To fight CO2 emissions, cities stake out their own solutions

Increasingly, cities are tackling climate change with their own initiatives. While sometimes constrained by national policies, cities are also responsible for a disproportionate amount of carbon dioxide emissions, says a new report.

Lindsey Wasson/Reuters
Supervisor Mike Pagani works at the Vancouver Waste-To-Energy garbage facility, where garbage shipped from the Philippines will be processed, in Burnaby, British Columbia, June 17, 2019. Vancouver has introduced a raft of policies to reach 100% renewable energy by 2050.

The number of cities working to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy surged in 2020, representing a quarter of the world’s urban population, or 1 billion people, green energy policy network REN21 said on Thursday.

More than 1,300 cities had set targets or introduced policies to boost renewable energy by the end of 2020, while those enforcing complete or partial bans on fossil fuels like diesel and gas increased fivefold to 43, REN21 said in a report.

Cities account for 55% of the global population yet use around three-quarters of energy and are responsible for about 75% of carbon dioxide emissions, it noted.

As national governments prepare for the COP26 United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, in November, calls are growing for much steeper emissions cuts to meet global climate goals, including by municipal authorities.

“Cities have a major role to play when it comes to driving the energy transition in all sectors,” REN21’s executive director Rana Adib told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

She said the COVID-19 pandemic had piled further pressure on cities to reduce pollution and shift to using clean energy, as it placed residents’ health at the center of the public debate.

Actions taken by cities have included setting time-bound targets to raise the share of their energy produced from renewable sources, such as solar and wind power.

They have also introduced regulations and incentives to encourage the uptake of renewables in power, transport, heating, and cooling.

The report found most of these efforts were concentrated in North America and Europe, but there were examples of progress worldwide, with about 830 cities in 72 countries setting renewable energy targets for at least one sector.

But Ms. Adib said many cities are restricted by national policy.

For example, fossil fuels often get subsidies and other support from state and national governments, making it harder for cities to phase them out, she said.

“We do not have time to miss out on important players like cities, so it’s very clear that national governments need to more actively support [them],” Ms. Adib said.

Cities are increasingly proposing and passing partial or complete fossil-fuel bans for heating, cooling, and transport, with their number rising to more than 60 in 2020, including those that have yet to come into effect, the report said.

Thirty-five are in California, where several cities – starting with Berkeley in 2019 – have forbidden the use of natural gas in new residential buildings.

Allyson Browne, a renewable energy policy consultant in San Francisco who contributed to the REN21 report, said cities are encouraged by competition but also by others setting an example and proving something is politically feasible.

In the absence of climate action under the Trump administration, many United States cities and states took up the fight, but are now seeking federal subsidies and incentives, she added.

Despite progress, fixing targets for renewable energy is just the first step in a complex process, said George Benson, who works on green energy transition for the Vancouver Economic Commission.

“The number of cities that have declarations versus the number of cities that have substantive, costed, resourced, and researched plans – there’s a disparity,” he noted.

For its part, Vancouver has introduced a raft of policies to reach 100% renewable energy by 2050, including strict energy codes for buildings and a Climate Emergency Action Plan to step up emissions reductions.

“Many large global cities are eager to make a 100% renewable commitment, but [doing] the work is the hard part,” he said. 

This story was reported by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to To fight CO2 emissions, cities stake out their own solutions
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today