IEA: Cities must lead the global decarbonisation process

With two-thirds of the growth in global final energy demand expected to come from urban areas in emerging and developing economies by 2050, a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) has called on cities to play a "leading role" in the global low-carbon transition.

The Energy Perspectives 2016 (ETP 2016) study demonstrates that deploying low-carbon options in cities represents the most cost-effective long-term approach to ensuring the global temperature increases to no more than the 2°C figure set at the Paris climate conference. ETP 2016 also details how electric vehicles (EVs) and public transport can lead a low-carbon mobility system while reducing investment needs by $20trn compared with current development trends in cities.

IEA executive director Fatih Birol said: “Cities today are home to about half the global population but represent almost two-thirds of global energy demand and 70% of carbon emissions from the energy sector, so they must play a leading role if COP21 commitments are to be achieved. 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.”

‘Litmus test’

The report predicts that between now and 2050, around 40% of the world’s building stock will be built in emerging and developing cities, which will also account for 85% of the increase in urban passenger travel globally. The report warns that these cities’ energy-related CO2 emissions will double from an increased demand for energy unless there is a change in current policies.

The study continues by stating that new urban buildings must provide useful space to self-generate electricity consumed to avoid the carbon-intensive infrastructure found in developed countries. Energy-efficient windows and appliances and rooftop solar are suggested as some of the efficient technologies that could be rolled-out to meet a significant percentage of cities’ electricity demand.

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.”

Low-carbon cities

In the wake of the historic Paris Agreement that brought together more than 170 countries, a number of cities have renewable energy targets in place and 146 countries have supported policies.

A report earlier this week from multi-stakeholder network REN21 revealed that the list of cities around the world that have committed to achieving a 100% renewable electricity or energy (across all sectors) system is growing rapidly.

In March, a new $1.15bn global platform aimed at boosting investment and implementing sustainable practices across an array of developing cities around the world was launched, after receiving financial backing from the World Bank and Global Environment Facility (GEF).

In a recent blog post for edie, Carbon Trust associate director for programmes Joseph Williams said that to have any hope of meaningful action on climate change will depend on low-carbon cities.

George Ogleby

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