IEA Report: Integration of solar into cities key to reaching Paris climate goals

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According to the report, at least two-thirds of the growth in the global final energy demand by 2050 will come from cities in emerging and developing countries. Image: Intel Free Press / Flickr

A new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) sheds light on the role that cities must take in terms of transitioning to a low-carbon energy sector, as the piece notes that urban areas account for up to two-thirds of the potential to reduce global carbon emissions.

As part of the report, titled “Energy Technology Perspectives 2016” (ETP 2016), the IEA provides long-term technology plans that could limit the global temperature increase to no more than 2°C – which falls in line with the goals established at the Paris climate conference (COP21) in December 2015. The most cost-effective approach revolves around deploying low-carbon options in cities, especially in emerging and developing economies.

IEA executive director Fatih Birol noted: “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. Because cities are centres 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.”

According to the report, at least two-thirds of the growth in the global final energy demand by 2050 will come from cities in emerging and developing countries. Between now and 2050, a large portion of new buildings — equal to around 40% of the world’s current building stock – will be constructed in cities in emerging and developing economies which will also account for 85% of the increase in urban passenger travel globally. Without a change in current policy, the increased demand for energy services would double these cities’ energy-related CO2 emissions.

ETP 2016 notes than international collaboration will be crucial in terms of ensuring that growing cities will be developed with a clean-energy infrastructure. While these COP21 goals are achievable, ETP 2016 also states that progress in terms of deploying clean energy technologies worldwide is still falling short. Analysis adds that there have been some positive developments, as the total renewable energy capacity currently installed provides around 23% of global electricity generation.

Birol added: “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. 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.” 

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