Cities lead by example and go renewable
In the aftermath of the global climate Paris agreement, the focus now shifts to taking action to limit the impacts of climate change and stabilise global warming. Local authorities involved in the Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy, heralded by European Commissioner Arias Cañete as the “world’s biggest urban initiative,” are at the forefront of these efforts, as they are driving the shift towards renewables to secure a sustainable energy future.
In 2015, global investment in renewable energy broke new records and outpaced investment in fossil fuels by 2 to 1, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. At the same time, more and more cities worldwide are expressing their ambition to make their territories “100% renewable” by fully tapping into their local energy potential.
Many of these cities are signatories of the Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy, an avant-garde bottom-up initiative that brings together local and regional authorities voluntarily committed to implementing the EU climate and energy objectives on their territory. Covenant of Mayors signatories share a vision of decarbonised and resilient cities where citizens have access to secure, sustainable and affordable energy. They commit to reducing GHG emissions by at least 40% by 2030 through investments in renewables and energy efficiency, and shall adopt an integrated approach to tackle mitigation and adaptation to climate change. Over 6,600 cities, representing more than 200 million citizens, translate their political commitment into bold action through the development and implementation of local action plans with clearly defined, tangible measures.
Boosting local renewable energy is a key element of most actions plans of Covenant of Mayors signatories. In Kaunas, the second-largest city in Lithuania, a multitude of measures defined in the city’s local action plan aims at increasing local renewable energy production. By 2020, Kaunas plans to use biomass to cover all of its heating needs, and is therefore investing in the construction of several new biomass boilers. The city has also efficiently tapped into many other locally-available renewable energy sources, such as hydropower or biogas from wastewater treatment facilities. Kaunas’ strong will to decrease GHG emissions has put the city well on track to go “100% renewable.” In 2013, the Lithuanian city was already half-way through to this goal, thereby outpacing its own country, which should achieve this benchmark only in 2016. Covenant of Mayors cities often prove to be more ambitious than national governments, when it comes to fostering an energy system based on renewable energy sources (RES).
Another example is the Danish municipality of Frederikshavn, which signed the Covenant in 2012. Investing in local renewable electricity and heat production is a cornerstone of Frederikshavn’s local action plan and its “Master plan for Renewable Energy 2030,”where the municipality has laid out a precise framework and roadmap to go 100% renewable. Frederikshavn uses a variety of local renewable energy sources to pave the way for this societal transformation, such as solar heating, heat pumps, wave energy and wind turbines. Moreover, it creates synergies with nearby industries (such as the maritime industry anchored in Frederikshavn harbour, for which it will provide sustainable biofuel) and partnerships with renowned academic institutions like AalborgUniversity. The Danish municipality’s clear, concise and cross-cutting take to secure the energy future of its citizens has attracted significant private investment, and has subsequently enabled it to stay on track for its ambitious target: reducing GHG emissions by more than 50% compared to 2007 levels.
In territories where less RES are available, it is important to use a diversified approach to be able to go 100% renewable. The German financial metropolis and Covenant signatory Frankfurt-am-Main does exactly that, as it aims to go carbon free and fully renewable by 2050. Frankfurt’s strategy follows a threefold approach to achieve these goals: reducing energy consumption by 50%, and covering the remaining 50% by locally-produced RES for the first half, and by RES purchased from external suppliers for the other half. Frankfurt’s local RES are solar (photovoltaic and thermal), wind power, organic waste and highly-efficient cogeneration plants (combined heat and power).
The German city has also benefited from close collaboration with the Frankfurt/Rhine/Main region, the regional association and the federal state of Hessen, as all these stakeholders have helped Frankfurt develop and implement its ambitious vision for a sustainable energy future. The inspiring examples of the Covenant of Mayors cities of Kaunas, Frederikshavn and Frankfurt show that going renewable is a challenge that can be effectively tackled by cities of all sizes and resources. It demonstrates that the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy is key to offer citizens a high quality of life in sustainable, resilient and vibrant cities.
David Donnerer, Communications Officer, Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy