Q. 2. What policies are needed to mainstream renewable energy in cities, in both established and rapidly expanding cities?

March 24, 2017

This discussion is now closed. Thank you for your participation.


  • Claudio Torres Slum Upgrading Consultant, Housing and Slum Upgrading Branch. UN-Habitat
  • Pireh Otieno Human Settlements Officer, Urban Basic Services Branch - UN-Habitat
  • Kulwant Singh Regional Advisor - UN-Habitat
  • Marcus Mayr Urban Planner, Climate Change Planning Unit, UN-Habitat
  • Edmundo Werna Head of Unit at Sectoral Policies Dept. ILO

Q. 2. What policies are needed to mainstream renewable energy in cities, in both established and rapidly expanding cities?

Question 2: What policies are needed to mainstream renewable energy in cities, in both established and rapidly expanding cities?

Environment Europe Ltd
Wed, March 16, 2016 at 02.36 pm

Shmelev S. (2012) ‘Ecological Economics: Sustainability in Practice’, Springer

Environment Europe Ltd
Wed, March 16, 2016 at 02.34 pm

Dear Colleagues, it is very peculiar to see the difference in the number of responses to the first and the second, more policy oriented question. It seems that a mixture of incentives will be required: 1) energy and carbon taxes; 2) feed-in tarrifs; 3) targeted investments. It should be mentioned that targeted investments will have a Keynesian multiplier effect, in economic terms, but also in terms of innovation and reduction of emissions. The methodology of how it can be done is contained in my book, ‘Ecological Economics: Sustainability in Practice’, information about which I will attach to the next message. It is obvious that new approaches to urban design and urban planning will be required to assist in the transition, which will be much easier to implement when new neighbourhoods are built as opposed to old cities. One should also be aware of the fact that the cities will always rely on the supporting region, both in terms of food, water and energy, but aiming to reduce the impact of cities is a noble goal.

ICLEI from Canada
Mon, January 25, 2016 at 05.03 pm

1 – National energy policy setting long-term comprehensive framework to maximize energy efficiency and production and use of electricity and heat/cool derived from renewable resources:

  • models for the energy sector where energy efficiency and renewable energy measures do not translate into loss of revenue to the public sector (national, sub-national or local) that could hinder the ability to sustain the energy service or other essential public services   
  • ensure a level playing field for renewables in face of existing fossil fuel subsidies.

2 – Vertical integration of policies across different levels of government (national sub-national or regional, and local) is essential because local governments operate within the national and regional policy frameworks and energy infrastructure. Communication channels, coordination, clear mandates, adequate resource allocation for implementation of mandates, capacity building, statistic data with the adequate level of disaggregation to support decision making at the different levels – these are already well known components of vertical integration. Such cooperation between the different levels of government should address key challenges and opportunities including:

  • Facilitate cooperation between cities and the wider region (local and sub-national governments) to link renewable energy resources to the potential consumers   
  • Define policy and regulatory framework that enables district energy systems and decentralized energy models including creating a framework for local energy utilities and community energy models

 3 – Incentivize and support local government in developing and implementing long-term integrated energy policies – Embedding low emission development into urban policies, plans and projects to ensure a long-term comprehensive local approach that maximizes: energy efficiency, production and use of electricity and heat/cool derived from renewable resources, and direct use of renewable energy. To achieve the full potential of local action, the local government may use a comprehensive energy policy package including: strategy, planning, regulation, organizational aspects, stakeholder engagement, finance, procurement, service delivery, monitoring and tracking progress, etc..

4 – Support local government and local communities in testing, demonstrating and deploying innovative technological systems and finance, governance and business models to address the standing operational challenges to the wide spread production and use of renewable energy (e.g.: smart grids, energy storage, systems integration between different energy grids, development of new energy carriers, etc.), which can then be used to inform the further development of national policies.

5 – Establish a firm dialogue on pathways towards a 100% renewable energy (RE) future engaging the different levels of government, the energy sector, R&D, business, and civil society, to facilitate identification and dissemination of good practices and accelerate progress. Through this dialogue, try to come to a common understanding of what 100%RE means, define process guidance on how to achieve it, and a common methodology to measure and track progress. The Global 100% RE Campaign is giving a contribution in this direction, and the 100%RE Cities and Regions Network is a platform for dialogue and peer-learning among local and sub-national governments. The 5-year report of the carbonn® Climate Registry 5 Year Overview Report (2010 – 2015) lists some of the local governments that have already made a public commitment towards a 100%RE future at community-scale.   

