Cities can decouple pollution from growth

Urban Life 6 July 2016 Bettina Kamuk

On July 10 decision makers from all over the world gather at the World Cities Summit in Singapore. Waste-to-energy plants and other smart approaches can help them.

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This piece is co-authored by Jens-Peter Saul, CEO, Ramboll. 

 On the small Copenhagen island Amager where I work in Ramboll Headquarters, we are helping to build a spectacular plant. On the outside, the Amager Bakke waste-to-energy facility has climbing walls and ski slopes. Inside it raises the bar for resource optimisation with an energy efficiency of 107% and high potential for recycling and recovery.

On a somewhat bigger Island, Pulau Ujung where the majority of Singapore’s citizens live, we are helping to build another plant that is spectacular in other ways: It will be the world’s largest of its kind, and integrated with an adjacent water reclamation plant to fully exploit the synergies between waste and wastewater treatment.

Waste-to-energy-plants like these are one of the solutions to the global growth challenge, as identified by NGOs such as the World Wildlife Fund: A paradox at this point in history is that cities are requiring so many resources yet producing so little – aside from a lot of waste.

Waste-to-energy generates renewable energy to a city and recovers metals from bottom ash. The technology is therefore one of the hot topics on the World Cities Summit 2016 in Singapore. The summit will explore how cities can better govern and build resilience through policy, technology and social innovations.

One way for cities to succeed and attract new citizens is to coordinate better between political administrations and combine with for example innovative water technology. According to a Harvard University Study, the use of trees, plants and open spaces - so called green infrastructure - can not only reduce floods and water pollution but also provide many benefits for public health, local communities, and the environment.

If combined with canals and other waterways – so-called blue-green infrastructure the benefits are even larger, as cities such as Singapore and Greater Copenhagen have learned.

However, the first thing to ensure if cities want their inhabitants to thrive is to decouple pollution from growth – and thereby making it possible to reduce air and water pollution while enabling growth. It can be done not only in the Western world, but also in for example Middle Eastern cities such as Jeddah and Indian cities such as Udaipur.

Experience has shown that you get the best results if your approach is trans-disciplinary – and if your long term planning integrates green energy, climate adaptation and other necessary sustainable steps early in the construction of building or infrastructure.

If cities manage to adapt this holistic approach, they will be able to save money and at the same time reduce inconvenience and create a more sustainable environment. Just like Copenhagen and Singapore are doing it with the two future waste-to-energy plants.

This is also posted as a blog on Huffington Post