National governments essential for cities to reach carbon neutrality

Meeting ambitious emission reduction goals in cities will require the close involvement of national governments, audiences heard this week at two conferences on urban sustainability as part of the Madrid climate summit.

Currently feasible low carbon measures have the potential to cut emissions in key urban sectors by 90% in 2050, said Nick Godfrey, director of the Coalition for Urban Transition (CUT), at a conference organised by ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability. 

One of ICLEI’s members, Turku, in Finland, aims to become carbon neutral by 2029 and climate positive with negative net emissions thereafter. Bonn, in Germany, has just set a 2035 date for carbon neutrality and 300 measures to achieve this are due to be approved by the city council this month, mayor Ashok Sridharan told the conference.

According to a recently-published CUT report, buildings account for 58% of cities’ total emissions reduction potential compared to 21% for transport. 

“The building sector is technologically easy to decarbonise and it is possible for any building to be energy positive,” Claudio del Pero, lecturer in architecture at the Politécnica de Milano, told a conference on Zero Carbon Cities organised by the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid. 

But the challenge is huge as “built space will increase globally by 5.5 billion m2/year up to 2050 and cooling demand is on the rise because of global warming”, he warned. The measures needed to bring about change include advanced building codes, mandated minimum energy performance,the promotion of low-cost solar technology, a reduction in red-tape preventing renewable take-up and improved training in the construction sector.

According to Cristina Gamboa, CEO of the World Green Building Council, “we need radical collaboration between all levels of government to get this done… national governments also need to provide guarantees to give investors confidence.”

Karsten Sach, director-general of the German federal environment ministry, told the ICLEI conference that “cities declaring the climate emergency has changed  the political agenda” but that “you need all levels of government federal, regional and local”. 

To this end the federal government has introduced a funding line for city climate projects “which now number five digits”. He explained: “You need a clever mix of instruments. Price alone is not enough because it puts too much stress on the poor. You need promotional legislation to help front-runners and tax on what you don’t want.” 

Follow-up: ICLEI homepage.