It has been observed that Cities are critical actors in the energy transition.
Role of Cities in energy-system transitions
- In 2020, cities dumped a whopping 29 trillion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
- This carbon dioxide along with other greenhouse gases poses a serious health hazard. It also manifests as extreme weather events, leading to the loss of lives, livelihoods, assets, and social well-being.
- Therefore, given the significant impact that cities have on the environment, low-carbon cities are crucial to mitigate the effects of climate change.
- An energy-system transition could reduce urban carbon dioxide emissions by around 74%.
- The strategies to mitigate and adapt to low carbon varies based on a city’s characteristics.
- An established city can retrofit and repurpose its infrastructure to increase energy efficiency and promote public as well as active transport like bicycling and walking.
- In fact, walkable cities designed around people can significantly reduce energy demand, as can electrifying public transport and setting up renewable-based district cooling and heating networks.
- A rapidly growing city can try to colocate housing and jobs — by planning the city in a way that brings places of work closer to residential complexes, thus reducing transport energy demand.
- Such cities can also leapfrog to low-carbon technologies, including renewables.
- New and emerging cities have the most potential to reduce emissions — using energy-efficient services and infrastructure, and a people-centric urban design.
Challenges and Concerns
- Energy systems are directly and indirectly linked to livelihoods, local economic development, and the socio-economic well-being of people engaged in diverse sectors.
- So a one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to ensure a socially and environmentally just transition. For example, transitioning to renewable energy sources could disproportionately affect groups of people or communities in developing economies and sectors that depend on fossil fuels.
- Other concerns include land dispossession related to large-scale renewable energy projects, spatial concentration of poverty, the marginalisation of certain communities, gendered impacts, and the reliance on coal for livelihoods.
Developments and Initiatives in India
Suggestions and Way Ahead
- The transition must be implemented both on the demand and the supply side.
- Mitigation options on the supply side include phasing out fossil fuels and increasing the share of renewables in the energy mix, and using carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies.
- On the demand side, using the ‘avoid, shift, improve’ framework would entail reducing the demand for materials and energy, and substituting the demand for fossil fuels with renewables.
- In order to address residual emissions in the energy sector, we must implement carbon-dioxide removal (CDR) technologies.
- Ensuring a transition to low-carbon energy systems in cities at different stages of urbanisation, national contexts, and institutional capacities requires strategic and bespoke efforts.
- They must be directed at governance and planning, achieving behavioural shifts, promoting technology and innovation, and building institutional capacity.
- We must also adopt a comprehensive approach to address the root causes of energy and environmental injustices.
- This includes mitigation and adaptation responses that engage multiple stakeholders in energy governance and decision-making, promoting energy efficiency, scaling up climate investments, and capturing alternate knowledge streams (including indigenous and local lived experiences).
- There is a need for a Sector-coupling approach to decarbonise urban systems.
Mains Practice Question
[Q] Discuss the role of cities in managing environmental and energy transitions. How Cities Can Take Action to Drive the Energy Transition?