Africa: One Billion People Live in Cities Shifting Away From Fossil Fuels

Toronto — More than 1,300 cities have set targets or introduced policies to boost renewable energy, while a small but growing number are banning the use of climate-heating fuels

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 one 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 U.N. climate conference in Glasgow 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 centre 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 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),” 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.