World Cities Day Addressing Challenges Associated with Urbanization

By Panasonic Corporation

For the first time in history, more people now live in urban areas than in rural areas. According to UN DESA’s World Social Report 2020, over the next three decades, global population growth is expected to take place almost exclusively in the world’s cities and towns. The total number of people living in cities is expected to grow from approximately 4.4 billion today to 6.7 billion in 2050.

As the result of rapid urbanization, cities now face unprecedented demographic, environmental, economic, social and spatial challenges. Cities are valued as thriving centers of culture, innovation and development – but remain vulnerable to impacts from a range of challenges, shocks and stresses both natural and human made.

The United Nations General Assembly has designated October 31st as World Cities Day. Guided by the overarching theme of “Better City, Better Life”, the aim of World Cities Day is to promote the international community’s interest in global urbanization as a central issue for development. It is a day that reminds us that urbanization offers opportunities for a positive transformative change for sustainable development – and that better cities ultimately lead to better lives for their residents.

Panasonic’s brand slogan is “A Better Life, A Better World” – the similarity with the World Cities Day theme may be mere coincidence, but not Panasonic’s support for the framework formulated by the UN, which mirrors both our corporate principles as well as our commitment to help raise awareness of this important day.

Here are some of the ways that Panasonic is addressing these challenges around the world:

Urban Infrastructure
Realizing an urban infrastructure that accommodates the varied and specific needs of its resident communities requires engaging multiple stakeholder groups and relying on a simple yet effective system that can flexibly respond to change.

The main talking point at the first Cities Summit, held in Brazil in 2019, was a call for local action to promote an integrated approach to dealing with urban issues. During the Summit, an example of one such “neighborhood approach” was the collaborative effort by The Sustainable Cities Programme and UN Environment to address multiple environmental issues by bringing government and local residents together and including residents’ concerns in city planning.

Halfway across the world, Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town (FSST) has emerged as an example of an innovative approach to collaborative urban planning. Opened in 2014 on the site of a former Panasonic plant in Fujisawa City, Japan, FSST now supports approximately 2,000 residents. FSST has been drawing attention as a smart city where community development is being promoted as a concerted effort between a Panasonic-led consortium, residents and the government in an effort to ensure that the community remains sustainable for the next 100 years.

"All stakeholders benefit from a culture where every resident is proactively involved in community development. Town meetings and workshops are enthusiastic events where businesses and residents exchange opinions," says Kenichiro Yamamoto, one of several Panasonic's employees currently engaged in the inner workings of community development at FSST.

These examples underscore a salient truth: urban infrastructure cannot be built by a single government, company or resident. Collaborative stakeholder engagement is the bedrock of every sustainable city.

Energy & Decarbonization
The Paris Agreement in 2016 established the long-term goal of holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels while pursuing efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. The reduction or elimination of carbon dioxide from energy sources – or “decarbonization” – is key to achieving this goal. According to the World Economic Forum, full decarbonization of our energy systems is the only solution for achieving climate stabilization.

If you had to hazard a guess about which activity accounts for the vast majority of energy use in European Union households, would you have answered “heating”? It’s true: heating and hot water account for 79% of total final energy use by households (and 70.6% of energy consumption by industry). Cooling, on the other hand, is a fairly small share of total final energy use (although it tends to rise during the summer).

The bad news is that 75% of energy used for heating and cooling was still generated using fossil fuels in 2018, with only 19% generated using renewable energy (Source: Eurostat). To fulfil the EU’s climate and energy goals, the heating and cooling sector must sharply reduce its energy consumption and eliminate the use of fossil fuels. The good news is that we are getting better at improving the availability and efficiency of alternatives to carbon-based energy sources.

In fact, “decarbonization” is the core theme of Future Living® Berlin – the capital’s first smart city development. Located in Berlin-Adlershof, the development addresses changing demographics, the growing use of renewable energy, and new forms of mobility. An intelligent energy management solution controls the heating of households, making use of the highly energy-efficient AQUAREA heat pump that can run almost carbon-free when powered by renewable energy provided by 600 Panasonic HIT solar panels. The panels feature patented silicone technology that makes this photovoltaic system 10% more efficient than conventional modules.

Panasonic introduced its Environment Vision 2050 to promote activities that reduce energy consumption while encouraging the adoption of clean energy solutions, with the ultimate goal of increasing the number of cities and towns where residents rely on clean energy to live more comfortable lifestyles.

One way that Panasonic is achieving this vision is through its efforts to reduce CO2 emissions during the production process. Panasonic plans to set up Zero-CO2 factories – advanced facilities that can serve as a model for sustainable manufacturing – in all of its regions. As of October 2020, Zero-CO2 factories had already been launched in Japan, Belgium, Brazil and Costa Rica.

