International standards can help cities mitigate water shortages

On 26 January 2023, the Geneva Cities Hub and ISO co-organized a panel discussion on International standards in support of cities’ and local authorities’ development agenda”. The event focused on how international standards contribute to improving the well-being of citizens and advancing the development of sustainable smart cities and communities. A series of standards on city indicators include a wide range of city services that can improve the quality of life of the population. What is needed however is a holistic vision on what type of indicators help mayors in their work and how similar sets of indicators facilitate peer-to-peer learning and exchanges of best practices.

Local and regional governments face multiple challenges on a daily basis. They aim for solutions that make public services in their areas safe, secure and sustainable. Standards offer long-term solutions, serve as a roadmap for cities’ development agenda. They are overarching political cycles and contribute to improve city management system guidelines for better progress – taken into consideration the city’s size, geographic and social qualities as well as responsibilities of local authorities. Maturity models are excellent tools to prioritize and advance the different aspects of city management, depending on the local needs.

There are hundreds of standards on intelligent transport systems, water management, digitalization, business continuity and community resilience, designed to make communities safe, sustainable and adaptive to better face challenges. A resilient city must be able to prepare for, recover from and adapt its systems and processes to ensure that they are as robust as possible in the face of shocks and stresses. That is why a number of standards are currently in development, such as emergency management, water efficiency management, digitalization and carbon emission reduction.

We were looking for answers on such crucial questions, like:

  • What are the guiding principles for developing indicators for city services, especially in the case of water-scarce cities, smart cities or resilient cities?
  • How can standards help at the same time mayors who need to refurbish existing water infrastructure and mayors of future cities building new city infrastructure?
  • What are the areas where digitalization standards can help to strengthen people-centered city management?
  • What are the key areas in cities that can potentially contribute to lower carbon emissions?

As cities grow, they generate more and more carbon emissions, and now contribute around 70 % of the world’s CO2 emissions from energy. By the same vein, they are a good target for changes that could alleviate the impact of global emission. The energy and the construction sectors might be game changers in fighting climate change, if adequate standards of isolation, heating systems, renewable energy use and smart grids are applied. By developing and implementing international standards for planning and building cities, we can make these changes effective and efficient.

One third of the city carbon emissions come from transport. A lower-carbon city would support public transport over individual car use, make cycling and walking easier, and move towards electric or biofuel vehicles. Reducing long-distance travel has an important contribution too. ICT-enabled virtual meetings, for example, replaces the need for travelling.

Adaptation to climate change – parallel to the efforts to achieve the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement – is crucial and standards can guide us on this path. Adaptation of the water-supply system and storm water management help to use water in a sustainable manner. Good indicators contribute to understanding and comparing possibilities. Smart measuring and smart network operating models can reduce the burdens and risks. Circular economy is a high-potential solution to make cities more sustainable. Digital technology can help optimize use of resources and make better use of existing assets.

Standards help to build reliable infrastructure in a financially traceable manner. Certification processes strengthen the confidence of different stakeholders and increases the level of trust by the local residents. Compliance with relevant standards helps to improve the serenity of mayors and reassures residents that the city is managed properly.

Better involvement of cities creates the opportunity to strengthen this important standard-setting exercise and make sure it has a real impact on the ground.

Thanks to Marcel Knecht, Isabelle Vendeuvre, Dalia Yarom, Bernard Gindroz, Michael Mulquin, Shanfeng Dong and Dominique Würges for their insights and expertise and to ISO for partnering with us on this important issue.

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