interconnected.
  • Many see high-tech “smart cities” as a climate solution, but just how smart are they?
  • This article is a commentary and the views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Smart cities are held up as beacons of hope in meeting the climate crisis. This is because they reduce greenhouse gas emissions by paring back energy use and urban waste. But is it possible the high-tech complexity of smart cities actually leaves urban dwellers more exposed to future climate disaster? Smart cities’ dependence on the information and communications technology (ICT) systems that help generate these emission reductions may actually be opening up new climate vulnerabilities when we consider what happens if these systems fail. There is a danger that we fall into the trap of assuming that a reliance on increasingly high-tech solutions is our “get out of jail free” card for everything.

We need to think more about whether our increasing reliance on interconnected information-based technology includes adequate fails safes to protect against systematic collapse if cities are hit by outside stresses – including climate-induced shocks. A number of experts working in the field of urban climate adaptation believe this issue is not receiving adequate attention.

Considering that about 55 percent of the world’s population now lives in cities, and this figure is projected to rise to seven out of 10 people by 2050, we ignore this issue at our possible peril.

The definition of what actually makes a smart city is not clear cut. There is general agreement though that they share an ability to combine real time data and digital technology to improve people’s decisions on when to use energy and when to move around, while also contributing to more efficient long-term city planning.  Sensors and people’s ubiquitous use of smartphones, for instance, encourage urban residents to use public transit during off-peak hours to avoid large crowds and to access energy and water services at different times of the day to lessen demand surges.

Smart emission reduction

Smart cities reduce carbon footprints by utilizing interconnected ICT systems to create greater efficiencies. These can come in the form of more energy efficient buildings and street lighting, better waste management, smart energy meters that allow consumers to tap cheaper off-peak power, and electrified public transport links that best conform with people flows. Largely absent from positive depictions of smart cities’ ability to reduce emissions though are considerations of how robust the ICT systems are that make them smart.

In his book published last year, “Apocalypse How”, former UK politician Oliver Letwin issues an arresting warning about whether we are adequately assessing the way our growing reliance on technological connectivity opens our societies to vulnerabilities. Letwin provides a detailed portrayal of how the physical and human infrastructure of UK society would break down quickly if there was a systematic failure of the internet and associated services, including banking and satellite-based communication and navigation. He predicts this would lead quickly to a large number of deaths (in his synopsis due to the failure of indoor heating) and, ultimately, a breakdown of law and order.

The title of Letwin’s book is a misnomer (possibly with a suggested nod by the publisher to the current popularity of dystopian literature and TV) as the ICT breakdown he posits –associated with internet-busting solar flares – is rectified in a few days. While Letwin does not address climate change, his book does provide a useful thought experiment in highlighting the way our fragile modern society is increasingly dependent on the ICT systems that connect us and our machines. Isn’t it possible that the increasingly extreme effects of climate change – such as floods, hurricanes and extended droughts – could, ironically, threaten the integrity of the smart city ICT networks designed to help mitigate global heating?

Relying on High-Tech Networks in a Warmer World
An overreliance on interconnected ICT urban networks also raises the possibility of devastating systematic collapse – including through rapid climate-induced disasters. Image by j_lloa (Pixabay).

Enmeshed in the ICT era

Humanity’s increasing reliance on technology is by no means new. It began with the use of simple tools and fire, leading to gradually more sophisticated irrigation and animal husbandry. During the past few decades, the use technology has carved out a central part of our lives – accelerating rapidly with the invention of steam power (which, along with the myriad benefits of fossil fuel-powered modernity, began the current trajectory to the climate crisis we now face). The extent to which we now use technology-based communication and interconnectivity though is unprecedented. Today’s generation is deeply enmeshed in the ICT era, equally as it is within the Anthropocene era.

Richard Dawson, an urban climate expert based at the UK’s Newcastle University, warns of a “cascading failure” if single ICT components fail. Dawson says we need to upgrade our thinking about urban infrastructure connections beyond a traditional focus on electricity, road, rail and sewage systems. “The increasing reliance on data and ICT in urban planning is a double-edged sword,” he said. “It allows for incredible flexibility – to create new communication lines we don’t have to dig up a road.  We could live without being able to talk across continents if telecommunications fail, but we would struggle if this breakdown led to a mass system failure.”

