Cities leading the way in decarbonisation fight

A quarter of the urban population live in a city that has either a renewable energy target or renewables policy, or both, according to a report.

On 18 March, REN21 published its Renewables in Cities 2021 Global Status Report, revealing that 2020 saw more than 260 cities set a renewable energy target or pass a policy. By the end of last year, 834 cities had renewable energy targets in place, with at least 699 having renewable energy policies, while it also recorded a continued push away from fossil fuels. It found over 10,500 cities have targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions, with 796 having committed to net zero emissions – this represents an eight-fold increase from 2019. 

Cities account for over half (55%) of the global population and 75% of CO2 emissions from global final energy use, meaning they have a key to the decarbonisation fight. They have an important role to play in decarbonising the heating and cooling sectors in particular, which have a low share of renewables, 10% and 3% respectively, despite accounting for over 80% of global final energy demand.

While the majority (75%) of city-level policies and investments are focused on the power sector, they are targeting the heating, cooling and transport sectors. It found around 800 municipal governments have regulatory policies, fiscal and financial incentives and indirect support policies to enable uptake of renewables in buildings and transport city-wide by the end of 2020. For buildings, it found a rise in codes and mandates for new buildings requiring renewable energy use for electricity or heating, with financial and fiscal incentives being used to enable similar in existing buildings.

In transport, meanwhile, policies to support electrification – particularly public procurement and financial subsidies – were found to have expanded beyond buses to support electric taxis, scooters and individual vehicles. Cities could still do more, however, to increase the share of renewables in transport by explicitly linking electric vehicles to renewable electricity for charging, it added.

While finding cities are ready and willing to tackle the decarbonisation challenge, obstacles remain, such as limited regulatory and financial powers at city-level. This includes a lack of in-house funds and access to external funds to support local renewable energy generation projects. It stressed urban energy and climate strategies have to be anchored regionally and nationally, ensuring policy coherence and support between national and sub-national frameworks. National governments should also look to provide cities with support “well beyond” creating better financial conditions to increase the level of ambition and progress in meeting climate and energy targets.