Eighty per cent of cities face significant climate hazards – such as extreme heat, rainfall, drought or flooding, according to environmental data charity CDP. Its 2022 Protecting People and the Planet report also highlights that these issues are expected to threaten at least 70 per cent of the population in 28 per cent of these cities. Vital resources are also at risk from climate change, with water supply, agriculture and waste management considered among the greatest dangers.
Nevertheless, the right action can lead to positive change. Eighty-five per cent of cities taking people-centred climate actions are driving public health, social and economic benefits, such as better air quality, greater physical and mental health for citizens, increased food and water security, reduced costs and more business innovation, according to the report. Also, 75 per cent achieve environmental benefits, including more green spaces and enhanced water and soil quality. At the root of these improvements is digital technology.
“Various new technology tools can promote sustainability by optimising resource usage, monitoring environmental impacts, and facilitating renewable energy adoption,” says Jeremy M. Goldberg, worldwide director of critical infrastructure at Microsoft.
Swedish city Helsingborg, for example, is using ClimateView’s Microsoft Azure cloud-based ClimateOS solution to help it reach net zero by 2035. The software-as-a-service platform aggregates climate-related data from multiple sources and analyses it to deliver insights into the largest sources of emissions in Helsingborg, enabling city leaders to collaborate with municipal organisations and other stakeholders to predict the impact of possible solutions and develop an effective carbon emissions abatement plan.
In Porto, Portugal, municipal water utility company Águas do Porto (AdP) has used Bentley Systems’ OpenFlows solutions – which run on the Microsoft Azure cloud – to build a federated digital twin. This helps it manage water supply, wastewater drainage and treatment, stormwater drainage, surface waters and coastal water quality for around 500,000 people in the city.
AdP’s digital twin, which is a virtual representation of the physical water system, is integrated with its H2PORTO platform, which centralises near-real-time and historical data from 22 types of sources, including billing, meters, sensors, operations, weather stations and control systems. This enables AdP to track the status of each part of the water system, forecast the performance of the entire water system up to three days in advance, and respond instantly to automatic alerts about potential problems. It can also run virtual simulations of issues such as pipe breaks or valve closures to determine how the water system would react and develop solutions.
When combined with technologies such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality, digital twins can be used for applications beyond engineering, urban planning and healthcare.
“We can incorporate new technologies coming from metaverse, like Web3, to explore, visualise and experience the data model,” says Ondiviela. “New methodologies to incorporate real-time data can be put in place to increase the realism and accuracy of the model. This is leading to the concept of the MetaCity/Cityverse, which represents a revolution in the way of operating and offering public services in the city, in the social relations of its citizens and in their leisure activities.”
Ondiviela cites Doha in Qatar, Seoul in South Korea, and Singapore as examples of cities already experimenting with metaverse technologies. “Like all human developments, however, the ability to generate new business models and new services for citizens will be the determinants of the speed with which the metaverse is consolidated in our lives,” he says. “Much remains to be done as it is still in its infancy and there are many alternatives and a range of possibilities to explore.”