God bless the Norwegians and their civilized approach to life. One of the best events I attended last year was The Generation After Us – The Electric City. The event hosted by Agder Energy took place in Kristiansand in Norway and was truly inspiring for me and others in the audience. Agder’s vision for a fully electrified city was on the money last year with the world’s focus on climate change—and this year we can expect much more of the same.
To give the conference some context: Did you know that in roughly ten years, six billion people will find themselves living in a city? Just imagine the pressure on resources because right now, things are looking shaky unless we change. Urban communities account for 70% of global energy consumption, nearly 75% of greenhouse gas emissions, and 60% of drinking water consumption. The rising urban population will intensify pressure on everything, from resource depletion to the scary impacts of climate change. Without sustainable solutions coupled with radical policy ideas, then expect more things like Delhi’s horrifying toxic smog and the runaway impacts of climate change gathering speed. The generation after us needs all of us to make changes now.
What was clear from the conference is the actions business and government leaders are investigating. It will mean retrofitting existing city infrastructures and building new urban centres with a different mindset. Check out Helsinki and the work done with digital technologies to create a smart city infrastructure with open data architectures and intelligence built-in, or the more radical approaches to building zero-carbon cities from the get-go. China may be an unlikely standard-bearer for sustainable city-building, but recent moves show how quickly the country is directing its construction boom towards a more environmentally friendly future—you might not like it, but they are moving faster than us (see here). What Agadir Energy did in Kristiansand was to ask a diverse range of experts to share their perspectives and inspire a vision for what city planners, business and citizens need to do now.
We heard about next-generation power electrification, smart grids, new approaches to urban development, how transport solutions will evolve, smart sensor-based technologies, and the future of work (*ahem* yours truly, and you can see it here). During the day, two presentations caught my eye. The more fun presentation involved hyperloops and floated the idea of linking Kristiansand, Norway to Newcastle in the UK—there would be a hyperloop running right under the sea. I remember a similar sensation when I first heard about the Eurostar project signed back in 1986 when I thought it would be incredible to get on a train in London, speed under the ocean, and arrive in Paris 3 hours later. The other eye-catching presentation was more sobering from Professor Randers. Professor Randers opened the conference with five key measures Norway needs to follow if it is to stay under the 2-degree temperature rise cap set out under the Paris accords. His recipe will take your breath away (it did mine):
- Phase-out dirty fuel by 2050. And remember Norway is an oil producer! This will mean the full electrification of all fossil fuel-driven transportation, heating and production using existing hydro and wind power. All Norwegian production of oil and gas will cease (in an orderly Nordic way, not in a Gilet Jaune riot). Employees will move to other production methods and receive relocation wages for three years (calculated to cost 30BN NOK (3BN Euro) per year). And it’s good news if you work in fishing, metals, IT or tourism because these industries will ensure the sufficient FX income to the tune of 300 Bn NOK per year.
- Make farming sustainable. Reduce the climate emissions from Norwegian meat production and forestry industries. Yes, there’s a reason why we should all be thinking of going Vegan in January.
- Redistribute national income. Let the 10% richest pay the extra cost of green solutions and for relocation wages as the work shifts. Cue much shock and horror! What? The richest to pay more?! Don’t tell Davos Man (or the 21% of attendees that are women and incidentally we should note the progressive gender legislation in Norway).
- Copy China’s development model. An intriguing one—most policymakers are fearful of China, but we cannot underestimate the spectacular progress Chinese society has made since joining the WTO nearly 20 years ago. Retrofitting Norway society for climate change needs a similar audacious plan, and China offers a template. Can we expect more shared services and functions between companies, industries and countries?
- Give equal rights to all women. Understand that the high standards of living and welfare are not dependent on high population growth rates. Perhaps we would even design our cities a little better for 50% of the population while we are it too: What would a city look like designed by women?
Bravo Professor Randers. I have to say; you couldn’t hear a pin drop when he presented his playbook for climate change. And, as an optimist, I think it's do-able (read more of his excellent research here). I found The Generation After Us – The Electric City fascinating because it finally showed how and why our cities could change. What made the conference for me was a magical and straightforward touch: The organisers had done some great work inviting the local school-kids across Kristiansand to put together their vision of what a fully electrified city would mean for them. The working models, maquettes, and presentations were brimming with ideas on how life in their city would be for them (and their English was better than mine!). Like I say a nice touch and many of their ideas were on the money.
PS. My role at the event was to offer an insight into the future of work. The presenter that took to the stage before my had a couple of my slides in her deck! The way I see it, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and what was good to see is how Microsoft had taken the ideas and moved them forward.