Harnessing Opportunities and Reducing Risks: Using Artificial Intelligence for Local Climate Action

By |2024-07-04T11:02:27+02:00July 4th 2024|Resilient Cities and Climate|

Nidhi Misra unveils how AI is revolutionising urban climate action. From Rome’s pollinator projects to Fortaleza’s smart bike lanes, discover how cities harness AI’s power to create sustainable futures.

From São Paulo to Rome, cities around the globe are increasingly turning to sophisticated digital tools to monitor and control carbon emissions, manage urban heat islands, reduce air pollution, and effectively plan for a sustainable future. The deployment of AI and technological solutions enhances city decision-making by analyzing quantitative data through real-time monitoring and predictive analytics, optimizing resources, and integrating diverse data sources. These efforts are complemented by processing qualitative data from social media, public feedback, and surveys to gauge public sentiment and identify community needs. This dual approach ensures more comprehensive and informed urban planning.

For instance, Fortaleza, Brazil’s fourth-largest city, has improved mobility over 12 years using AI and data-driven strategies. This has included illuminated crosswalks with SecurOS Soffit for pedestrian safety and a 557% increase in bike lanes. To better understand and support cycling, Fortaleza employs real-time dissemination and analytical counting to monitor where bicycles are used most frequently. This data-driven approach allows the city to expand bike lanes precisely where they are needed.

To elaborate on these developments, the ICLEI World Congress provided a platform for global cities and organizations to discuss how AI supports urban planning and climate action. The session “Harnessing Opportunities and Reducing Risks: Using Artificial Intelligence for Local Climate Action” explored the benefits and challenges of AI adoption in cities. The speakers emphasized the importance of building strong partnerships between cities and organizations to develop robust AI-led platforms. Working with city stakeholders ensures scalability, adaptability to local contexts, and a focus on equitable, user-centered design, which are crucial for success.

Aligning with these goals, Patrick Maurelli, Adjunct Research Coordinator at CITERA Sapienza University in Italy, shared insights from the city of Rome where several AI-driven urban sustainability projects illustrate the potential of AI to enhance urban environments. These initiatives focus on addressing issues like declining pollinator activity, heat island effects in dense urban areas, and improving energy management through projects like “Platoon” under Horizon 2020. Maurelli explained, “The pivotal role of AI and big data in informing effective urban planning and environmental strategies, underscores the need for transparency, ethical considerations, and responsible decision-making to mitigate unintended consequences, including privacy concerns related to data usage”.

Luciana Lobo, Secretary of Environment and Urban Planning from Fortaleza, highlighted how her city leverages AI to enhance urban sustainability. Lobo shared, “You can change a mobility behaviour only in the space of 10 years; from one generation to another things have changed a lot. For instance, we implemented real-time dissemination and analytical counting to understand where people use bicycles the most. We can then expand the bike lanes exactly where it is needed. And this dashboard, which counts the weekly usage of bikes and a real-time data, is public so users can see it.”

The initiatives led by cities like Rome and Fortaleza are complemented by the AI-led solutions developed by organizations specializing in technology for climate action planning. For example, Climate View trains its AI on frameworks that identify successful climate policies and infuse creativity in policy design. This approach helps cities develop innovative and effective strategies to combat climate change. As Tomer Shalit, Founder and CPO of Climate View noted, “By training AI to understand the logic of policy impacts and behavioural levers, cities can implement effective climate action plans. With a vast library of data-driven and innovative strategies, AI tirelessly supports cities in achieving sustainable outcomes, ensuring a prosperous future for citizens.”

Bringing a different perspective, Google’s Social Impact Partnerships team collaborates with local and national governments, research organizations, and NGOs to build tools for crisis response and sustainability. They have developed wildfire alerts in Chile and flooding alerts in southern Brazil through their geo partnerships. These tools are adaptable to different situations and extract actionable information for decision-making. Luisa Phebo, Social Impact Partnerships Lead, LATAM Google from Google noted, “I’m seeing huge changes worldwide in the uses of AI, from improving search mechanisms. For example, flood forecasting alerts using AI: Created in India because of the monsoons, this mechanism has now expanded. It uses hydrologic and inundation models with maps and notifications, providing up to seven-day anticipation before a flood.”

Clara Cabral from the Sustainable Cities Program in Brazil showcased her work with the Sustainable Cities Platform, which integrates social, environmental, economic, political, and cultural dimensions. The platform gathers indicators to develop a city diagnosis and a best practices database, serving as benchmarks to inspire other cities. Cabral explained, “The Sustainable Cities Platform is revolutionizing urban development with AI. By understanding, transforming, and evaluating cities, we tackle inequalities and drive sustainable progress. With tools like the inequality map and a comprehensive ranking system, we address regional disparities and climate risks. AI helps align local actions with global sustainability goals, offering tailored solutions for cities across Brazil.”

The use of AI and technology in combating climate change is revolutionizing urban management. By integrating quantitative and qualitative data, cities can make more informed decisions that enhance efficiency and address the needs of their residents. The insights from the ICLEI World Congress underscore the importance of collaboration between cities and tech organizations to develop scalable, adaptable, and equitable solutions. As cities like Rome and Fortaleza demonstrate, leveraging AI and technology is crucial for building sustainable and resilient urban environments.

Nidhi Misra