Navigant Research Blog

Australia Picks Up the Smart City Challenge

Eric Woods — October 26, 2015

Recent U.S. government support for smart cities research and the announcement of the selected cities for the Indian smart city program are just two signs of the continuing momentum behind urban innovation across the globe. Such developments only increase the pressure on other national governments and city leaders to clarify their own programs and ambitions around urban development. Australia is a good example of how that pressure is hard to avoid.

Despite being one of the most urbanized countries in the world, with around 90% of the population living in urban areas, Australian cities have played a relatively subdued role in the development of smart city ideas. However, there have been a few high spots. The Smart Grid, Smart City project in Newcastle is one notable smart grid pilot attracting global attention, but despite positive results, the follow-up has been limited. Sydney and Melbourne have also been leaders in promoting building energy reporting and energy efficiency, and a number of cities also have sustainability goals, such as the Sustainable Sydney 2030 program. However, there has been little in the way of a significant focus on the issues of urban innovation and sustainability. A recent report from the Australian Council of Learned Academies, for example, highlights the need for Australian cities to put much greater emphasis on clean and efficient mobility solutions if they are to sustain their growth and citizen expectations.

Waking Up to the Challenges

That report is among a number of signs that Australian cities and the Australian federal government are waking up to the challenges presented by globalization and climate change, as well as the opportunities offered by new forms of urban innovation. Adelaide, for example, has launched a number of initiatives including the creation of an Internet of Things (IoT) hub in association with Cisco. Melbourne has recently created a new post of Chief Digital Officer to lead its Smart City Office and has also presented its plans to become a smart city to a committee of the Australian parliament. The federal government is also taking cities more seriously. The new prime minister appointed the first Minister for Cities and the Built Environment in September, reversing the lack of focus on urban development issues shown by the current government so far.

Despite the environmental goals set by some Australian cities, the country’s record on emissions reductions remains poor compared to other developed economies.  Australia has one of the worst records for per capita climate emissions, on a par with the United States. However, whereas the United States has been making reductions in recent years, Australia has done little to mitigate its emissions. The rejection of a number of clean and efficient energy programs by the previous prime minister has not improved the situation. Australian cities have the opportunity to pick up the baton and show there is a better way forward.

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