FORESIGHT Climate & Energy 13


Let cities join up the dots of the energy transition

The global battle to combat covid-19 shows what a coordinated joint effort across agencies, layers of government and national borders can achieve. Collaboration, whether it is to create life-saving vaccines or trial a zero-carbon community in Antarctica (page 16), can leverage gains more effectively than any individual entity can do on its own. Collaboration, not competition, is the route to net-zero.

In London, 4250 people die prematurely each year from breathing bad air. One in four Londoners has considered moving out of the city because of the poor air quality and noise. Yet on current trends by 2050 more than 70% of the world’s population will live in cities, up from the 50% today already responsible for 80% of global GDP, two-thirds of global energy use and more than 70% of annual global carbon emissions.

While it is national governments that take the strategic decisions essential to direct businesses and citizens on the pathway to net-zero, most implementation takes place locally. Even so, cities tend to be seen as playing only a B-role in the energy transition. Yet it is local governments and municipal administrations that best understand citizens’ needs and wants and know how to use the available resources.

The electrification of public transport is one example of multilevel coordination between governments and the private sector. The shift to all-electric buses (page 42) is not simply about buying new vehicles. Charging hubs are needed—established in close cooperation with the grid system operator—which serve both private cars and public transport at a single location selected for user convenience.

It is the kind of joined-up thinking so often missing in the energy transition. Take the case of Austria and Ireland, countries with lots of renewables electricity in their grids but which have failed to take advantage of it in their bus fleets (chart page 45). Uncoordinated implementation of strategies are seriously hindering rapid decarbonisation.

Ultimately, our in-depth look at the electrification of cities shows the energy transition can be accelerated through a critical mass of well-coordinated smaller changes made at a local level. A bottom-up approach to the sweeping overhaul of energy systems required may also carry less economic risk than a top-down implementation of uncoordinated policy—and it may make for a faster transition, too. •


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