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There is no silver-bullet towards sustainability, and every city is unique as well as are its stakeholders. But there are many fundamental concepts that can be followed in the process and a lot of inspiration to share and learn from when it comes to practical solutions that have worked well. As the challenges world-wide are mainly caused by the same underlying issues, such as exceeding the demand for resources beyond their present and future availability; unacceptably high air and water pollution; social segregation; traffic congestion; and inadequate resilience to climate change, we will look at solutions to this, and a lot more.

Strong attitude and visions, consistency, communication, participation and innovative concepts often lead to impressing results and as its probably well-known that great results don’t necessarily come from expensive projects. That’s exactly where interchange of experience comes in, and the key to success is often to understand the human-centered planning mechanisms and needs behind a project more than the technical specifications themselves. Imagine how many pages of meta-data it would take to fully describe all the human knowledge behind a successfully implemented project? And even if you had this information in writing, you would still have to adapt it to the context of another city afterwards.

The conversion of a city towards sustainability is all based on planning, priorities and investments implemented one step at a time. However, for projects with a significant impact on Climate Change Mitigation and/or Adaptation, there are several different financing options available, but as is always the case, a well-formulated project with a clear need and vision, municipal compromise, stakeholder support and some elements of innovation will obviously stand-out from the crowd and be more likely to win in the competition with others. Remember investors and donors are definitively also looking for success. Frequent questions being asked in this context are:

  • How can a city become more sustainable or respond to a given set of climate change impacts?
  • Where to find the necessary information?
  • What will it cost to create solutions to our urban problems, and what can go wrong?
  • Where can we see something like this already functioning and with a proven record of stakeholder satisfaction?
  • How can a solution from one place be adapted to a new location and maybe very different stakeholder interests?
  • Can investments in sustainability and climate change mitigation measures become profitable to the city?

How to begin?

As many cities probably have their different climate projections ready, they will have a much clearer idea about the details of what they should adapt to within the next decades. But it is not always easy to move from something that up-front looks as a relatively simple technical challenge but later shows to be much more complex. For example, urban flooding might at first glance appear to be a physical risk arising from climate change, but broken down to specific elements it will include: awareness, health, land-use, insurance, solid and liquid waste management, emergency planning, business planning, early warning systems, evacuation, recovery and reconstruction, among others. Therefore, it will have to be treated in interaction between different municipal sectors and stakeholders.

If the city is thinking about modern mass-transportation and making friendly conditions for promoting the bicycle-culture there are suddenly a lot more preparation for getting started than just following a check-list or hire a consultant. If success is the main criteria the initial idea must be concretized into a strong vision that can be shared, discussed, developed, and professionally adapted to the many local needs. Of course, a lot of information can be found in databases, from web-portals and reading best-practice studies, but there is nothing better than having the opportunity contacting the persons directly involved with such implementation that can give all the many necessary details to make the right decisions and help adding the right flexibility for the adaption of a project concept to an often-different setting.

What are Nordic Climate Solutions?

On September 25th, 2015, the world’s countries adopted a set of goals to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all as part of a new sustainable development agenda. Just two months after the signature of the Sustainable Development Goals 2015 – 2030, the COP21 Paris Agreement from 30 November to 12 December 2015 suddenly gave the SDG a much broader dimension, as the two efforts somehow got intrinsically linked.

Nordic Climate Solutions is the umbrella project for the five Nordic countries (Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Island) complying with the SDG’s total of 17 goals and therefore also include the development of sustainable cities and communities, climate action and renewable energy solutions (affordable and clean energy).

What makes the Nordic cooperation particularly interesting in this context is that it is considered to be the most comprehensive regional cooperation in the world and that each partner-country before entering this project already had decades of first-hand experience on practical solutions on environment, energy and development of intelligent cities. The Nordic cooperation is both politically, economically and culturally based and has developed as an important player in European and international cooperation.

Picture: Green to Scale / Courtesy of The Nordic Development Fund.

Which kind of impacts do we want?

Investments in sustainable urban solutions integrating climate change adaptation has the potential of impacting the lives of over half the world’s population. Currently, we see many cities experimenting with innovative investments in sustainable solutions, but many of these efforts seem to be having difficulties with replicability and being scalable in practice for reaching a significant impact. Where many cities are just beginning to take the first steps into investing in sustainable solutions, the Nordic countries through the regional program “Green to Scale” are targeting an impressive reduction of global emissions by 4.1Gt of CO2 in 2030 by scaling-up 15 different Nordic climate solutions. In addition to the above-mentioned 15 mitigation projects, of which several already up-front are very feasible seen from an investment perspective, Nordic Climate Solutions also include many smaller adaptation and mitigation solutions for sustainable cities.

How to get there?

In this series of blogs, we will look to some of the many Nordic Solutions already implemented or in the process of implementation with the purpose of showing diversity in sustainable solutions, scalability and replicability, finding out what sorts of buildings, infrastructure, retrofitting, or energy production projects are sustainable, how to get from talking and planning to action, where to find know-how and contacts, how to get more info, and maybe where to plan a visit?

Practically all the projects mentioned in the following blogs will show how to solve a certain problem in a smart way. Even the smartest solution needs adaption to fit into a new environment, whether the environment is physical, geographical, biological, social, cultural or financial. That’s exactly what blogs, comments and contacts are for, and that is precisely what we expect to achieve.


*Sune Holt is a consultant on climate change adaptation at the Inter-American Development Bank.