Inspiring Examples of Energy Efficiency in Cities Raising Ambition to Cut Emissions

urban-treeAt the UN climate change conference in Bonn, governments are looking at ways to increase ambition to tackle climate change before 2020, when the new Paris 2015 climate agreement is to enter into effect. One key focus of a Technical Expert Meeting  5 and 6 June will be opportunities to accelerate energy efficiency action in urban environments.

Cities account for 70 per cent of global energy use and for 40 to 50 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Urban areas are projected to grow rapidly over the coming years, so reducing the amount of energy consumed in cities is central to the fight against climate change. The sectors with the greatest potential to save energy are buildings, district energy, transport and lighting.

The reasons to make more efficient use of energy apart from fighting climate change are compelling. Millions of new jobs can be created when enough companies are involved in energy conservation. And saving energy has obvious cost benefits, so that the International Energy Agency (IEA) calls energy efficiency “the world’s first fuel”.

At the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit last year, countries, cities and corporations launched large-scale commitment to double the rate of global energy efficiency by 2030 through vehicle fuel efficiency, lighting, appliances, buildings and district energy.

Developed countries need to take the lead on energy efficiency. Yet efficient energy use is equally critical in developing countries where affordable and reliable energy is already in short supply and energy providers already struggle to meet the demands of growing economies.

Examples International Cooperation in the Lighting and Transport Sectors

There are many inspiring examples of how international cooperation can boost energy efficiency measures, also under the UNFCCC. For example, Indonesia’s current energy production - primarily from coal - is rising alongside its recent economic growth.

To increase energy efficiency, the country has proposed a Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action (NAMA) dubbed the Street Smart Lighting Initiative (SSLI) that aims to increase the efficiency of lighting by substituting conventional street lighting with more efficient technologies in cities and urban areas. UNFCCC chief Christiana Figueres visited a similar project in the Philippines earlier this year.

International cooperation is also key to reducing energy consumption in the transport sector. Low-carbon transport systems such as rapid bus systems can reduce pollution above all in urban areas. For example, transportation accounts for approximately half of the energy consumption and 31% of global CO2 emissions in Mexico. As part of a bilateral collaboration between the governments of Mexico and Germany, a new nationally appropriate mitigation action (NAMA) was recently submitted to the UNFCCC’s NAMA registry to enable “Eco-driving” courses for truck drivers. Other great examples are NAMAs that support energy efficient transport initiatives in Colombia and Ethiopia.

Buildings and District Energy Central to Urban Climate Action

According to the IEA, buildings alone are the largest energy consuming sector in the world, and account for over one-third of total final energy consumption and an equally important source of carbon dioxide emissions.

Over the next two decades an area roughly equal to 60 percent of the world’s total building stock is projected to be built and rebuilt in urban areas, most of them in developing countries. Widespread implementation of best practices and technologies could see energy use in buildings stabilize or even fall by 2050.

In light of this, the International Union of Architects (UIA) has made a significant move by pledging to phase out carbon emissions by buildings by the middle of the century.

Insulating old buildings is another obvious way to reduce energy consumption. A briefing by the European Climate Foundation, Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI) and the University of Cambridge found that good insulation can reduce heating bills by as much as 90%, at the cost of as little as 100 US dollars per square metre.

Intelligent heating and cooling systems which apply to entire cities are also crucial for urban energy efficiency. A recent report by the UN Environmental Programme shows that transition to modern district energy systems could contribute to 60 per cent of required energy sector emissions reductions by 2050, and reduce primary energy consumption by up to 50 per cent.

There are many examples of how district energy systems can help save energy and money. The city of St Paul, Minnesota, USA, uses district energy fuelled by municipal wood waste to displace 275,000 tons of coal annually and to keep US$12 million in energy expenses circulating in the local economy.

Another good example is Paris, the host city of the UN climate change conference in December. Paris has developed Europe’s first and largest district cooling network, part of which uses the Seine River for cooling.

One Can Only Manage what One Can Measure

At the end of the day, one can only manage what one can measure. Energy efficiency efforts of cities are captured by organizations such as ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability andC40 Network of major cities, which both demonstrate that both the scope and pace of local climate action is accelerating.

A top source of information of efforts of cities to be energy efficient is the UN’s newly updated NAZCA Portal, designed to catalyze public and private sector action on climate change before and after 2020, when the Paris universal climate agreement will take effect.

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