CAN TECHNOLOGY BE THE ONLY SOLUTION? THOUGHTS ON COP23 AND THE DISCOURSE OF CITIES

Updated: May 10, 2018

This is an opinion piece. The views or opinions expressed in this blog are those of the guest blogger and do not necessarily reflect those of C Minds. You can find out more about December’s guest blogger at the bottom of this page.


Author: Marielle Papin


A month ago, I went to Bonn to attend the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), chaired by Fiji. As I arrived, I saw with great excitement a swarm of people, both in the negotiation zone and in the non-party stakeholder zone, greeting each other, asking questions and debating about the possible outcomes of the conference. By the end of the conference, most people had learnt at least one thing together, which is how to say welcome in Fijian (Bula!). This says a lot about the warm atmosphere of COP23.


My goal was not to see states negotiate in the traditional setting of the COP, but to observe some of the new actors of the non-party actor zone, namely transnational city networks. Representing cities and promoting their climate action globally, these networks, such as C40, ICLEI: Local Governments for Sustainability or the Global Covenant of Mayors are becoming increasingly important in the traditionally state-led UNFCCC arena. Their presence is fundamental, as cities host 50% of the world population but produce 70% of today’s global greenhouse gas emissions.


One of the pitfalls of focusing solely on green technologies is to ignore another major need of today’s world: looking for a new production and consumption model

Cities and their networks were thus present in different areas of COP23, such as the U.S. Climate Action Center, put together to give space to all the U.S. actors willing to respect the Paris Agreement despite the will of the Federal government to withdraw from it. ICLEI also coordinated the Cities and Regions pavilion, in which a vast amount of events took place around local governments and solutions to confront climate change. By going to all these different spaces, I wanted to understand which answers these networks offered.



However, I held back my enthusiasm as I saw that many of the solutions that were promoted during the event, and that are commonly diffused by these actors, did not consider technology to be a mere part of the solution, but rather considered it the miracle solution to all their challenges. Several city networks indeed promote the use of green technology to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. For instance, they underline the potential of renewable energy such as wind and solar power. They also emphasize the need to optimize energy efficiency through more automation and control in buildings and to improve waste disposal through landfill gas capture systems. On that matter, C40’s City Solutions Platform shares interesting case studies: using electric public transportation, or transforming waste into resources are innovative solutions that are crucial to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in cities. We need to go through with them. Nevertheless, in my opinion, one of the pitfalls of focusing solely on green technologies is to ignore another major need of today’s world: looking for a new production and consumption model. Even if we go ‘all-green’, we will still consume too many of the resources of our finite world. A real solution should take advantage of the disruptive power of technology, while also searching to establish a new consumption and new production model.


Green growth will most unlikely be green. Insisting on the development of green technology is, to me, a way of avoiding a harder task, although more beneficial in the long run, which is rethinking our global way of life. Most city networks, despite putting cities forward, follow the same neoliberal environmentalist paradigm as states. They tend to focus on tech-driven solutions to increase energy and resource efficiency, thus improving the means without rethinking the end. In that sense, they are actually quite traditional and do not offer innovative solutions.


Green growth will most unlikely be green

Therefore, I believe we need to do more and do better, and technology might help us do that. I do not think we have to go back to the Stone Age and forget about everything we have learnt so far about and thanks to technology. My point is rather that we should use technology, not to keep living the way we have for the past decades, but to help us think about new ways to design and live in our cities. By collecting and processing big data, technology may well be a crucial means to mitigate and adapt to climate change. It should thus remain an important topic of climate talks. But it should not be unconditionally accepted. Climate change is an issue we cannot bypass with undebated technology. We can, however, reflect on technology, its opportunities and its challenges to better design solutions to confront this wicked problem.




Our guest blogger: Marielle graduated from Sciences Po Lyon (France) in 2013 with a Masters in Political Science specialized in Globalization and Governance. She worked at PIDES Social Innovation, the former name of C Minds, for two years during which she was involved in sustainability and climate change-related projects in Mexico. This experience led her to wonder about the relation between cities and climate change, which eventually got her to undertake a PhD in Political Science at Université Laval (Quebec, Canada). Her thesis project is focused on the role of transnational municipal networks in the complex global climate governance system. She also collaborates on a research project on experiments of governance adaptation to climate change at micro-local levels.


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