Transition to a low-carbon City


    In Context

    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%. 

    Different strategies

    • 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

    • As part of its net zero commitments, India is taking various measures to encourage energy transition for industries in the domestic market as well as at the global level
      • India has emphasised on the importance of carbon pricing in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and urged G-20 countries to explore options for implementing carbon pricing mechanisms.”
      • In India, the government launched Ujwal DISCOM Assurance Yojana (UDAY) which aims to improve the financial health of state power distribution companies by reducing their debt burden and improving their operational efficiency.
      • Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) was introduced in 2016 to provide clean cooking fuel to women in rural areas. 
        • The scheme provides free LPG connections to eligible households and has already benefitted more than eight crore households.
      • Initiatives such as Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid &) Electric Vehicles (FAME) India Scheme and Atal Jyoti Yojana promote the adoption of electric and hybrid vehicles and solar-powered lighting in rural areas, a move which reduces emission footprint.
      • The India-led International Solar Alliance (ISA) is a coalition of solar-rich countries aiming at promoting solar energy globally. 
    •  India’s global climate pledges — 50% non-fossil electricity generation capacity by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2070 — are backed by domestic energy targets at the national level. 

    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.

    Sector-coupling approach

    • Transitioning to low-carbon or even net-zero cities requires us to integrate mitigation and adaptation options in multiple sectors. 
    • This is called the ‘sector-coupling approach’, and it is necessary 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?