Messages from the “Sustainable Cities in Developing Countries” Expert Workshop

The Global Forum on Sustainable Energy (GFSE) in cooperation with the Austrian Federal Ministry for Sustainability and Tourism (BMNT) organized a successful Expert Workshop on "Sustainable Cities in Developing Countries” on Wednesday, 29th May 2019.

The Global Forum on Sustainable Energy (GFSE) in cooperation with the Austrian Federal Ministry for Sustainability and Tourism (BMNT) organized an Expert Workshop on "Sustainable Cities in Developing Countries” on Wednesday, 29th May 2019. The expert workshop helped build bridges between representatives from international organisations, Austrian think tanks and research institutions as well as from the city administration. 

Irene Giner-Reichl, Austrian Ambassador to the Federative Republic of Brazil, President of GFSE and Vice-Chair of REN21, provided the welcome address, where she emphasized the need for actors on all levels to cooperate and share knowledge so that individual projects fit together into a low-carbon, climate resilient city system.

After the initial welcoming statements by Ambassador Irene Giner-Reichl, two key note speeches were given to set the scene for the following discussions. Mr. Jorge Pinheiro Machado, R20 Director for Latin America, gave a brief overview of the work the R20 Regions of Climate Action association is doing in Brazil. R20 recently supported 70 Brazilian municipalities to develop new legal structures to accompany the implementation of a project on LED streetlights. As part of his work as the R20 Director for Latin America, Mr. Machado recently travelled to a number of smart cities around the world in order to see which ideas could be implemented in Brazil. Though many of these projects were interesting, they were difficult to translate and adapt to the Brazilian context. Despite these challenges, Mr. Machado did find one example, namely the aspern Seestadt project, which could be used in Brazilian municipalities and cities. He highlighted that a Memorandum of Understanding was recently signed between the Brazilian city of Sao Carlos, R20, aspern Seestadt and the Austrian Chamber of Commerce on the topic of Smart Cities. Mr. Machado emphasized the need to adapt scientific knowledge into reality through the implementation of concrete solutions that could be used as “lighthouse” projects in developing countries.

The second key note speech was given by Mr. Francesco Azzena, International Consultant at UNIDO, who presented the “Bridge for Cities 4.0 - Belt and Road Initiative: Connecting Cities through the New Industrial Revolution”. The "Belt & Road Initiative" (BRI) is a global initiative that aims to promote cooperation, development and inclusiveness in the communities and countries of the historical Silk Road. The BRI focuses, in particular, on developing connections and partnerships at the meso-level (i.e. cities) to promote sustainability and environmental awareness. As part of this initiative, a high-level international event is held in Vienna, Austria every year to bring together private sector representatives with governmental representatives to discuss challenges and implement innovative smart cities concepts in developing countries. Mr. Azzena highlighted the need to focus on connecting cities based on at least one common feature, for example their geographic location or cultural heritage, in order to make long-lasting city-to-city partnerships and to enable technology transfer on both sides.

Following these key note speeches, the panelists exchanged experiences and discussed methods and challenges to bring sustainable city practices to developing countries. The panel sessions were moderated by Ambassador Irene Giner-Reichl. The expert workshop drew attention to different elements for developing smart cities in emerging and developing countries, including the challenges to properly plan various steps in a smart city, financing barriers, the importance of the ecological construction of buildings, as well as best-practice examples in the field of bioengineering and landscape construction.

Mr. Walter from the Austrian Development Agency (ADA) provided concrete examples of how innovative financial instruments can support municipal infrastructure investment finance for cities. In particular, he mentioned the Sustainable Energy Fund for Africa, a multi-donor trust fund administered by the African Development Bank, which supports small- and medium-scale renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in Africa. In many cases, commercially-viable projects remain in the project pipeline, because initial high development costs prevent these projects from accessing the necessary financing. This fund targets this barrier by offering early stage capital to fund clean energy projects in Africa. Mr. Walter and Mr. Machado, who also took part in the panel discussion, drew attention to the need to improve the credit worthiness of cities in order to finance municipal infrastructure projects.

Buildings offer enormous potential for cities to undertake climate-resilient measures. Austria has long been a forerunner in green buildings, which is further encouraged by dedicated support programmes like klimaaktiv, the Austrian climate protection initiative. Rosemarie Stangl from BOKU and Susanne Formanek from IBO emphasized the need for cities to implement low-cost solutions, for example greening cement walls or painting rooftops white, to prevent urban heat islands from forming. Ms. Stangl illustrated the importance of using tailored landscape construction practices and vegetation technologies to prevent erosion and support flood control in cities. The IBO is currently pushing projects that utilize renewable energy technologies and energy-efficient measures to demonstrate the benefits of green buildings in order to help promote such practices in other cities and contexts. Clothilde Rossi di Schio of SEforALL highlighted the importance of providing sustainable cooling solutions for all, a goal that the Cooling for All initiative of SEforALL aims to achieve. This initiative targets smaller cities under 1 million that are rapidly growing and benchmarks their progress towards providing cooling solutions to their citizens.

Hans-Martin Neumann from the Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT) demonstrated how research and digital technologies can help cities bridge the gaps between the planning and implementation of smart city concepts. He also emphasized that cities around the world have a different understanding of what a smart city is. For example, for the City of Vienna, a close cooperation of institutions and social inclusion is a crucial element of its Smart City Framework Strategy, while other cities promote primarily technology-driven smart cities. Stefan Geier from the City Administration of Vienna further noted that cities need to invest in ecological solutions early-on in order to improve the living standards of its citizens as well as the importance of having a nexus approach between water, energy, land use, waste management, sanitation and transport in urban areas.

In conclusion, the panelists of the expert workshop drew attention to the need to develop appropriate context-specific solutions for developing countries that not only offer social and economic benefits, but also address environmental concerns. Panelists also emphasized the importance of incorporating indigenous ways of construction into modern-day architecture. The uptake of renewable energy and energy efficiency can further yield substantial co-benefits and should be coordinated with other urban infrastructures. City-level action must be supported by national policies enabling cities access to sufficient resources and knowledge and guaranteeing sufficient coordination between city administrations and regional/national authorities. In addition, given the shortage of public funds, cities must increase their ability to attract private investment to climate-resilient urban infrastructure projects.

The final agenda of the expert workshop can be found here.

Key Note Speakers

Panelists

  • Oliver Walter, Sustainable Energy Advisor, Austrian Development Agency (ADA)
  • Susanne Formanek, President, Austrian Institute for Healthy and Ecological Building (IBO)
  • Clotilde Rossi Di Schio, Cooling Specialist, Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) (was kind enough to provide a spontaneous intervention during the panel discussion)
  • Jorge Pinheiro Machado, R20 Director for Latin America
  • Hans-Martin Neumann, Thematic Coordinator, Urban Resilience and Transformation, Center for Energy, Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT)
  • Rosemarie Stangl, Institute of Soil Bioengineering and Landscape Construction (IBLB), University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences of Vienna (BOKU)
  • Stefan Geier, City and Energy Planer, City of Vienna (MA 20)
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