Cities are making a difference in the transition to renewable energy

With the Paris Agreement, world leaders have mandated net zero greenhouse gas emissions to be reached in the second half of this century.  This requires an unprecedented transformation and full de-carbonization of the energy systems within the next few decades. Cities are contributing to the transition to a renewable, safe, resilient and sustainable energy future in a very tangible way as demonstrated by the commitments, actions, and performance reported in the carbonn® Climate Registry global platform.

The challenge

Considering the aggregated Intended National Contributions (INDC) commitments, GHG emission levels are expected to be higher than what is needed to be consistent with the 1.5-degree global warming scenario (UNFCCC, May 2016).

The carbon intensity of electricity generation decreased only by 3.5% in 20 years (1990-2010) as energy efficiency and renewable energy positive impacts have been largely offset by higher coal consumption in developing countries (IRENA). Global electricity demand is projected to increase by 60% by 2030 (IEA), and this without including the highly fossil-fuel-dependent transport sector.

Additionally, energy infrastructure has a long life-time and investments made today will have an impact for 20 to50 or more years into the future. It is therefore crucial that energy supply decisions made today do not lock-in emissions for many decades to come – the transformation of the energy sector needs to start now.

Local commitments lead to decisive action

Local leaders are contributing to the transition to renewable energy by using their urban policy, planning and regulatory mandates, through ownership and control of municipal infrastructure, as consumers of renewable energy, as role models supporting demonstration projects, by empowering their communities to and as advocates and facilitators of finance. This is confirmed by the 222 targets and 1154 actions related to renewable energy reported in the carbonn® Climate Registry (cCR), ICLEI’s global platform for transparent and standardized reporting of local climate and energy data.

Out the 257 Actions for which budget information was reported, the main source of funding is the local government (65%), followed by sub-national government (14%) and public private partnerships (12%). International funding including development and assistances and climate mechanisms correspond to only 6%.

Most of the reported actions are of technical or infrastructure nature. The City of Växjö, Sweden, for instance reported the construction of a biomass cogeneration plant, with a budget of 187 million USD and an estimated annual production of 87,830 MWh of renewable electricity, which will allow the city to reduce heat greenhouse and gas (GHG) emissions reduction by 33,888 tCO2e per year.

Other actions types include regulatory, fiscal and financial measures such as the Renewable Energy Mitigation Program (REMP) implemented by the City of Aspen and Pitkin County, USA. The building code determines a mitigation fee which is charged to new buildings that consume additional energy enabling the REMP to raise over $12 million USD which are being distributed in the form of rebates and grants for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects.

Another 14% of the RE-related reported actions are dedicated to education, awareness raising, public participation and stakeholder engagement.

While only a small fraction of the reported actions include quantified impacts, the cumulative impact of those that do corresponds to 3,919 GWh per year renewable energy generation and 1,880,204 GWh per year of renewable energy consumption. These RE Actions correspond to 73.28 Mt CO2 emission savings and could theoretically amount to 83.09 Mt CO2 /year although in practice not all the reported actions for which GHG data is available overlap in time.

Monitoring performance and celebrating achievements

Of the cities that reported RE targets in the cCR, 72% are monitoring their energy performance, showing that they are taking their commitments seriously.

Some of these cities are already celebrating achievements today. For example, the City of Aspen achieved its “100% renewable electricity by 2015” target established over a decade ago. Investments in renewable energy have enabled the municipally owned electric utility to progressively replace fossil fuels. In August 2015, the City signed a contract with a wholesale electric energy provider to obtain the remaining renewable energy necessary. The electricity that the municipal utility supplies to the community is sourced from hydro (46%), wind (53%), and landfill gas (1%). The City of Växjö has made a long-term commitment to climate protection and sustainability since the 1990s. The City reported in the cCR having a community-wide 100% renewable energy by 2030 and reports on its performance with great detail. In 2015, the RE share in district heating was already above 96% thanks to the use of local biomass and geothermal.

Is the contribution from local governments to the energy transition additional to that of national governments?

To a large extent, yes. Of all the RE targets reported in the cCR, the vast majority is additional to targets from higher levels of government and only 16% correspond to a requirement from a higher level of government.

Nevertheless, local governments are bound by national frameworks and infrastructure systems. Cooperation across  different  levels of governance is essential to remove barriers such as fossil fuel subsidies and other market barriers. Local governments need the support from national governments to unlock financial resources, capacity building and technical support,  to contribute to data  availability and to create new  mandates  that  can accelerate  the  transition  to  a  sustainable  energy  future.

The cCR serves as an important advocacy tool for securing resources and establishing enabling frameworks for local and subnational climate action.

Act now!

If you represent a city, town or region with interest in exploring the feasibility of a 100% RE target for their territory or with an already approved 100% RE target, we encourage you to:


To learn more and participate in the Global 100% Renewable Energy Cities and Regions Network visit: or contact us at