On our path towards zero emissions, we need inspiring people that show us the way. One of these inspiring people is Serge de Gheldere, founder of Futureproofed, a leading climate tech platform plus expert advice for companies and cities. He also is one of the initiators of the Belgian Climate Case. We had the pleasure of talking to him to get his take on the opportunities behind the current climate crisis.
“Change is what my life mission is about. I like transitions and the opportunities they bring. And let’s face it. We have to change the way we deal with our planet. After all, we are facing a possible climate catastrophe in our generation. The impacts we are facing are threefold: loss of all coastal zones, collapse of ecosystems (and their life-supporting services such as pollination and photosyntheis) and a food and water crisis. Many places on earth may become unsuitable for human life because of a combination of heat and humidity. Often, I am just really worried.
But worrying alone will not help us move forward. So, I prefer to point to the opportunities the current climate crisis offers since that is a far stronger motivator to take action. We have most pieces to solve the puzzle already in our hands. The real challenge is scaling and speeding up the roll out of these solutions, finding ways to fund the transition and motivating more people to take action.”
“Cities play a critical role in climate change. Urban areas cover 2% of the earth’s surface but are responsible for 70% of carbon emissions. The good news is that cities have the scale needed for meaningful change: addressing large communities, large scale energy renovations, renewables everywhere, clever new mobility strategies that give back cities to pedestrians and cyclists while making the city more attractive, etc.
With Futureproofed, we help cities make this transition. We started by calculating carbon footprints for cities. But the real challenge is not calculating carbon footprints, it’s knowing how to decrease them. We have to find out what actions contribute most, how do we change city mobility, and how do we manage to insulate 1000 houses every year.
Today, Futureproofed is a platform that enables cities to easily draw up a climate plan and turn that plan into action. Cross-departmental cooperation and community formation with other cities are crucial here. And last but not least: we help involve citizens in decision-making. This year we started a collaboration with WWF on their One Planet City Challenge. We now have 206 participating cities and communities building toward the city of the future. These cities represent 80 million inhabitants, and 215 million tons CO2/year. Twice the emissions of Belgium or 0,5% of worldwide emissions.”
“Have you been to Paris recently? It is astonishing what mayor Anne Hidalgo accomplished with a radical choice for cyclists and pedestrians, making Paris a cycling city that beats Copenhagen. Paris wants to become a 15-minute city - everyone living in a city should have access to essential urban services within a 15-minute walk or bike, making people less dependent on car traffic. That is what the future city will look like, with everything run by renewable energy, lots of trees to ease temperatures, green rooftops to store water, etc. It’s all adding to the quality of life and the village feeling in the big city.”
“Often I believe that we are near a series of tipping points. We have seen this in social issues like racism, voting rights, or the iron curtain. After decades of struggle, we reached a critical mass, and then suddenly, the Berlin wall fell. I hope this will happen in the fight against global warming as well.
Maybe it is already happening. More than 75% of all new cars sold in Norway are electric. 75%! At this pace, by the end of 2022, the sale of fossil fuel cars in Norway will be history, or at least a curiosity or nostalgia. Much like people deciding to ride a horse. Or look at what’s happening with solar and wind energy yields, they keep doubling every few years! Renewable energy will no longer be just an ideology since it will be the only choice that makes sense economically. You also initiated Klimaatzaak (Climate Case, the civil case against the Belgium government).
“If we want to be successful in fighting climate change, we have to address the issue at all levels. Local initiatives and individual behavioural change are important. But the problems have also been created by government and corporate policies over the last 150 years. They have to do better. We use the justice system to make sure this happens.
Again, let us see Klimaatzaak as an opportunity. Sixty thousand motivated citizens from Knokke to Arlon demand solutions for climate change. I hope politicians will not see that as a threat, but as a powerful endorsement for bolder political climate action. The energy transition is the biggest opportunity in our lifetimes and creates tons of co-benefits such as less crazy energy prices, attractive cities, local jobs creation, getting rid of our energy dependency of Russia and the Middle East. In Europe, we currently send 570 million euro’s/day to Russia to purchase fossil fuels. Now is the perfect time to once and for all get rid of fossil fuels.”
[without hesitation] “First Elon Musk. What he did with Tesla is just amazing. He envisioned the future of electric driving when few people took that - and him - seriously. No one thought he could beat the big car companies, but he did. He may have sped up the rise of electric cars by ten years.
And then Roger Cox, the Erin Brockovich of climate change. He is the Dutch lawyer who took on Shell ahead of everyone else. Initially being laughed at and dismissed as a hippie, he started winning his cases, and everything changed. The fact that he became one of the Time 100 Most Influential People was a big reward for someone who sacrificed a lot for the greater good.”
“There is plenty you can do and it is pretty simple: switch to a cooperative green electricity contract, change your diet for the better by signing up to a local, organic food delivery system (like Foodbag or Ecomenu) and choose the vegetarian option. It’s easy, tasty, healthy and takes away the worry of finding out about recipes and ingredients. , Find out where your money is invested in. Ask your bank or fund-manager to provide you with transparency about the carbon-intensity of your portfolio.
Most of all though, sign up for Klimaatzaak. We’re starting with the appeals case after summer and we need all the help we can get: Klimaatzaak.eu. I used to tell my students that it can be hard to be young in these times because you will have to deal with all the problems the older generations created. But on the other hand: what if, thirty years from now, you can say: we solved climate change!. You will be able to look back with pride, thankful to be part of a legendary generation. That’s worth a try, isn’t it?”