Following the release of our recent paper, Beyond Carbon: A holistic approach to net zero cities, we caught up with lead author, Daniel Render, to find out about why it was so important for him to write the paper and his vision for a more sustainable world.
First, congratulations on the paper!
Obviously net zero is a huge topic right now. What is the single most important message people should take away from the paper?
In the drive to decarbonize our society, we can’t forget about the other priorities and challenges facing our cites. If we apply a holistic approach, we can decarbonize and at the same time make our cities more liveable, equitable and resilient. We can thrive – not just survive.
What made you want to tackle the topic in this paper?
I’ve always had a focus on social, economic, and environmental sustainability starting with my architectural education. As my career progressed, the scale and scope of the challenges and opportunities just continued to grow – from single buildings to large scale projects, to mega-developments, to city scale plans, to global events. Because of the current climate challenge, we’re seeing growing investment in decarbonization and net zero initiatives, but decarbonization is just one of many challenges we face. I wanted to explore the idea of decarbonization as a way to enhance the quality of life, equity and resilience in cities – to find a way to deliver co-benefits and decarbonize at a neighbourhood, district and city scale.
What do you think is the single biggest barrier to cities meeting their decarbonization and net zero ambitions?
We identified four key challenges in the paper, but the one that I think is the biggest barrier to decarbonizing at a city scale is the siloed approach that leads to a mix of high performing stakeholders at one end of the spectrum and stakeholders at the other end that don’t have the resources or capacity to do much at all to reduce their carbon emissions. If we can facilitate a more collaborative approach, then there are great “win-win-win” opportunities that can benefit multiple stakeholders, reduce carbon emissions and address many chronic challenges in cities.
Have you always worked in the sustainability space?
No and Yes, I'm a registered architect and spent the first half of my career in traditional architectural practice, but I always considered sustainability as a priority in my design process. I joined the program management team at Jacobs (then CH2M) in 2009 to work on some of our major programs in design and sustainability roles.
The first program I ever worked on with Jacobs was Masdar City – a greenfield mixed-use development with a strong sustainability focus in the United Arab Emirates. I was the lead architect on the program management team and worked with the design team to ensure that the client’s vision and sustainability requirements were achieved through the design and construction phases. Since then, I’ve worked on the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ Program in Qatar and the Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan. I am currently in my fifth year working as Director of Sustainability & Innovation on The Expo 2020 Dubai Programme.
Tell us more about your role Expo.
I started at Expo in 2016. It has been such an amazing and challenging experience. My role was initially focused on sustainability and innovation management in the delivery of the infrastructure and buildings at the Expo site, but it evolved over time to encompass a wide range of sustainability initiatives including carbon management, event time content and programming, as well as special projects and initiatives. I was so happy and proud to see it open in October after a year-long delay due to COVID-19. I think the experience of walking around the site with my family and seeing others embrace and enjoy something that I contributed to will stay with me forever!
Wow, that sounds like a full plate. How did you find time to write a paper too?
Well, luckily, I like taking on new challenges and variety is one of the things I love most about my role. Every day is different, and if I have the opportunity to make a positive impact, then I will try to make the time to do it.
When you aren’t working, what would we most likely find you doing?
I’d probably be hanging out with my family watching movies or binge watching the latest TV series! I try and do yoga three to four times a week if I have time and I love photography – it is my creative outlet – but mostly when travelling, which I haven’t had the chance to do a lot of recently!
In the paper, you’re hoping to inspire others to take a different approach to decarbonizing cities. Who or what inspires you?
I’m inspired by acts of kindness and generosity, and people who work hard to overcome challenges in their life.
What do you enjoy most about being part of the #OurJacobs family?
I believe in the work that Jacobs is doing to address our most urgent challenges and make a positive impact. I’m proud to be part of that effort.
Daniel at COP27
Daniel spoke about smart and resilient cities at the World Climate Foundation's World Climate Summit which took place on November 13-14 during COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh.
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