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"Achieving net zero is about everyone coming together. No one person, organization or technology can overcome the challenge when working in isolation."

Jorn Verbeeck, KPMG’s Net Zero Urban Program Lead, KPMG in Belgium tells us how Digital Twin technology is helping cities meet their net zero targets faster.

Meet Jorn Verbeeck, Net Zero Urban Program (NZUP) & Decarbonization Innovation Exchange Lead at KPMG’s Global Decarbonization Center. He talks about his work with clients using technology to help deliver clean, healthy, and resilient urban environments.

How does the Net Zero Urban Program help cities prepare for the challenges ahead?

Jorn Verbeeck: Supporting cities to achieve net zero environments requires massive speed and scale at a level which we as a society are not yet operating. In part this is because working with cities means we aren’t reacting to current conditions. KPMG professionals are helping to shape and prepare for a future (and future markets) which may not be clear yet.

It is also because cities are highly complex, which means KPMG professionals work across public and private sectors, politics, and administration, local, regional and international. In the private sector it goes from (energy) infrastructure, built environment, mobility & transport, utilities, and waste to water.

The Net Zero Urban Program aims to address these city challenges by working to bridge the gap between companies and governments, connecting innovative, ambitious technology solutions with capital.

How is the Net Zero Urban Program using Digital Twin technology to make a difference?

Jorn Verbeeck: Digital Twin technology, which KPMG firms offer in association with Augment City and United Cities, enables KPMG professionals to map the scope and impact of potential investment via 3D modelling — it is at the heart of the program and key to cities being able to achieve their goals, directly addressing issues of speed and scale.

Through this, investors and decision-makers can visualize challenges and urban digital solutions at a city scale while also mapping current and future values.

Not being able to visualize these challenges has been a real barrier to investment in the past. Now, this can be more easily achieved with the right data. This helps everyone involved — government, business, and investors — to make decisions in a more informed and timely way. We’re already seeing this in action, through the NZUP, with new infrastructure strategies being built across energy, water, and waste solutions.

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What’s unique about this approach to city transformation?

Jorn Verbeeck: Technology allows KPMG firms to create a consistent approach, which can then be customized to individual market or client needs. This balance is really important. It isn’t about replicating the same thing over and over. It’s about creating a consistent baseline which can be adapted to the local DNA and tailored to industrial ecosystems.

Without technology, it would not be possible to do this, or meet the ambitions of the target audiences, as quickly as we can. KPMG firms are aiming to reach 10,000 cities, scale up 100 technology solutions and raise US$25billion of capital by 2030.

Given the speed and scale that technology enables, I think it is fair to say that there may not be a net zero world in 2050 without it.

Reaching net zero is about more than technology transformation, right? Doesn’t it also need a trusted approach to meet an uncertain future?

Jorn Verbeeck: Achieving net zero is about everyone coming together. No one person, organization or technology can overcome the challenge when working in isolation. It’s: ‘everything, everywhere, all at once’.

This is also one of the reasons why KPMG created the NZUP. We have access to a global network of member firms and that means we can be “matchmakers” across policy, industry, NGOs, finance and more.

This ability to connect people and organizations across regions and cultures is key to building the trust needed for work like the NZUP. With future investments like this, there is always going to be an element of the unknown. That trust and human insight is an important bridge between the insights that technology brings, the capital, and the end solution.

True system change can only be made real if we allow old and new paradigms to safely collide. We need to take the perspectives of not only science, technology, engineering, and maths, but also that of social sciences to make sure the climate agenda builds on a planned and practiced approach.

Is this how KPMG can make a difference, in the approach to business and technology transformation… putting people first?

Jorn Verbeeck: Absolutely. People are critical to our ability to get comfortable and embrace uncertainty. In my work, Digital Twins helps to open the door to transformation, visualizing the potential and impact in new ways, but it is KPMG professionals’ expertise and experience that helps build the trust needed to be comfortable with some uncertainty.

KPMG firms have a true societal role to help stakeholders convene, connect and partner, and I believe that can only be achieved when you lead with the human element.

Jorn Verbeeck
Jorn Verbeeck

Do you see your role changing as new technologies mature?

Jorn Verbeeck: When talking about reaching net zero, we know what we need to do. We need speed and scale. But how we are going to do it? In today’s world, the Net Zero Urban Program aims to solve these challenges.

Innovation is so important and if we don’t continue moving forward, we won’t be able to achieve net zero. If I look at what is needed by 2030 or 2050, my answer today would be different to five or ten years ago. So, yes, I hope that my role changes.