UK cities leading the way on net-zero and renewable energy, report finds

Almost three-quarters (73%) of the UK's urban population live in towns and cities with net-zero targets and/or strong local policies on renewable energy, compared to a global average of just 25%.

Pictured: Oxford, UK

Pictured: Oxford, UK

That is according to the 2021 edition of the ‘Renewables in Cities Global Status Report’, published today (18 April) by REN21.

The report takes a global look at the cities with targets to completely phase-out fossil fuels, to reach net-zero emissions, and/or to align emissions with net-zero by 2050 at the latest. It covers cities across the US, the UK, Canada, China, Japan, South Korea and mainland Europe.

All in all, the report charts a steep uptick in these kinds of pledges globally. Fossil fuel end-dates experienced a fivefold jump in 2020, the document reveals, with many authorities pushed to act by the slump in demand caused by Covid-19. Nonetheless, just 25% of the world’s urban population live in places with a fossil fuel phase-out policy and renewable energy targets or policies.

“For the UK, there is lots of good news,” REN21 states. 73% of the UK’s urban population live in cities with renewable energy targets or policies, as 106 cities have such ambitions. This number of cities is greater than several far larger countries including China (25), Canada (16) and Spain (72).

Additionally, 493 UK cities had made climate emergency declarations, accounting for more than one-quarter of the global total. 45 of these cities have built on these declarations with net-zero targets that are more ambitious than the national deadline.

REN21 said that while there are many “inspiring examples”, many cities will need further incentives and support to take a leadership stance on climate action.

“There is huge untapped potential,” the UN Environment Programme’s head of cities, Martina Otto, said. “We can both increase the level of ambition and progress in meeting national climate commitments if national and regional governments around the world provide cities with support well beyond the creation of better financial conditions. Getting over territorial boundaries to empower cities means unleashing the power of our strongest allies.”

Green light for Oxford’s Zero Emission Zone

One of the UK cities with a climate emergency declaration and net-zero target is Oxford. Oxford City Council announced this week that, following Covid-19 related delays, its Zero Emission Zone (ZEZ) will launch in pilot form this August.

The ZEZ is described as the first of its kind in the UK and, during the pilot phase, will apply during daytime hours (7 am-7 pm) to key streets in the city centre. The level of charge will vary based on how polluting the vehicle is, with the maximum daily charge in 2021 set at £10. There will be exemptions for healthcare workers on formal duties and blue badge holders, as well as discounts for residents living on affected streets and taxi drivers using hybrid vehicles.

The trial will expand into a broader first phase – a “Red Zone” covering much of the City Centre, in 2022. A second phase, a broader “Green Zone”, will then be developed and implemented.

“Tackling air pollution and climate change is a huge priority for Oxfordshire County Council,” Oxfordshire County Council’s cabinet member for environment, Cllr Yvonne Constance, said.

“Not only will the ZEZ make a difference to the quality of life and health of people living and working in the city centre, but we are also showing that change is possible as we start to respond seriously with climate action. We can now look forward to a city that will be a healthier and cleaner place for all.”

The green light for the ZEZ pilot comes shortly after Oxford City Council approved local air pollution targets through to 2025 that are stricter than the national legal target. Similar action is expected in other cities in the near future, after the Court of Justice for the EU recently ruled that the UK Government has broken legal limits on air pollution for a decade. Defra is hoping to combat historically poor progress with new legally binding targets on air pollution, to be added to the Environment Bill, as well as increased funding for local authorities.

Sarah George



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