Global campaign aims to inspire British cities to choose 100% clean energy
Hope that example set by Munich, Seattle, Lima and others will prompt pledges to commit to zero emissions by 2050.
Environmental campaigners are hoping that 2015 will be the year when the UK's cities go green. Frankfurt, Copenhagen, Munich, Seattle, Sydney and Lima have all committed to switching to using 100% clean energy by 2050, and now grassroots campaigns calling on civic leaders to endorse the initiative have been launched in 123 towns and cities across the UK. It is hoped that as many as 20 will pledge their commitment before the end of this year.
One city expected to be at the vanguard of the scheme is Oxford, which has launched a "low-carbon hub" that aims to install solar panels on schools, put water turbines in its stretch of the Thames and develop solar farms.
Persuading cities to switch to clean energy is crucial in tackling climate change, according to research by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, the increasingly influential body that comprises former heads of government, former ministers, economists and business leaders.
The commission recently produced analysis suggesting that, by 2030, the world's 724 largest cities could reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by up to 1.4bn tonnes of carbon dioxide - greater than the annual emissions of Japan - purely by developing more efficient transport systems.
It also claimed that adopting low-carbon technologies, such as using energy-efficient building materials and switching to electric buses in 30 of the world's megacities, would create more than 2m jobs and avoid some 3bn tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions over the next 10 years. More than 100 countries backed the clean cities initiative at last year's climate talks in Lima. There is also considerable global public support for the idea.
The campaigning organisation Avaaz, described as the world's largest and most powerful online activist network, recently delivered a petition to the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, signed by 2.2 million people, calling on local, national and international leaders to shift to 100% clean energy. Avaaz hopes to persuade 100 cities around the world to join its campaign over the next 12 months.
"Last year people took to the streets to demand a shift to clean energy, and this year these same people will be making that goal a reality, one town at a time," said Bert Wander, senior campaigner at Avaaz. "Cities all over the world have already started announcing 100% clean-energy targets, and where cities lead, entire countries can follow."
Unlike other high-profile Avaaz campaigns, the green cities initiative is being run by Avaaz members at a local level. In the UK, more than 150,000 people have signed up.
Wander said support for the initiative was growing exponentially: "A renewables revolution is happening right now, and in just a few months it's gone from pipe dream to mainstream, with countries including Norway and Uruguay flicking the 'clean' switch, and cities such as Frankfurt, Seattle and Copenhagen doing the same. We hope that cities and towns across Britain will follow their lead this year."
Jon Crooks, who is helping organise the Manchester petition for Avaaz, said the time was right for cities to play their part in tackling climate change, in particular helping their countries cut emissions by 80% by 2050, a target set out in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in 2007.
"Governments aren't committing to this," Crooks said. "But if we can get cities to commit, then governments will have to respond. This is the right fit for Manchester right now. The city is to get an elected mayor and things that can be done to make a city 100% clean, like sustainable transport and housing, could become real electoral issues."