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09/12/2020

The energy transition: Are cities doing enough?

The most pioneering green cities show that we need to be even more ambitous with our climate targets if we're to make a serious imapct on global warming, says Karishma Asaporta

Even before the Paris agreement in 2016, many cities had declared ambitious targets for becoming carbon-neutral and transitioning to renewable energy.

Increased pressure to reduce GHG emissions and push for renewables has prompted even more local governments to draft low-carbon strategies and declare climate emergencies. Although a policy direction that we need to accelerate, these efforts are not as holistic and integrated as they could be. They need to question the status quo on how to bring about behavioural change more than they do.

Take transport:. most local governments are switching to electric vehicles, using biofuels, and applying transport demand management strategies. Although effective and easier to implement than long-term solutions, they do not address the underlying issue – a need to reduce private vehicles running on polluting fuels with few passengers.

Behavioural change to reduce commuting is rarely addressed at the scale it needs to be. Policies to increase efficiency of land use by bringing jobs and services closer to homes, encouraging mixed development or creating pedestrian and cyclist-friendly neighbourhoods rarely receive the attention they deserve. Such spatial planning strategies usually take years to implement. However, this ability to deliver an integrated approach by addressing land use, the distribution of infrastructure, efficient technologies and encouraging behaviour change is what is needed to successfully deliver the energy transition.

"If a pioneer like Vancouver is yet to realise its short-term goals, how can we expect other cities to get there?"

Vancouver was one of the first cities to adopt an integrated policy approach to reduce GHG emissions with its ‘Greenest City Plan’. It has addressed emissions reductions strategy in its building development plan and street design approach, as well as deploying renewables and upgrading infrastructure.

One inter-mediate goal was to reduce GHG emissions by 33 per cent by 2020. Yet in 2018, Vancouver had only cut emissions by 12 per cent and was criticised for not being on track [bit.ly/planner1220-vancouver].

If a pioneer like Vancouver is yet to realise its short-term goals, how can we expect other cities to get there? As cities draw nearer to their goals, they need to be even more critical of the steps they are taking to get there. If the spatial development agenda is still not considered as a valuable tool, let alone be the go-to approach cities are adopting, it will take even longer to impact trends to tilt the scales in a significant manner.

Karishma Asarpota is junior officer, climate and energy action at ICLEI World Secretariat

Image credit | iStock

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