Cities must lead the way in cutting carbon emissions says IEA

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Green citiesWith urban areas accounting for up to two-thirds of the potential to reduce global carbon emissions, cities must take the lead in the transition to low-carbon energy, says the International Energy Agency (IEA) in its annual report. Offering long-term pathways that could limit the global temperature increase to no more than 2°C, in line with the goals set at the Paris climate conference (COP21) in December 2015, the report suggests that the most cost-effective approach involves deploying low-carbon options in cities, especially in emerging and developing economies. Because buildings provide useful space to self-generate the electricity they consume: by 2050, rooftop solar could technically meet one-third of electricity demand. Such buildings offer significant demand potential for the roll-out of the most efficient technologies, like energy-efficient windows and appliances. However, international collaboration is essential, claims the report.

“Cities today are home to about half the global population but represent almost two-thirds of global energy demand and 70 percent of carbon emissions from the energy sector, so they must play a leading role if COP21 commitments are to be achieved,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said at the launch of the report during the Clean Energy Ministerial in San Francisco.

“Because cities are centres of economic growth and innovation, they are ideal test-beds for new technologies – from more sustainable transport systems to smart grids – that will help lead the transition to a low-carbon energy sector.”

According to the report: Energy Technology Perspectives 2016 (ETP 2016), action will need to bring global stakeholders together; and looking forward, at least two-thirds of the growth in global final energy demand to 2050 will come from cities in emerging and developing economies. Between now and 2050, a large portion of new buildings –  equivalent to 40 percent of the world’s current building stock – will be built in cities in emerging and developing economies which will also account for 85 percent of the increase in urban passenger travel globally. Without change in current policies, that increased demand for energy services would double these cities’ energy-related CO2 emissions.

But many of the urban areas in these emerging economies are not yet fully built. ETP 2016 shows how they can avoid the carbon-intensive infrastructure typical of many cities in developed economies while still providing citizens access to modern energy services with the same level of comfort.

ETP 2016 also details how best electric vehicles and public transport can lead to a low-carbon mobility system while reducing investment needs by USD 20 trillion compared with current development trends in cities.

But while ETP 2016 shows that the COP21 goals are achievable, its Tracking Clean Energy Progress analysis reveals that progress deploying clean energy technologies worldwide is still falling worryingly short of what is needed. The IEA analysis reveals that there have been positive developments on some technologies: the total renewable energy capacity installed currently provides around 23 percent of global electricity generation, sustained by progress in solar PV and on-shore wind that pushed the growth of renewable energy capacity to a record high, exceeding 150 gigawatts in 2015.

Summarising the report’s findings, Dr. Birol concluded “COP21 could prove to be a historic turning point for radical action against climate change, and recent developments on some clean energy technologies are encouraging.

“However, overall progress is still too slow, and must be accelerated to avoid low fossil fuel prices becoming an obstacle to the low-carbon transition. Today’s energy market conditions will be a litmus test for governments to show how dedicated they are to turning their Paris commitments into concrete actions for a low-carbon future.”

Download Energy Technology Perspectives 2016.