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Jeremy Rifkin's keynote speech at MIPIM 2023. A vision for a sustainable future with the real estate

Rifkin gives keynote speech at MIPIM 2023

The atmosphere in the main auditorium of the Palais des Festivals in Cannes is nothing short of electric. The room is filled to the brim with people from all over the world, eagerly anticipating Jeremy Rifkin's keynote speech at #MIPIM2023. As I take in the grandeur of the auditorium, I can't help but think: some of the world's greatest movie stars have graced this stage and perhaps sat in this very seat.

The air is buzzing with excitement, Rifkin is introduced as an "exceptional speaker." The crowd is tightly packed together, chatting excitedly and eagerly awaiting the start of the talk. As the lights dim and the music fades, a hush falls over the room as Rifkin takes to the stage.

Rifkin is a renowned author, having written 23 best-selling books on topics including the environment, economy, workforce, and more. The energy in the room is palpable as he begins his address, which is focused on the main themes of this year's MIPIM: better places, better impact, stronger business.

He starts by urging the crowd to put away their mobile phones: he says he is used to teaching in a classroom with no mobiles. He then proceeds to explain that the real estate sector is the largest wealth asset in the world and is responsible for using 40% of all the energy on the planet and emitting almost 1/3 of the emissions in the world. He emphasises that we are in real-time climate change and that it is no longer a theory, but something that we see in our lives every day.

As he continues his speech, he describes the problem with burning fossil fuels, explaining that when they are burned, they trap the sun's heat back into the environment. He notes that as a result, we are seeing more concentrated precipitation in the cloud and more extreme and unpredictable water events, with winter floods and spring floods destroying ecosystems, killing people and animals, and causing widespread property destruction. He emphasises that we are currently experiencing the sixth extinction of the planet in real-time, with scientists predicting that around half of all species could perish in the lives of our grandchildren.

Despite this, he remains optimistic, stating that crisis creates opportunity. He explains that the current climate crisis is the greatest single crisis since humanity has inhabited this planet, but it is also the single greatest opportunity. He urges the audience to rethink everything and to look to history to understand how to move forward.

He then proceeds to discuss the eight economic shifts in history, explaining that they all share the same trigger: just four technologies are responsible for massive change. These four are, new methods of communication, energy, transport and channelling the hydrosphere (water). These four things are so transformational because changes to them creates an effectively new social organism – and society is that social organism. So called because society, much like a biological organism, requires the same four elements to survive. Rifkin uses the first and second industrial revolutions as examples and highlights how they changed real estate as urban dense populations became possible.

He explained that the British led the way into the first industrial revolution with the power of steam. Steam (energy transformation) brought an end to manual print presses (communication transformation) and paved the way for steam engines and introduced the railroads (transport transformation) and the first sewer and water systems (hydrosphere transformation) were installed across homes, buildings, and industry. These transformative shifts changed the real estate landscape by making urban dense populations possible. As a result, the shift from regional to national markets occurred and local powers were replaced by nation-states.

The second revolution, according to Rifkin, commenced with further advancements in communication. Cheap oil and the introduction of Henry Ford's car also played a significant role in this revolution that lasted until 2008. However, the economic earthquake of 2008, triggered by the collapse of the financial market, marked the end of this era. While it started with a small quirk, it quickly turned into a full-blown panic. The price of oil skyrocketed, due to its widespread reliance in various industries, from transportation to food packaging.

He then delves into what the building blocks of the third industrial revolution are, explaining that it will bring together the "industrial internet" with the "communications internet," with cheap, reliable and fast internet being the new, innovative mode of communication which will spark off this new industrial revolution. He notes that high-voltage power lines are already being built across continents and joined with the power of the internet, ready for power to be gathered in one area but sent around the world to specific areas where it is needed. He notes that we are already seeing this in action, with road, rail, water and perhaps even air all becoming part of this travel internet – using cheap, green electricity as fuel. There will also be a "water internet", again gathering up water wherever it rains and distributing it where it is needed.

These technologies, such as the energy and water internets are already being built in America and other places around the world.

To aid this, millions of sensors have already been placed across the planet to track environmental factors such as air and water temperature, and now soil too. The number of sensors in coming years will likely increase to billions rather than just millions.

The internet of things will bring us into a new era of real estate, where every building will become a node for communication, transportation, and power generation, and buildings will become storage facilities, powering fuel cells and batteries. Everyone will become part of the generation and collection of these resources and buildings will play a central role. Existing buildings will be retrofitted to adjust to the collection of these resources and new ones will be built this way by default.

We are currently experiencing a mass migration of climate refugees: figures show half the human race is already migrating. As a result, he believes that real estate must become ephemeral, and instead of thinking about it as something built in space, we should build "in time" and consider how long a building lasts and how adaptable it is to what it's supposed to be doing.

This keynote speech was a call to action, urging the real estate industry to embrace the next, internet led industrial revolution and move away from the fossil fuel complex. With his expertise and his vision for the future of real estate, Rifkin's keynote address was thought-provoking and inspiring. As the speech comes to a close, the audience is left with a sense of urgency but also hope.

The scale of the challenges we face is daunting, but the message is clear: crisis creates opportunity. Real estate, the largest wealth asset in the world, can play a key role in the transition to a sustainable future.

Every building can become a node for communication, transportation, and energy, and every building can be retrofitted or built anew to withstand the challenges of a changing climate.

But the transition to a sustainable future is not just about technology and infrastructure. It's also about a fundamental shift in mindset, a shift from domination over the world (which Rifkin calls hubris) to collaboration, from ownership to a "global commons." The younger generation, he notes, is leading the way in this shift, moving from growth to flourishing, from finance capital to green capital, from centralised economies of scale to distributed networks.

As I leave the main auditorium of the Palais des Festivals, I'm struck by the enormity of the challenges we face, but also by the sense of hope and possibility that the speech has instilled. The real estate sector has a crucial role to play in the transition to a sustainable future, and the attendees at MIPIM have the power to make that transition a reality. It's up to us to seize the opportunity before us and create a better, more sustainable world for generations to come.

Author :  Scott McClure, Director, Real Estate Services, Jersey


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