18 September 2019 | Reading 5 mins.

Can local authorities lead the transition to carbon neutrality?

Yamina Saheb
Senior Climate and Energy Policy Analyst and IPCC Lead Author
Sophie Shnapp
Energy Consultant

Yamina Saheb, Senior Climate and Energy Policy Analyst and IPCC Lead Author

Sophie Shnapp, Energy Consultant

In these turbulent times of climatic, economic and social uncertainty, communities and local authorities can and must lead the way in this transformational shift towards a zero carbon world.

We are living at the start of a climate emergency, this year, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report stating we have 12 years before triggering an irreversible slide into climate chaos and catastrophe As it’s an emergency, we urgently need to take immediate and effective action. There is increasing evidence that the battle for sustainable development for all and against the negative effects of climate heating will be fought, whether we win or lose, at the local level. Globally, local authorities must take the lead in transforming their districts into neighbourhoods that provide comfort and well-being for all their people. Recent experience from Europe shows that this can be achieved.

Learned by doing is the approach chosen by pioneering European municipalities who tested the concept of energy communities long before it was introduced into the European policy framework – in the Renewables and Internal Market Directives. For these municipalities, buildings were the most obvious starting point. As the World Health Organisation has stated, Europeans spend around 90% of their time indoors, in homes, workplaces and, educational, health and leisure buildings.

Sixty-one low carbon / energy demand projects across Europe were reviewed by the authors for the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre. This research provides a novel insight into the ingredients used by frontrunner European municipalities to set ambitious targets with the objective of reducing energy demand and increasing the share of their energy supply from local renewable energy sources. The report showed that all municipalities can benefit from the experiences gained in these pioneering districts. An essential concoction of factors was found: highly energy efficient buildings; ambitious energy targets coupled with addressing socio-economic concerns and a holistic project design set up; and ensuring that all stakeholders are included in each phase of the transformation of existing neighbourhoods to net-zero districts.

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