Future cities: Getting ahead of the curve

Rohit Talwar, Global Futurist and CEO of Fast Future, joined our panel of local government and academic experts to explore how businesses and cities could collaborate to map a green recovery and lay the foundation for future sustainability as they emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic. Here, Rohit shares insights and outlines scenarios of what might happen, with suggestions on how cities and companies can get ahead of the curve.


We are in the midst of a second lockdown, wondering when we will emerge into the ‘new normal’ and what the impact might be on our communities, businesses, and cities when confronted with future further tests of resilience. However, Covid-19 has taught us that we are more adaptable than we might have expected.

The adaptations that businesses and cities continue making over the coming weeks and months offer the chance to align with a vision of the future that we want. We must embrace this opportunity to reimagine our future, mapping an array of scenarios to strategise and plan effectively.

Amongst the considerations, our nation’s net zero 2050 target must be front and centre, and calls for a green recovery plan across the public and private sector are a welcome sign of the common ground on which our pathway to this target can be paved.

What is required is foresight to help both cities and businesses plot their journeys along this greener path and get ahead of the curve. 

1. Trialling nascent energy solutions

Depending on the scale of government intervention and private sector commitments, the next five to ten years could see the green energy sector reach a multi-trillion-dollar valuation, enabled by a massive scaling up of investment in radical new energy solutions. These range from solid state batteries, hydrogen, and biofuels to geothermal energy, solar roadways, and capturing the energy generated by the motion of humans and vehicles. These innovations should help deliver radical reductions in energy costs and CO2 emissions. Business and cities should monitor developments closely, keeping an open mind and trying new approaches, with rapid experimentation and trials of the new technology solutions.

2. Pioneering new funding models

We will need radical action and new solutions to help tackle both the cost pressures on businesses and the domestic fuel poverty challenges exacerbated by the pandemic. For example, by 2025, to help tackle cost pressures on businesses and domestic fuel poverty challenges, we will need to see the emergence of radically different payment models for the supply of business and domestic energy and its provision back to the grid and local communities by organisations. These could create new revenue streams for organisations investing now in on-site generation or energy storage systems such as vehicle-to-grid, positioning them well to take advantage of this opportunity. Cities need to consider how they can pioneer and integrate this technology at scale by bringing together local businesses and energy providers.

3. Driving into the future

An acceleration of dangerous climate change and wider environmental considerations is already prompting the UK government to accelerate the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles to 2030. Ending the sales of carbon fuel-based vehicles will naturally prompt the removal of such vehicles from our roads over the next 10-20 years. In the near future, businesses must consider the impacts on fleets and distribution infrastructure – possibly accelerating the transition to greener solutions. In parallel, cities will need to accelerate green transport planning and find funding solutions for the infrastructure required to make transition to electric vehicles more seamless over the next five to ten years.

4. Building back greener

Paralleling accelerated removal of carbon fuel-based vehicles, the same could happen with green construction targets. We could well see regulatory changes requiring all UK new build commercial, retail, and residential properties to meet net zero standards on emissions, energy use, and waste recycling by 2030. Existing properties would need to meet those standards by 2035-40. That means starting now to modify premises and operating practices and installing green technologies such as solar panels and heat pumps so businesses are not caught out by new legislation. An added advantage of these changes is that they could also deliver significant cost savings and contribute to ESG ambitions.

An unpredictable future offers opportunity

Predictions are only ever part of the story, but they are an essential, guiding analysis for anyone planning for the future. Acting as an initial sketch of the challenges and opportunities we can expect to see in the coming years, they should be used to develop multiple scenarios for advancement along the curve towards a greener, tech-driven path. As cities and businesses begin modelling their future, it is essential their strategies are built with our climate goals at heart.

Written by Rohit Talwar

Rohit's prime expertise lies in helping people to understand and shape the emerging future. He works with corporations, governments, investors, associations, business schools and NGOs to help them anticipate, prepare for and create the future.

He is the co-author of Designing Your Future, lead editor and a contributing author for The Future of Business, Beyond Genuine Stupidity—Ensuring AI Serves Humanity, The Future Reinvented—Reimagining Life, Society, and Business, A Very Human Future—Enriching Humanity in a Digitized World, editor of Technology vs. Humanity.