Climate Change, Digital Transformation and RoI models

Meagan Crawford

In a previous blog we argued that cities were the greatest challenge to Climate change and that although we are beginning to create the data we need, we do not have the RoI models that would unlock the investment needed to tackle the problem.

What if we could advance the common goals and aspirations of combatting climate change into a data-driven approach, one that was harmonised across continents and aligned with internationally recognised and agreed Sustainable Development Goals?

It is possible, with leadership at an international level, to demonstrate the power of data-driven approaches to advanced digital urban infrastructure that could massively impact climate change and many of the deeper social, economic and environmental challenges cities face. We need to shift perceptions. It is counterproductive to continue the current piecemeal approaches to many of the global challenges faced by rapid urbanisation. The cities landscape is crowded by siloed players promising to deliver solutions without an analysis of near and medium-term impacts. We need a centralised framework and processes that are harmonised, to promote transparency and accountability at a global level. For example, there has been interesting work on standards but what is the RoI of implementing those standards and, if they are not mandated, what is the incentive for compliance? We need more than the current blunt instruments of GVA, NPV, IRR et al. We now need to create Data Deltas that give us insight across multiple verticals. For instance, what if we could demonstrate across cities, a behavioural shift where citizens were incrementally moving to greener modes of transit. Where investment in green modes of public transportation yielded not only a cost savings across OPEX for city officials but, reduced C02 emissions by 70%. By creating Data Deltas, we could then analyse the impact on health and wellbeing as we now have the ability to track active modes of mobility and what the well-being outcomes looked like. This is an insight into how we can begin to analyse the vast amounts of data available to us in a centralised framework to encourage other cities to adopt solutions that are working, thus cutting out the guess work associated with trial and error and inappropriate imitation.

Digital “Smart City” innovations have tremendous potential to both improve and empower cities to manage their increasingly urgent and complex environmental, social and economic challenges posed by rapid urbanization and climate change through a data-driven approach. According to the UN Environment, cities are responsible for 75% of global CO2 emissions, with transport and buildings among the largest contributors. [i] It is evident with rapid urbanisation, innovations across transport and the built environment have the potential to yield the biggest impact for cities however, we need to enshrine a data-driven approach across the narrative of Sustainable Development Goals for cities. Given that the ratio of the world’s urban population is expected to increase from 55% in 2018 (some 4.2 billion people) to 68% by 2050, which will mean that the world’s urban population will nearly double,[ii] what can be done to meaningfully combat climate change, further environmental degradation and increasing social challenges?

Whilst rapid and unplanned urbanisation is a major contributor to climate change, it is siloed governance within and across global cities that poses the biggest barrier to achieving successful impact. It is cities that are the economic engines of national economies contributing an average of 80% of GDP, it is therefore cities that should be driving the agenda on climate change with national and subnational governments incentivising meaningful data-driven approaches that can be replicated and scaled enabling other cities to share best practice and lessons learned.

  • For this to be successful, we need to first understand what new and emergent technologies have done and/or have the potential to do. (Cities need to understand the business case and the subsequent key targets possible by onboarding new solutions)
  • We then need to have a framework and harmonised tools in place to assess and monitor impact. This will enable a meaningful assessment of in-situ performance via a data-driven approach.
  • We need frameworks that promote transparency especially across headline impacts and are accessible to other cities to quickly onboard solutions that are working and can deliver meaningful impacts.
  • We need this harmonised framework to be embraced with urgency at the highest levels of National Governments and multi-lateral organisations such as the UN, World Bank etc. for cities to adopt. It is the scale of deployment and standardisation of metrics which has the potential to provide sustained impact against climate change and other social, environmental and economic challenges.



At we are working on what the future of RoI models for advanced digital transformation should be and would be keen to hear others thoughts, so do get in touch with either Meagan Crawford or Joe Dignan

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