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Sustainable cities

One challenge, two perspectives


In cities, high energy consumption, dense traffic, and a high number of people in a limited surface area can lead to increasing emissions and worsening climate change. At the same time, cities present many opportunities to promote sustainable development, as they accelerate social and technical progress. Here, Dr. Volkmar Denner, chairman of the board of management of Robert Bosch GmbH, and the climate researcher Professor Ottmar Edenhofer, discuss the elements of effective urban transformation.

Mr. Edenhofer, at the Bonn Climate Change Conference in 2017, the first-ever alliance of 1,000 cities around the world was formed. It aims to take a concerted approach to fighting climate change. What role do cities play when it comes to sustainable development?

Edenhofer: Cities play a decisive role, and a great deal of potential has yet to be tapped. Many cities are no longer waiting for national guidelines, they are tackling the issues themselves. And this is a good thing. Approaches to building today’s transport systems, buildings, and other types of infrastructure are heavily influenced by future CO2 emission standards. If we make urban infrastructure more climate-friendly, we can reduce future CO2 emissions by half.

When it comes to reducing CO₂ emissions, what can cities start doing now?

Denner: Connectivity can play a major role in protecting the environment. Take the power supply, for instance: in intelligent buildings, devices communicate with one another, automatically adapt to changing conditions, and thus reduce energy consumption. Virtual power plants store the clean energy from decentralized power generation and distribute it according to need. And thanks to intelligent control technology, street lights are turned on only when light is needed. The smarter the city, the more sustainable it is. Bosch has been testing smart city technologies in 14 urban centers around the world, from Berlin to Stuttgart, and most recently in Tianjin, northern China.

Edenhofer: If we want to achieve the Paris climate goals, we must also significantly reduce emissions from urban traffic. Driving the car into the city center for work every morning isn’t particularly climate-friendly.

“If we make urban infrastructure more climate-friendly, we can reduce future CO2 emissions by half.”
Prof. Dr. Ottmar Edenhofer

How can urban mobility be made more sustainable?

Edenhofer: First of all, electric cars have to be powered with renewable sources of energy. For this to happen, we have to charge at least 30 euros per ton of CO2 – as opposed to the current seven euros in European emissions trading. Second, the charging network has to be expanded and public transit electrified. In addition to this, legislation is needed to replace old technologies that run on fossil fuels – new technologies shouldn’t just be driving beside them. The current diesel debate has shown that emission standards alone cannot reach climate targets and improve air quality. Instead of prohibiting diesel altogether, tax incentives for diesel within the EU should be done away with. The money saved could then be spent on public transit, or on research and development for clean drive technologies.

Mr. Denner, do you share this view?

Denner: I share the view that new technologies are needed. But considering the urgency of climate change, I don’t think focusing exclusively on e-mobility is the right approach. The transition will take time. To achieve climate targets, we must thus do everything we can to improve existing technology as well. More than any other company, we are working to drive e-mobility forward. But at the same time, we continue to invest in the further development of diesel and gasoline engines. Here, emission standards still provide an important framework. From 2020 onward, emissions in real driving conditions will only be allowed to deviate by a specific factor from the levels measured in the test cycle. Our diesel test vehicles already meet this requirement today. And we are already developing systems whose emissions are well under the legal limits.

Vehicle technology is just one of the elements needed to achieve emission-free mobility…

Denner: True. We have to motivate more people to combine modes of transportation, share vehicles, and discover alternatives to their own cars, such as e-scooters. What’s more, new digital services like parking apps can reduce the number of kilometers driven and thus also emissions. Sensors, software, and services: these three s’es not only reflect core areas of Bosch expertise, they also shape the foundation of smart cities.

“Connectivity can play a major role in protecting the environment.”
Dr. Volkmar Denner

Mr. Edenhofer, what role do you see for Bosch in making cities more sustainable?

Edenhofer: As the world’s largest automotive supplier, Bosch has an enormous responsibility. In terms of commitment to developing innovative electric drive systems, I think Bosch is generally on the right path. But more intensive efforts are needed.

Denner: In 2018, too, we will spend about 400 million euros on e-mobility. At the same time, we are working flat out to develop a CO2-neutral internal combustion engine. In our view, synthetic fuels – e-fuels based on renewable sources of energy, have a great deal of potential. We have already initiated projects to mass produce the corresponding technologies. In addition to this, we are working on solutions that reduce particulate matter, which is the result of wear from brakes and tires. This year, we are starting series production for the iDisc. The innovative brake disc produces 90 percent less brake dust.

In closing, let’s have a look toward the future: what do you think the city of 2050 should look like?

Edenhofer: By the middle of the century, I hope that emissions in cities will have been dramatically reduced. I am optimistic that it can be done. We need a mix of intelligent, efficient urban planning with short routes, as well as a transformation of the automotive sector toward carbon-neutral drive systems. If we achieve this, it will be a major step toward protecting the climate.

Denner: The city of 2050 will rely on renewable sources of energy, cleverly combine different modes of transport, and conserve resources. It will help protect our health and make our everyday lives easier. In short: the city of the future will be connected, sustainable, and livable. With technology “Invented for life”, we aim to make this vision reality.


About Professor Edenhofer

Professor Ottmar Edenhofer is the Director of the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC). He is also Deputy Director and Chief Economist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and Professor for the Economics of Climate Change at the Technical University of Berlin.

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