Upgrade cities for a greener tomorrow

Making cities energy efficient should be the top priority of governments in all developing countries as it will not only save energy and cut Greenhouse Gas emissions but also improve financial health of Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) by cutting down expenditure on their energy bills that burn big holes in the pockets of cash-strapped municipal bodies for a greener tomorrow

More than 50 percent of global population lives in cities which cover only 2 percent of earth’s surface. They consume over two- thirds of the world’s energy and generate 70 per cent of carbon emissions, 50 per cent of global waste and 70 per cent of global GDP. Cities are multi-layered and have many identities. They are part of the problem and also the change agents. Roland Busch, head of Cities and Infrastructure at Siemens, is right when he says, “If we want to win the war against climate change, it has to be won in cities”. Many international organisations like the United nations, World Bank, the European Union, etc. are making efforts to find out feasible ways so that the energy consumption in cities can be reduced to improve the health of urban environment. Whatever the measures are, local governments have an essential role to play in influencing the energy choices of the ever-growing urban population in their respective territories. Promoting the use of green technology and encouraging the use of renewable energy resources could be the first step. But, for this, municipal bodies have to lead from the front by first ensuring their buildings, their services are energy efficient. This would require increased deployment of renewable energy systems and to promote these with multiple methods such as monetarily incentivizing citizens by giving subsidy or rebate in municipal bills. Urban Local Bodies will also need to ensure that the energy infrastructure in cities is continually upgraded for desired results.

City governments, particularly in India, have fewer administrative and policy making authority to support and encourage use of renewable energy resources. The state and national governments should find ways through which they can embed certain authority in ULBs to take initiatives which can help in making their cities energy efficient and self-reliant.The Guidance notes for mayors and city managers, developed by the World Bank’s energy Sector Management assistance Program (eSMaP), focus on six key topics: procurement, financing, buildings, transport, assessments, and urban planning. According to the notes, integrating energy efficiency can also contribute to improving municipal services and increasing competitiveness, making cities more inclusive and sustainable. For example, improving public transport not only lowers energy consumption, but also reduces congestion and pollution, and increases people’s mobility – which is especially critical for people in the bottom 40 percent of income levels who need access to jobs, schools and public services.

The notes give mayors and urban policymakers a range of practical options and strategies to make municipal services and city administrations much more efficient.

For example, the note on procurement encourages municipalities to prioritize purchasing of energy efficiency products such as lighting and office equipment, and to explore energy savings performance contracts for renovations of energy-intensive public facilities.

Anita Marangoly George, Senior Director, energy and extractives Global Practice at the World Bank, says that cities have to make hard decisions on investments, so it is important to go back to the basics and understand where the opportunities are, what measures offer the greatest potential for energy efficiency improvements, which sectors to prioritize, and what the implementation constraints are.

Green Buildings

Buildings are major energy guzzlers. The concept of building energy efficient buildings is catching up fast around the world but still most of the buildings in our cities are not upgraded to be energy efficient. Technological advancements have enabled us to build green buildings which not only optimise energy usage but also use less water, generate less waste and provide healthier space to its residents in comparison to conventional buildings.

While the construction cost of such buildings is higher than the normal ones the cost can be recovered through savings made over the years. The Government of India has built Indira Paryavaran Bhawan which is a model building that saves energy in every way possible.

Such models can be replicated across the country and municipal bodies need to find out sources through which they can generate financial resources to fund those projects.

Such buildings in every city will inspire locals to take initiatives to make their buildings and homes energy efficient. All India Institute of Local Self- Government is working with Karnataka and Chhattisgarh to promote the concept of energy-efficient buildings.

Energy efficient municipal services

There are many global cities which are leading the way by adopting green measures in providing basic civic amenities to their residents. An online news report says that reykjavik tops the list of energy efficient cities worldwide. The city relies on renewable hydropower and geothermal plants to provide all of the heat, electricity and hot water for its more than 120,000 citizens. The city plans on becoming fossil-fuel-free by 2050. In the mid-2000s, the city began replacing its public transportation with hydrogen-fuelled buses. The only “pollution” emitted from these vehicles is pure water. Vancouver in Canada is among the few cities which have already begun the process of making them energy efficient, sustainable. The city aims to become green by 2020. According to a NASDAQ report, hydroelectric power already accounts for 90 percent of the city’s energy supply, while the other 10 percent includes renewables like wind, solar and wave power. Add in Vancouver’s mass transit–nearly 250 miles of bike lanes and ride sharing programs–and the city has one of the lowest per capita carbon emissions of any major city in North America. Other world cities too have taken innovative initiatives to become more energy efficient. Many cities in America and Europe are extensively promoting usage of cycles, car-sharing services, and non-motorised transport to reduce dependency on fossil fuel.

Cities have to make hard decisions on investments, so it is important to go back to the basics and understand where the opportunities are, what measures offer the greatest potential for energy efficiency improvements, which sectors to prioritize, and what the implementation constraints are.

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