Kobie Brand: Promote Sustainable Urban Development with Pioneering Technologies

2023-09-28 11:13:58

As cities continue to expand, cities are thinking about how to achieve better governance at the hyperscale level.

A few days ago, the Release of the 6th Guangzhou Award Shortlisted Cities was held in Guangzhou. This cycle of the Guangzhou Award has received a total of 274 initiatives from 193 cities and local governments in 54 countries and regions, which covers areas such as infrastructure and public services, urban planning and governance, citizen participation and smart cities.

At the conference, Kobie Brand, Deputy Secretary General of ICLEI, Chief Executive Officer and Regional Director of ICLEI Africa, delivered a keynote speech on the theme "Urban Innovation and Sustainable Development", discussing the challenges and solutions for cities in today's world.

The Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI) is the world's largest network of local sustainability partners working to achieve sustainable development through its projects, actions and local initiatives. It is a non-profit, non-political membership organization of more than 1,750 cities and regions from more than 120 countries.

In an interview with the SFC Omnimedia Corp. (SFC) reporter, Kobie Brand said that infrastructure is a catalyst for urban innovation, and the infrastructures we build now will lay the foundation for the next century. Urban renewal is a process of continuous optimization of urban functions. Only by taking the challenges as opportunities and platforms for urban innovation, turning the city into a cradle of innovation, and treating urban development and construction from a long-term perspective, can we achieve the sustainable development of urban population, economy and society.

Find Urban Solutions with an Open Mind

SFC: In the 6th Guangzhou award, which initiatives are more attractive to you?

Kobie: In the selection process, the cities presented many diversified initiatives, some of which are pioneering new technologies, while others are systematic planning based on the whole city. What attracts me most is the innovative governance solutions and technologies. Significantly, the technologies in these initiatives address not just one issue in isolation. In particular, for water management initiatives, cities address urban issues such as climate change, job creation, and economic development by addressing water management issues. The diversified urban governance solutions in these initiatives have created a knock-on effect while playing a positive role in solving other urban issues.

SFC: What are the common challenges faced by the world's major cities?

Kobie: Cities are laboratories for innovation, and even though they are now facing increasingly concentrated crises and challenges, they can still find solutions. A large amount of people in cities are well educated, so they are agile to embrace and drive changes, and to innovate themselves with new solutions and new ways of governance.

Social problems are not caused by single factors like natural climate change or economic recession. We need to treat problems with an open mind and find holistic and systematic solutions that connect different factors. For example, we can implement low-carbon solutions that develop clean energy such as solar, wind, hydro, biomass and geothermal energy. Then, it is in a natural, sustainable and people-centred way that we can promote green and low-carbon energy development, environmental restoration, job creation, and climate change solutions.

SFC: What are the most urgent issues we face, and what are your suggestions?

Kobie: Many of the problems are attributed to climate change, which is not just about the weather that we see with our eyes. According to a UN report, the number of recorded disasters has increased fivefold, partly due to human-induced climate change and extreme weather. This trend is expected to continue. Yet half of the world's countries do not have an early warning system, and even fewer have a regulatory framework to link warnings with contingency plans.

Storms will be more intense, but their arrival will be harder to warn of. Early warning systems are often seen as an easily achievable goal when it comes to adapting to climate change because they can protect people and property from hazards such as storms, floods, heat waves and tsunamis at a relatively low cost. In the long term, scientific data and technology should be used to promote climate early warning systems to prevent or address hazards before they take shape, which is much cheaper than acting after an emergency or disaster while avoiding the cost of lives and livelihoods.


“The Wind of Innovation Will Blow to Cities All Over the World”

SFC: Excellent innovation initiative may not be suitable for every city, how to timely optimize it for higher suitability according to the specific urban conditions?

Kobie: Every city is unique. I appreciate Guangzhou very much because it has its own history, culture and heritage, which are the foundation of a city.

I work for ICLEI, which enables me to observe more than 2,500 cities, large and small, around the world, so almost every day I see cities inspiring and learning from each other, joining hands to form solutions and actually help the national governments attain the targets that they agree on in the international stage.

I've looked at a lot of urban initiatives in-depth, like Cape Town, where I live, and despite its small size, it's one of the cities with the richest biodiversity in the world. So, in the initiative of Cities with Nature, it shares what it does to preserve biodiversity with cities around the world; As a city-state, Singapore is also working with some African cities to promote cooperation, development and harmony between man and nature. At the same time, global city exchanges such as the Guangzhou Award enable cities to share with and learn from each other, build links and promote wider spread and diffusion of policy innovation.

But before that, we need to fully understand the characteristics of a city, which is not only about governance or innovative technology, but also the culture of the city, and the behavior and thinking of its residents. While learning the governance methods from other cities, we should analyze the observed plans and extract their essence to ensure that the plans are applicable, only then will they play a positive role in urbanization development.

SFC: The process of urban governance and construction often requires a lot of resources. How can we strike a balance between the development of infrastructure and investment?

Kobie: Developers, service providers and various stakeholders are seeking to maximize profits, so it is not easy to balance investment and urban development. However urban governance can not be measured by money. It requires long-term investment and scientific methods to benefit people in the long run, although we might see no change from these investments for a while. Anyway, doing things in the old way will cost us more in the future.

Climate change is coming at us, and until the situation gets better, we need to stay positive and harness the scientific solutions and innovative technologies that are out there. The winds of urban innovation will continue to blow, to cities around the world. In fact, we have already seen the damage and impacts caused by climate change. Therefore, the choice between long-term investment in urban governance and short-term maximization of benefits will determine how humanity can respond to climate change in the future.

SFC: In what areas would ICLEI and Guangzhou Award work more closely together going forward?

Kobie: For this selection, we discussed with UCLG, Metropolis and the Guangzhou Award representatives about the future participation in the Guangzhou Award. ICLEI makes recommendations for the selection of the Guangzhou Award from the perspectives of sustainable development, climate change, ecological environment, urban planning, and promotion of cooperation between local experts and local and regional governments, leading the exchange of knowledge through peer-to-peer learning and knowledge co-creation, so as to make the Guangzhou Award more diversified. In the future, we will establish a stronger relationship with the Guangzhou Award to achieve sustainable urban development through awards selection, projects formulation, visits and research.