There are a few things that we know: climate change is real, it’s here and it’s going to get a whole lot worse if we don’t do something about it. Here’s something else we know: nations around the world have been slow to react. However, there’s the good news that you might not know: quietly and aggressively, many of the world’s largest cities have made previously unfathomable strides towards an energy-efficient, low-carbon future. These cities are proving that a carbon-neutral future is not only possible, it’s on the way. Here are five cities from around the world that (among many others) have really got down to business:
Sunny, warm Sydney generates most of the electricity needed to power and cool the city of 4.5 million people with coal, one of the dirtiest energy sources available. As part of an ambitious new master plan launched in 2008, Sydney is aiming to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by over 70% by 2030. How is Sydney going to do it? By ensuring that its energy is generated locally. The aim is to source all of the city’s energy from within 250 km of the city centre. By 2030, 30% of the energy mix will come from solar, onshore wind, geothermal and other strictly renewable sources. The rest will come from vastly more efficient trigeneration: heating, cooling and electricity from one source; in some cases using gases captured from biomass or waste streams.
New York City, NY USA
New York has benefited from successive mayoral administrations that were serious about climate change, even if their political parties weren’t. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg set a goal of a 30% reduction in emissions by 2030, and by 2007 the city was well on its way with a 19% reduction. Current Mayor Bill de Blasio has even loftier goals. The mayor is calling for an 80% reduction by 2050, but getting there will be tough. The city is turning its focus to New York’s building stock and leading by example. New York is starting with solar installations on 24 schools. This is the start of 300 city-sponsored solar projects over the coming decade. The city is looking to demonstrate efficiencies that come through increased insulation, more efficient heating plants and retrofitted lighting and cooling. To get private owners to join the movement, the city is offering incentives and calling this goal a “moral imperative”. It may also begin mandating efficiency upgrades. Unions, environmental groups and real estate boards are all backing the mayor on this one. New York City is uniting to get serious about climate change.
No country in the world is more serious about renewable energy than Germany. As part of its incredible “Energiewende” (energy transition) societal movement, Germany is not only getting rid of its nuclear power plants, it’s moving full tilt towards solar and wind. So it’s not surprising that Germany’s cities are well on their way towards carbon neutrality with lofty targets and rapid innovation. Frankfurt is an economic engine for Germany and the world, but even as its economy has grown by more than 50% since 1990, its carbon emissions have decreased by 15%. Now Frankfurt has committed to becoming 100% carbon neutral by 2050. That’s an awe-inspiring goal. To get there, Frankfurt is using stringent building codes and a design ethos of radical conservation and efficiency for its buildings, plus heavy investment in renewables.
San Diego, CA, USA
Don’t let the laid-back lifestyles and perfect weather mislead you. San Diego is making serious plans. The city government has established a goal of 100% renewable energy generation by 2035, and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from all sources by 50% over the same period. Can they do it? The schedule might be a tad aggressive, but San Diego benefits from almost year-round sunshine and a rapid proliferation of solar farms. The city has outlined many common sense, legally-binding goals, like making San Diego more pedestrian and cyclist friendly, planting countless new trees, expanding the electric car infrastructure and updating building codes to conserve energy.
The Danes just seem to do things right. They’re widely considered the happiest people on earth, and in Copenhagen they’re working to become the world’s first carbon-neutral capital, with an ambitious goal of doing so by 2025. One way to get there is through the improvement of transportation and mobility. The Danes have engineered an ingenious networked system of ultra-high-efficiency lighting and sensors to cut congestion, automatically dim and amplify LED street lighting based on need, and making bike riding even more attractive and safe for residents. Copenhagen leads the way, but LED light fixtures are replacing old, wasteful lighting across much of the world. That’s good news for the planet.