The forum: Resilience in an urban world

Many cities are transforming and growing at rates never seen before, as the global population rises and people move to urban areas to find work. By mid-century, around three-quarters of the world’s population is expected to live in cities.

This is creating an urgent need to make cities more resilient to create a better quality of life.

At the 2014 Powering Progress Together conference in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, Shell brought together leading thinkers from academia, business and civil society to share ideas and experiences to help cities manage increasing stresses on basic resources including energy, food and water, and become more resilient. The conference was hosted alongside the Shell Eco-marathon and Shell Energy Lab.

Shell CEO Ben van Beurden opened the day, highlighting the innovation and collaboration that is happening in and across cities around the world. Communities, mayors, companies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and governments are already collaborating to create new systems and technologies today with a different future in mind.  

A resilient city is able to adapt to rapid change, to manage shocks – such as an earthquake or hurricane – and to respond to stresses including climate change. Fatih Barol, Director Global Energy Economics at the International Energy Agency, emphasised the urgent need for effective government policy and innovation from business: “We need a major government push followed by the right investment from companies.”

Powering Progress Together event in Rotterdam

Cooperation in communities

Many speakers highlighted the need for cooperation and collaboration within, and across, cities to build resilience. Techniques used to prepare for disasters have been applied to manage traffic, for example, and nature and technology can mix to create more liveable cities.

“Cities are ecosystems within a large ecosystem – they are intricately connected systems,” said Jane Madgwick, CEO of Wetlands International, a global not-for-profit organisation and environment partner with Shell.

“We can combine new solutions with natural solutions in areas like water technology. There is an opportunity in cities where there is no current fixed infrastructure to create clever solutions that combine social and economic resilience with environmental resilience.”

Mayors as leaders

At the heart of energy decisions taken in cities, mayors are central to bringing about their transformation into hubs of clean energy. 

“Mayors are pragmatists and problem-solvers. So cities can cooperate, working across borders and solve problems globally, not just locally,” said Benjamin Barber, author of If Mayors Ruled the World. “It is possible to create coalitions that work out common practices and solutions together.”

To overcome challenges, cooperation between business, government, communities and NGOs must be enhanced now, said Professor Cameron Hepburn from the Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics.

“Cities are a beacon of hope,” he said. “Cities bring humans together to share ideas and new technologies. We can create cleaner, safer, quieter, more enjoyable living spaces – but it is not happening fast enough.”

The programme was set up by the Rockefeller Foundation in 2013 to help individuals, communities and systems to be better prepared to withstand catastrophic events. There are 32 cities from around the world selected for the first phase, including Rotterdam. The cities must create and implement a resilience plan and hire a Chief Resilience Officer to oversee the strategy. These cities may also become centres of innovation, testing technologies and collaboration.

“We need cities to be better coordinated so that they are no reinventing but, instead, locally customising to build resilience,” said Michael Berkowitz, Managing Director of the programme.

The 2016 Powering Progress Together Europe conference will take place in London, UK. 

In 2015 the Rotterdam conference (“The Tech Factor”) focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in the Netherlands, and its connection with labour market needs. STEM is important for bringing forth a new generation of technicians able to resolve global challenges. Speakers included Dutch Education Minister Jet Bussemaker and President-Director of Shell Netherlands Dick Benschop.

Read the complete Rotterdam 2014 event report

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