The International Energy Agency has declared concrete action is needed to meet decarbonization ambitions, and that cities are at the heart of such efforts.
According to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) annual report, Energy Technology Perspective 2016, the IEA praised the momentum created at COP21 last December, describing 2015 as a possible “pivotal year for climate change mitigation.” The COP21 Paris Agreement sends a strong message that the world is looking to mitigate global warming and peak global emissions as soon as possible, but the IEA notes that “concrete action will need to match ambitions.”
“COP21 could prove to be a historic turning point for radical action against climate change, and recent developments on some clean energy technologies are encouraging,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol at the launch of the report during the Clean Energy Ministerial in San Francisco.
“However, overall progress is still too slow, and must be accelerated to avoid low fossil fuel prices becoming an obstacle to the low-carbon transition. Today’s energy market conditions will be a litmus test for governments to show how dedicated they are to turning their Paris commitments into concrete actions for a low-carbon future.”
The focal point of the new report, however, is the role that cities not only took in the lead-up to COP21 — with cities “among the front runners” of non-state actors who were included in the process for the first time, especially with regards to the Lima-Paris Action Agenda and support for the Paris Pledge for Action initiative — but in the role cities must take in the decarbonization effort moving forward.
“Cities today are home to about half the global population but represent almost two-thirds of global energy demand and 70% of carbon emissions from the energy sector, so they must play a leading role if COP21 commitments are to be achieved,” said Birol. “Because cities are centers of economic growth and innovation, they are ideal test-beds for new technologies – from more sustainable transport systems to smart grids – that will help lead the transition to a low-carbon energy sector.”
The energy and carbon footprint of urban areas is expected to continue to increase over the next three decades under increased urbanization and growing economic activity by urban citizens. By 2050, the IEA expects the urban population to grow to two-thirds of the global population, with the urban share of global GDP increasing to 85%.
Given these figures, it is unsurprising that the IEA is targeting cities as being the heart of the sustainable energy transition.
The report provides a possible solution through its 2 Degree Scenario (2DS), which with the right support for low-carbon technologies, will see primary energy demand decrease by 30% and carbon emissions in the energy system fall by 70% by 2050. According to the IEA, its 2DS scenario “provides a vision for meeting demand for end-use energy services in cities while at the same time significantly reducing primary energy use and its environmental impacts.”
For cities specifically, the scenario encourages accelerating the deployment of clean energy technologies in urban environments, as well as supporting the development of behavioral changes in its residents, as two primary methods to help decouple growth in urban primary energy use and carbon emissions from GDP and population growth.
With this in mind, the 2DS scenario has urban primary energy demand globally limited to 430 EJ by 2050, or 65% of total primary energy demand, representing less than a 20% increase from 2013 — despite urban populations expected to increase by 67% and GDP by 230% over the same period.
However, though the scenarios presented in the report are all relatively easily achievable, the report’s Tracking Clean Energy Progress analysis shows a different story, with current progress in deploying clean energy technology worldwide “falling worryingly short of what is needed.” While there have been some positive developments — total renewable energy capacity currently provides around 23% of global electricity generation — much more is needed if all participating entities are to collectively keep global warming to under 2°.
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