Today I spent my day at a conference at the German Environment Ministry, just two train stops from the COP23 meeting. “The Local Dimension of the NDCs: 100% Renewable Energy” was co-sponsored by the Ministry and organizations committed to the 100% renewable energy target. One sponsor, ICLEI, is a global network of 1,500 sustainable cities including Duluth, St. Paul, and Minneapolis.
The predominant theme of the day was that local community-scale activities on carbon emissions and renewable energy are the most important strategy to reach the Paris Agreement NDC pledges, and that 100% renewable energy is an attainable target over time. Harry Lehman, a leader in the German government who has visited Minnesota several times, commented that Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction of 35% is an accomplishment given the challenges Germany is facing. He talked about the next challenge in renewable energy, in which “big” players could potentially push out small ones. Germany policy for the last decade has paid ordinary citizens for the energy produced on their rooftops. Lehman said that 80-90% of German people support the energy transition or Energiwende, but that is because many of them own the renewable energy projects which reduces the NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) phenomena.
Other examples of energy leadership that are most effectively done at the local level include housing, whether retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency or city planning. Building heat may become electrified, using excess renewable power converted to gas, which can be done locally. Cities can affect mobility and reduce car traffic. Rooftop solar PV is a very local renewable energy solution. Additionally, to be effective cities need networks so they can learn from each other and track progress. Speakers talked about national-local collaboration.
Germany provide federal funds to match city resources in order to hire staff to help bring continuity to this work.
We heard from City Councilmember Andrea Reimer from Vancouver. She emphasized that her city has set and made progress towards the goal of being the greenest city in the world, even without support from their federal government. She believes that reaching 100% renewable energy or similar targets is not a technical problem but rather requires a framework of social and political actions. She listed four key things that worked for Vancouver:
- Leadership. It is critical for visible leaders to identify the goal and support it.
- Specific goals. It’s important to develop a specific, science-based goal and plan for how to achieve it. Vancouver set three high-level objectives, ten goal areas, and 17 target metrics.
- Action. They made a ‘Quick Start’ list of things they could do right away and did them.
- Partnerships. It’s important to engage residents and key partners like local businesses.
They have already reduced the per capita greenhouse gas emissions to by far the lowest in North America, and have the fastest growing metropolitan economy in Canada – so they have successfully decoupled emissions from economic growth. Other goals they set relate to green buildings, transportation, zero waste, healthy ecosystems, green economy, and a lighter footprint – which is intended to prevent them from outsourcing the problems outside their boundaries. For accountability, they do a mandatory annual report. Vancouver has a 100% renewable energy mandate that includes electricity, building heat and energy efficiency, and transportation. Their most important strategy to reach 100% renewable energy is to significantly reduce energy consumption through energy efficiency, then add renewable energy to meet the lower demand. They have an aggressive plan for district energy, capturing waste heat from municipal waste (sewage) systems.
Stay tuned for more on 100% renewables tomorrow!