Our first factories in Brazil – located in São José, Manaus and Estrema and operated using 100 percent renewable energy and with CO2 credits used to offset fossil fuel emissions – are notable for being the first sustainable factories in Latin America.

Smart Transportation
An increase in global population in urban areas is accompanied by a wide range of challenges in mobility. The seminal Global Mobility Report 2017 – the first attempt to examine the transport sector’s contribution to a sustainable future – concluded that the world is not on track to achieving sustainable mobility, citing issues such as high fossil fuel use, a reluctance to embrace digitalization and an alarming number of road fatalities as barriers to be overcome.

If we look more closely at road fatalities, we can see that in the United States in 2019, an estimated 38,800 people lost their lives to vehicle accidents nationwide. On a state level, Utah alone reported 248 traffic deaths, with an estimated 94% of vehicle accidents attributed to human error. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration believes that connected vehicle technology could potentially address approximately 80 percent of the crash scenarios involving non-impaired drivers.

More than 105 million connected vehicles are expected to be on the road by 2022, producing in excess of 150 petabytes of data annually – data that can be used to prevent crashes and congestion, increase emergency services response times, and shorten commutes while reducing emissions.

Panasonic has been working with the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) to help the state achieve its goal of zero traffic deaths. UDOT and Cirrus by Panasonic are collaborating on a next-generation transportation data ecosystem that can share real-time, actionable information between vehicles and roadside infrastructure to increase the safety and efficiency of traffic flow.

Indoor Air Quality
Air pollution is widely acknowledged to be both a serious health concern for humans and threat to the natural environment. According to WHO, UN studies air pollution kills an estimated 7 million people every year – making it the biggest environmental health risk of our time. Air pollution comes from many sources: from cookstoves and kerosene lamps to coal-fired power plants, vehicle emissions, and industrial furnaces to wildfires, sand and dust storms. The problem is most acute in urban areas, particularly in Africa and Asia. 
According to WHO, household air pollution is one of the leading causes of disease and premature death in the developing world with exposure to indoor air pollutants can lead to a wide range of adverse health outcomes in both children and adults, from respiratory illnesses to cancer to eye problems.

Under the theme “Quality Air for Life”, Panasonic is raising awareness of the negative impact of haze and the importance of air quality in the home, focusing on Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Developed by Panasonic in 1997, nanoe™ technology has proven effective in removing or inhibiting bacteria, viruses, pollen, mold, and PM2.5. This technology has broad applications – from appliances such as air conditioners, air purifiers, washing machines, and refrigerators to enclosed spaces that require a high degree of safety and comfort, including automobiles, trains, hotels, and elevators.

“By providing safe, clean, comfortable and healthy air, we want to provide spaces that promote human well-being and contribute to improvements in global public health,” says Masahiro Shinada, CEO of Appliances Company, Panasonic Corporation.

Human Infrastructure
The heightened focus on urbanization should not prevent us from grasping and responding to challenges that continue to impact residents of rural areas. An estimated 1.1 billion people live without electricity in emerging and developing countries – a situation that limits their access to opportunities in education, medicine, and (especially for women) economic independence.

In 2013, Panasonic joined non-profit, non-governmental and other international organizations to launch the 100 Thousand Solar Lanterns Project, which endeavors to deliver solar lanterns to rural communities worldwide. Over a period of five years, a total of 102,716 solar lanterns were donated to communities in 30 countries with the help of 131 non-profit and other organizations.

More than 1,500 solar lanterns were donated to three nonprofit organizations working in the three countries of the Republic of South Africa, Kingdom of Swaziland, and Kingdom of Lesotho, including the Nelson Mandela Foundation in South Africa.

Approximately 600 million people in African countries do not have access to electricity. Although many households in these areas use kerosene lamps for lighting, its smoke poses a health hazard and exposes people to the risk of fire.

By utilizing solar lanterns, children will be able to learn safely and women's groups can engage in activities that create income at night in the community, which will help them improve their lives and help a sustainable society. Moreover, this reduces the economic burden of fuel purchase costs.

Looking the Future
Panasonic is committed to creating a better life and a better world, continuously contributing to the evolution of society and to the happiness of people around the globe.

World Cities Day seeks to promote global interest in urbanization and engender international cooperation to address the challenges of urbanization, thereby contributing to sustainable urban development.

In alignment with the goal of World Cities Day, and as an expression of our corporate principles, Panasonic will continue to help solve social issues and contribute to further development in order to bring about a bright new future.