A loss of ICT interconnectivity has implications far beyond the failure of systems employed to create urban efficiencies and, therefore, reduce emissions. The rapid speed at which ICT systems operate could actually work against us if they fail, as the negative effects would be sharp and sudden. Dawson points out the loss of electronic banking could quickly lead to social problems. This would be particularly worrisome if this occurs as the result of a climate disaster when a ready access to personal finance is so important.

Relying on High-Tech Networks in a Warmer World
The way megacities are emerging now in developing countries may well determine whether we are able to overcome the climate challenge. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay

Strange conspiracy theories

The US Government found that many of the social problems following Hurricane Katrina’s destructive descent on New Orleans in 2005 arose from “information gaps”. While accounts  of rioting and other lawlessness at the time were later described as exaggerated, numerous reports do indicate communication breakdowns did severely impact social cohesion. Professor Ayyoob Sharifi, from Japan’s Hiroshima University, warns the ICT systems that control smart cities are not just prone to disruption from uncontrolled disaster, but also from intentional human-created harm.

The curation of social media misinformation by individuals or organizations, including overseas governments, could overcome local officials’ attempts to prevent the outbreak of havoc when disaster strikes, said Sharifi, who studies urban climate measures. This could include the dissemination of purposefully incorrect information about where to take shelter during flooding. Purported attempts by the Russian Government to use social media to sway election results in the US and Europe shows that anonymous attempts to sway public perceptions can be effective.

The ability of strange conspiracy theories, especially if abetted by unscrupulous populist politicians such as former US President Donald Trump, to cut through the daily online traffic and garner widespread support shows that social media is not always the best medium to convey factual information. Social media, usually accessed by smart phones, is an important part of the two-way communication interface of smart cities, as it is with many forms of climate early warning systems.

How do we ensure then that the commendable work of climate proofing cities does not lead us down cul de sacs of urban planning where an overreliance on ICT connections actually increases the potential for climate disruption? One way is to take a holistic approach that incorporates different approaches to urban dynamics.

Relying on High-Tech Networks in a Warmer World
A informal neighborhood in Caracas. In view of climate-induced disasters, it’s important that all urban dwellers be included in the decisions that shape their cities, smart or not. Image by Wilfredor via Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0).

Future megacities

Future Earth’s Urban Knowledge-Action Network – a global group of researchers and other policy, business and civil society innovators – is striving to make cities more sustainable and equitable by highlighting the human element in democratizing data and including underrepresented voices in city planning.

Local Governments for Sustainability, known as ICLEI, is another global network – comprising local and regional governments in over 100 countries – that advocates cities that weather rapid urbanization and climate change by combining sustainable and equitable solutions.

Nazmul Huq, ICLEI’s head of resilient development, says people need to be placed at the centre of all urban management – especially in developing countries, many of which are now entering intense urbanization. Rapid interconnectivity in the new urban hot spots of growth in India, China and Nigeria is creating advantage and potential disadvantage at a rapid pace.

“The emergence of ICT, especially mobile phones, represents a revolution for poorer people in developing countries as it provides them with greater control over their lives,” Huq said. “But at the same time, an overreliance on interconnected ICT urban networks also raises the possibility of devastating systematic collapse – including through rapid climate-induced disasters such as heat waves. This could disconnect people, while knocking out internet connections and electricity generation.”

Huq said the most important factor in making cities livable – whether they are smart or not – is to include all urban citizens, including disadvantaged groups, in the decisions that shape their urban spaces. “We must ensure the voices of the poor and marginalized are heard to avoid injustice and unequal distribution of the benefits of city life,” he added.

The way megacities are emerging now in developing countries may well determine whether we are able to overcome the climate challenge – especially considering that 70 percent of greenhouse gases come from today’s cities. Under current trends, it seems likely the lives of those rich and poor will become increasingly urbanized and interconnected by smart city ICT systems.

The sheer enormity of the climate challenge means we need to consider all options, including seeking out technological solutions. We should, however, balance our desire to be smart and interconnected with urban planning that at least considers the fragility of our city systems and what happens when they don’t work. We must not allow our thirst for technology to overcome our human need to consider nature.

Banner image caption: City of London skyline by Colin via Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0).

Simon Pollock is an Australian-British writer and climate change communicator based in South Korea. Before leaving the Australian Government in 2016, he was a member of the startup team that launched Al Jazeera English Television from its Asia HQ in Kuala Lumpur. Simon’s interest in development and environmental issues stemmed from observation of how the two don’t always mix during six years in Beijing as a Kyodo News reporter.

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