01/07/2014 03:03 pm ET Updated Mar 09, 2014

Sustainable City Building

Getting a glimpse of Yangon's new urban planning infrastructure was an eye opener to me. They had brought in Japanese contractors and financiers who had adopted a copy-paste approach to rebuilding Yangon, Myanmar. They will be implementing an ordinary urban ecosystem with prepackaged solutions -- read a fossil fuel based, car centric, wasteful city.
It dawned on me that we are not only about to build as much city in the next 40 years as we have the past 4,000 years, but we are about to build them with the same, short-sighted industrial standards instead of leap frogging to sustainable solutions.

I don't think we are repeating these mistakes because of any major economic conspiracy, but simply because it is simpler. Bundling finance, energy solution, water solutions, traffic infrastructure and all general urban infrastructures is just is too high an entry bar for most developing cities.

Only few nations have the power and ability to prepackage city-building solutions of this scale into an aid package. This exercise is close to the type of effort needed for state-building -- when external actors (foreign countries) attempt to build, or re-build, the institutions of a weak, post-conflict or failing state. So there is little supply.
These "one-stop-shops" of development can essentially only be provided by a few major global players like the World Bank, U.S. Agency for International Development and such. And institutions with this capability are like big ocean liners that take a long time to turn. They still don't have proper clean tech knowledge, and are inherently slow to adapt despite good intentions.

These institutions have a big impact on global warming and need to take speedy action on climate change -- and do it at their core.

The alternative is to go where the new and better parts of a clean systems knowledge is and reassemble them into new competing exportable urban green system, i.e. like the Sino-Danish Green Cooperation Model, but at a much larger scale.
It is a broadly recognized that Nordic companies within water solution, heating, electric energy, solutions and infrastructure engineering, city planning, urban energy and urban transport consultancy have world-leading competencies and solutions to offer. However, despite these leading positions, Nordic countries are not recognized as a big system exporter worldwide, and do not in general have a strong foundation for this kind of export activities. Even having some of the highest per capita income rates and the highest per capita contribution to development aid globally, doesn't allow them to have one-stop-shop city-building capabilities on their own. Today, their system export activities have mainly been orientated towards rural donation projects to developing countries rather than complex system export to new urban environments.

Major global institutions need to harvest Nordic clean tech knowledge and integrated it with their major systems export, or the Nordic countries need to create new partnerships and go from a fragmented approach one-by-one, to a new paradigm, where they acknowledge that the future citizens, most often of cities, have an increasing demand for intelligent, integrated system solutions, delivered through a new network-based framework.

Regardless, these challenges need to be overcome to build simple, exportable, green city-building systems:
  • Finding and bundling global partners including a major financing partner
  • Aligning strategic intentions among competing companies and across geopolitical poles
  • Securing cross-organizational cooperation between public and private institutions
  • Getting local knowledge, network and presence for each implementation
  • Overcoming major resource demand and overly long processes
  • Aligning risk profiles among companies and institutions

Curbing global warming takes a global cooperative mindset to development work, but mainly action. Development aid needs to be rethought in this context.

In World Economic Forum's Outlook on the Global 2014, the ninth top global trend was "the growing importance of megacities," the fifth was "inaction on climate change."

The challenge of global warming is no longer the science, or the rate of innovation, but the rate of implementation: We have the clean solutions, now let's bundle them and install them.