Highlights from the “Climate-Neutral and Sustainable Smart Cities Horizon Europe” Webinar

On 16th of March 2021, Digital for Planet held its “Climate-neutral & sustainable smart cities Horizon Europe” webinar. The aim of the webinar was to gather researchers, innovators and policy makers that across a number of communities are at work to ensure a green and digital transition and recovery for urban areas and society at large. Digital for Planet (D4P) took up the initiative of climate neutral and sustainable smart cities in order to join forces towards Europe’s twin goals of achieving climate neutrality by 2050 and having 100 smart and sustainable cities already by 2030. These are very ambitious goals when we realize that smart and sustainable cities have to factor in all activities by all players of the society to make any significant change. Studies show that cities currently account for more than 70% of global carbon emissions. By 2050, nearly 70% of the global population will be living in cities, up from 50% today. As populations grow, the demand for services as well as pressure on resources increase. A coordinated and synergistic approach is needed to maximise the impact and allow the various technological and policy-related challenges to be properly addressed.

The webinar was opened by Dr. Monique Calisti, President of Digital for Planet (D4P) and CEO of Martel Innovate. In her presentation, Dr. Calisti mentioned that ICT technologies are not only the enablers or provide useful solutions but are also a big part of the problem. She emphasized how an individual’s digital behaviour has a major impact on the planet, more about which can be read in D4P’s white paper on “Rethink your Digital Habits”. The growing culture of replacing rather than repairing contributes further to e-waste pollution. Dr. Calisti then welcomed the guest speaker Ms. Rosalind van der Vlies, Director Clean Planet at the European Commission (EC), to introduce the different initiatives from the EC on this topic.

Ms. Van der Vlies spoke extensively about how Europe wants to be the first continent to be climate neutral by 2050. She gave insights about the Horizon Europe Missions on Cities. One of the ideas behind launching the Horizon Europe Missions was to bring research and innovation closer to the citizens. Another important objective of the Cities mission is inclusion which means to not only focus on making 100 cities climate neutral by 2030, but also help other cities and towns that are lagging behind in terms of adoption of sustainable technologies in their usage, via twinning projects. The Cities Mission platform has a funding budget of EUR 53 Million, and will support and prepare cities to become part of the sustainability mission. Part of the Mission work program, to be launched in April/May 2021, will allocate EUR 5 Million for preparatory actions which will include setting up measures for all players in the cities, including citizens engagement activities linking with the European Bauhaus project.

She continued, that one of the biggest challenges that Europe faces is the difficulty of bringing innovative technologies and solutions to the market, despite being identified as the powerhouse of innovation worldwide. Here, the European Innovation Council plays an important role in translating scientific knowledge into innovative solutions for the market, backed with a budget of EUR 10 Billion over a period of 2021-2027.
Ms. Van der Vlies concluded her information talk by emphasizing the bottom-up approach of the EC, where the requirement and investment plan must come directly from the cities. The role of the European Union is to analyse and remove any regulatory obstacles in the path of deployment of innovative solutions.

The next part of the webinar followed with the panel discussion and introduction of the different organisations that the panelists represented. Ms. Brooke Flanagan, Senior Project Coordinator at EUROCITIES, talked about the different initiatives of EUROCITIES, which is the network of large cities in Europe, working in policies and thematic areas, not only climate and cities but also on topics like economic development, research & innovation, social affairs and migration. They are a founding member of the European Covenant of Mayors, an initiative that helps cities develop their climate neutrality action plans and get political commitment to carbon reduction targets.

Dr. Martin Brynskov, Chair of Open & Agile Smart Cities (OASC), presented OASC which is a network of municipalities and regions globally. One very important point he mentioned, regarding the lack of a standard metric to define and assess climate neutrality, was the Digital Economic Societal Index (DESI) where partners are working to develop an indicator framework called LORDI (Local & Regional Digital Indicator). He emphasized the challenges related to measuring where an investment is needed and how the EC is looking at the right type of instruments for the right type of recipients, as exemplified by the mentioned Living in EU initiative.

Ms. Anja Riedle, Head of Smart City at SBB, gave a very informative presentation about the Smart City Lab Basel, a joint initiative by SBB and the Canton of Basel-Stadt. Here, smart solutions are being developed and tested in multiple verticals by more than 40 partners from industry, science, and public authorities. The lab brings together entrepreneurs with policy makers, scientists with corporates and many others stakeholders having different interests and requirements but aiming towards a common goal: to make cities smarter and more sustainable. Ms. Riedle emphasized the importance of working with open-source solutions and checking their compatibility with other technologies. The idea isn’t about optimising a single product but optimising the whole ecosystem and ensuring that technologies have a linking point for others that may come in the future.

Continuing the discussion on Open Source, Dr. Federico Facca, CTO of Martel Innovate, introduced their open-source Smart City platform, Orchestra Cities where sustainability and technical compliance are incorporated into the software from the very beginning. One of the major challenges he mentioned about competition in the market and such open-source solutions provided by an SME was about being noticed amongst the big players. Here he mentioned an opportunity in the market segment of small and medium sized cities whose requirements are often gone unnoticed or uncatered for by the solutions provided by the big players.

Finally Ms. Cristina Brandtstetter, CMO of FIWARE Foundation, presented FIWARE. FIWARE is a large technology based community that builds an open, sustainable ecosystem around public, royalty-free, implementation-driven software platform standards, and new smart applications across multiple sectors, from agrifood, smart city, industry, energy, water, and tourism. She mentioned that FIWARE comes in the frame when there is a need for a curated framework and this is offered in an open-source platform with multiple components to access and manage heterogeneous context information. Adding that the technology can be used almost like a middleware into many different kinds of content information which need not come from the IoT devices only.

Dr. Giovanni Rimassa, Vice President of Digital for Planet and CIO of Martel Innovate, presented the “Climate-neutral & Sustainable Smart Cities” working group of the association and called for action to join hands and progress in the path towards climate neutral cities.

Finally, Dr. Calisti closed the webinar with a note to fire up the discussion and ideas exchange on the critical themes Europe and the world are facing on the road to sustainable cities. The message is clear, that we can only succeed together: join us to contribute through our Working Groups and put together strong teams and compelling proposals for Horizon Europe.

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