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100 percent renewable energy is an imperative

Berlin, Germany voted to divest its €750 million public pension from oil, coal and gas companies, while Stockholm, Sweden, Sydney, Australia and San Francisco, California have joined a growing number of cities making similar commitments.

Meanwhile, cities are also exploring ways to meet their energy needs entirely with renewable sources. Vancouver, Canada aims to hit its 100 percent renewable energy target by 2050. Aspen, United States is already fully powered by renewables. Tshwane, South Africa aims to reach 50 percent by 2030, while exploring possible pathways towards 100.

These steps are ambitious and deserve to be lauded. They are also necessary actions that should be widely replicated in cities, which are responsible for 70 percent of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.

Moving away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy is essential if we are to keep the global temperature rise well below two degrees Celsius, as targeted in the Paris Climate Agreement. In fact, by some projections, the reserves in currently active oil and gas fields would take the world beyond a 1.5-degree rise, even without tapping into coal.

Renewable energy is also an important part of the New Urban Agenda, which nations are preparing to adopt this week, thereby setting the course for sustainable urbanization in the coming decades. Through this new global framework, nations recognize renewable energy as part of socially inclusive, prosperous, environmentally sustainable and resilient urban development.

Yet as far as the New Urban Agenda is concerned, nations need to go further and outline concrete steps to support sustainable urbanization, including the deployment of renewable energy in cities.

Local leaders are already taking action and committing to ambitious targets such as those outlined above. Delivering on these commitments requires many subsequent steps to assess, plan and finance. Today, at Habitat III side event hosted by ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, local leaders presented the specific actions they are taking to support their goals:

  • Vancouver, Canada: The City of Vancouver aims to derive 100 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2050 and has reached 31 percent renewable energy already. By 2030, all new buildings will have zero emissions, the city is moving towards biofuel or electrically fueled transportation and landfill gas capture.
  • Barcelona, Spain: Barcelona is committed to energy sovereignty. As part of this transition, the city is investing €8.4 million to ensure all citizens have access to energy, €36 million for rewneable energy, €76 million on energy efficiency and €10 million on communications, capacity building and citizen participation.
  • Thimphu, Bhutan: The City of Thimphu is growing in population, and consequently in energy demand. The city is responding with various measures to improve energy efficiency, which includes replacing thousands of street lamps with LED lighting. This will save 2 to 3 million units of electricity each year.
  • Boulder, United States: Most greenhouse emissions in Boulder come from electricity, which are difficult to reduce, since coal and natural gas are the predominant sources of energy available in the area. The city is working hard to create a municipally-owned utility, which a legally and financially difficult process. However, if the city succeeds, it can procure at least 50 percent of electric power from renewables.

These cities are each Members of ICLEI, which advocates ambitious targeting-setting at the local level and has established the 100% Renewable Energy Cities & Regions Network to engage cities, towns and regions in peer-to-peer learning on their ways towards renewable energy.

By participating in this event, these leaders sent a strong signal about the existing momentum and potential for renewable energy to help transform cities across the world and support global goals. Now nations and all levels of government must come together to ensure the proper systems are in place to make renewable energy aspirations a reality.