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Why cities are critical to achieving a carbon-neutral world
In May 2018, the city of Paris set an ambition to be carbon-neutral by 2050.
- Countries, governments and companies are aligning on a need for net-zero - and this is an opportunity to rethink decarbonizing our cities.
- There is no "one-size-fits-all" solution – each city's needs must be at the heart of developing integrated energy solutions.
- A city can only decarbonize through collaboration between government, the private sector, and local communities.
The world is at a critical juncture. Never has there been a moment where businesses, energy consumers and governments – from Canada to China – are aligning on a common vision like this: a road to net-zero emissions.
In the years ahead the role played by cities will be under greater scrutiny than ever before. Cities are, after all, the beating heart of business, commerce, trade and society. They cover 3% of the earth's land surface yet they are responsible for more than 70% of all carbon emissions. Cities are where the need for integrated energy solutions, backed up by ambitious policy and urban planning, will be critical if the world is to move towards net-zero emissions in the years ahead.
The private sector has a role to play. Over the past few years, companies and industries have begun to ask how they can play their part. Many in the energy sector are on a mission to help customers decarbonize within their own sectors, businesses, communities and homes. But how could that work for cities?
While every city has unique needs, five are common to building sustainable and smarter cities of the future. These are mobility, energy, environment, urban planning and living. And it is a mix of these elements that is required to develop integrated solutions. To better understand the different needs, convening a diverse set of city stakeholders is key. This I would like to describe as co-visioning.
For example, in May 2018 the city of Paris set an ambition to be carbon-neutral by 2050. This ambition is not without challenges. Rising levels of income and wealth inequality, transport emissions and older and energy-inefficient building stock are among the challenges standing in the way of that goal.
In 2019, Shell, alongside Leonard (a foresight and innovation platform) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), hosted a City Scenarios workshop in Paris. This event brought together 45 key stakeholders from across both public and private sectors and the wider community, who discussed how to collectively address and meet the objectives of the Paris Climate Action Plan, which aims to make Paris a carbon-neutral city by 2050.
The outcomes of this workshop led to a sketch that explores three scenarios. Each describes different visions of the future for the Paris Metropole, while illustrating a pathway to 2050 and describes progress, or lack thereof, towards the goals of the Paris Climate Action Plan. A short description of each scenario is described in the visual below.
The purpose of this exploration was to guide the wisest possible choices and actions that should be taken now, to achieve the shared ambitions for the Paris region. Far from being a regular commercial opportunity, this instead looked to envision future scenarios and what customers' needs in the future could look like. This work has enabled us to better integrate solutions in the years ahead.
After understanding the needs, one approach to co-innovate solutions is to adopt a 'Living Lab' concept. In Singapore, we launched a City Solutions Living Lab to co-create and experiment with city stakeholders' innovative concepts, scenarios, technologies and business models in actual living environments.
The island city-state is forward thinking in its approach to energy transition. It has set ambitious targets to increase renewables, and announced that it plans to phase out petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040. With this shared vision, Shell partnered Singapore's Energy Market Authority (EMA) to jointly work on spurring the adoption of energy storage systems to support the deployment of more solar in Singapore. One ongoing project is to work with local enterprises to develop smart energy-management system solutions that integrate solar and storage to provide fast charging for electric vehicles at Shell service stations.
There is no one-size fits all solution. Starting from each city's needs, integrated solutions need to be innovated and delivered. This will require unprecedented collaboration between government, industry and society. But the urgency has never been greater. After all, making cities sustainable places to live and work for future generations will be imperative if the world is to meet the broader goals of the Paris Agreement and move closer to a net-zero emissions world.
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The idea of 'absolute time' is an illusion. Physics and subjective experience reveal why.
- Since Einstein posited his theory of general relativity, we've understood that gravity has the power to warp space and time.
- This "time dilation" effect occurs even at small levels.
- Outside of physics, we experience distortions in how we perceive time — sometimes to a startling extent.
Physics without time<p>In his book "The Order of Time," Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli suggests that our perception of time — our sense that time is forever flowing forward — could be a highly subjective projection. After all, when you look at reality on the smallest scale (using equations of quantum gravity, at least), time vanishes.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If I observe the microscopic state of things," writes Rovelli, "then the difference between past and future vanishes … in the elementary grammar of things, there is no distinction between 'cause' and 'effect.'"</p><p>So, why do we perceive time as flowing <em>forward</em>? Rovelli notes that, although time disappears on extremely small scales, we still obviously perceive events occur sequentially in reality. In other words, we observe entropy: Order changing into disorder; an egg cracking and getting scrambled.</p><p>Rovelli says key aspects of time are described by the second law of thermodynamics, which states that heat always passes from hot to cold. This is a one-way street. For example, an ice cube melts into a hot cup of tea, never the reverse. Rovelli suggests a similar phenomenon might explain why we're only able to perceive the past and not the future.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Any time the future is definitely distinguishable from the past, there is something like heat involved," Rovelli wrote for the <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/ce6ef7b8-429a-11e8-93cf-67ac3a6482fd" target="_blank"><em>Financial Times</em></a>. "Thermodynamics traces the direction of time to something called the 'low entropy of the past', a still mysterious phenomenon on which discussions rage."</p>
The strange subjectivity of time<p>Time moves differently atop a mountain than it does on a beach. But you don't need to travel any distance at all to experience strange distortions in your perception of time. In moments of life-or-death fear, for example, your brain would release large amounts of adrenaline, which would speed up your internal clock, causing you to perceive the outside world as moving slowly.<br></p><p>Another common distortion occurs when we focus our attention in particular ways.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If you're thinking about how time is <em>currently</em> passing by, the biggest factor influencing your time perception is attention," Aaron Sackett, associate professor of marketing at the University of St. Thomas, told <em><a href="https://gizmodo.com/why-does-time-slow-down-and-speed-up-1840133782" target="_blank">Gizmodo</a></em>.<em> "</em>The more attention you give to the passage of time, the slower it tends to go. As you become distracted from time's passing—perhaps by something interesting happening nearby, or a good daydreaming session—you're more likely to lose track of time, giving you the feeling that it's slipping by more quickly than before. "Time flies when you're having fun," they say, but really, it's more like "time flies when you're thinking about other things." That's why time will also often fly by when you're definitely <em>not</em> having fun—like when you're having a heated argument or are terrified about an upcoming presentation."</p><p>One of the most mysterious ways people experience time-perception distortions is through psychedelic drugs. In an interview with <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/14/carlo-rovelli-exploding-commonsense-notions-order-of-time-interview" target="_blank"><em>The Guardian</em></a>, Rovelli described a time he experimented with LSD.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It was an extraordinarily strong experience that touched me also intellectually," he said. "Among the strange phenomena was the sense of time stopping. Things were happening in my mind but the clock was not going ahead; the flow of time was not passing any more. It was a total subversion of the structure of reality."<br></p><p>It seems few scientists or philosophers believe time is completely an illusion.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"What we call <em>time</em> is a rich, stratified concept; it has many layers," Rovelli told <em><a href="https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.6.4.20190219a/full/" target="_blank">Physics Today</a>.</em> "Some of time's layers apply only at limited scales within limited domains. This does not make them illusions."</p>What <em>is</em> an illusion is the idea that time flows at an absolute rate. The river of time might be flowing forever forward, but it moves at different speeds, between people, and even within your own mind.
The world's 10 most affected countries are spending up to 59% of their GDP on the effects of violence.
- Conflict and violence cost the world more than $14 trillion a year.
- That's the equivalent of $5 a day for every person on the planet.
- Research shows that peace brings prosperity, lower inflation and more jobs.
- Just a 2% reduction in conflict would free up as much money as the global aid budget.
- Report urges governments to improve peacefulness, especially amid COVID-19.
The lush biodiversity of South America's rainforests is rooted in one of the most cataclysmic events that ever struck Earth.
- One especially mysterious thing about the asteroid impact, which killed the dinosaurs, is how it transformed Earth's tropical rainforests.
- A recent study analyzed ancient fossils collected in modern-day Colombia to determine how tropical rainforests changed after the bolide impact.
- The results highlight how nature is able to recover from cataclysmic events, though it may take millions of years.