GIZ (2014): Policy Recommendations, Case Studies and Tools for the integration of sub-national actors in national mitigation actions, available at: https://mitigationpartnership.net/giz-2014-policy-recommendations-case-studies-and-tools-integration-sub-national-actors-national-miti

IRENA/ICLEI case study, Malmö, Sweden – Integrating Ambitious Renewable Energy Targets in City Planning, https://www.iclei.org/fileadmin/PUBLICATIONS/Case_Studies/7_Malmo_-_ICLEI-IRENA_2012.pdf

Global 100% RE Campaign website, https://go100re.net/

100%RE Cities and Regions Network webpage, www.iclei.org/lowcarboncity/100re

ICLEI, carbonn® Climate Registry 5 Year Overview Report (2010 – 2015), available at: https://e-lib.iclei.orghttps://habitat3.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/cCR2015_5Year_Report.pdf

Factor CO2 Consulting Head of Energy Department from Spain
Sun, January 24, 2016 at 03.43 pm

At national level mandatory energy efficiency and renewable energy measures in the technical building codes should be introduced. Municipalities can implement local ordinances with mandates on renewables adapted to their local conditions, for instance the RE resource available.

Municipalities should lead with the example and put in place green public procurement, for instance purchasing electricity only from 100% RE provider, purchasing only electric vehicles.

The establishment of sustainable finance facilities, to facilitate the initial investment of citizens into their own RE.

Support the use of sustainable transport (development of public infrastructure, public fleets, free parking spaces, etc.) establish disincentives the use of private and pollutant ways of transport. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Lessons learned and best practices can be found at least at:



Federico Professor, Environmental Applied Physics from Italy
Thu, January 21, 2016 at 01.07 pm

I would raise an issue that is critical in relation to the conclusions of the COP 21 in Paris, and that can be summarised as: renewable energy use for cities’ operation is only a part of the problem.

A report of the European Environment Agency (European Environment Agency, Environmental pressures from European consumption and production, EEA Technical report No 2/2013) highlights the importance of the so-called indirect GHG emissions, i.e. the emissions embedded in the materials, manufactured goods, food etc. They are called “indirect” to distinguish them from the “direct”, i.e. the ones deriving from the fuel burnt inside the settlement for heating, hot water production, cooking, transport and other use.

If the flow of goods, food etc. entering a city is considered, and the corresponding indirect emissions they carry with them are accounted for, attributed to the city and compared to the direct emissions, the amazing result is that the direct emissions account for only 22% of the total emissions, being the remaining 78% due to the indirect ones. If the emissions due to the electricity production is moved from the indirect to the direct ones, as electricity is used for the “operation” of the city, then the direct emissions amount to 33% and the indirect to 67%.

Thus, if the EU model is the one that developing countries should aim to, and we consider that in developing countries far more settlements and infrastructures have to be built from now to 2050 than they have been built up to now, and that the basic goods for a decent life have to be provided to billions of people, the indirect emissions will play a far more critical role in the control of climate change than the direct ones. Even if the new settlements will be entirely “fossil free”, i.e. will operate relying only on renewable energy sources, still 2/3 of the emissions, the indirect ones, will still be there and the 2 °C (or 1.5 °C) target will not be met. It will not be met, unless the sustainable development strategy does not include, besides all what has been already pointed out in this discussion, a deep rethinking about building materials to use, mobility model and urban infrastructure needs, combined with and a vigorous push towards the circular economy approach; but what is mainly needed is a deep rethinking about the relationship between consumerism and sustainable development, with all the economic, social and cultural consequences deriving from it.

UNRISD (United Nations Research Institute for Social Development)
Wed, January 20, 2016 at 04.10 pm

We agree with you, Matthew, on the importance of more inclusive governance arrangements! In addition, policies to mainstream renewable energies in cities need to incorporate the social dimension in general in order to achieve sustainable development that is ecologically sound, economically viable and socially just. Policies for renewable energy production and consumption thus do not only need to address technology transfer and innovation, but also need to promote social development. Such policies need to be aligned and where appropriate integrated with other sectoral policies to provide a comprehensive enabling environment to transform unsustainable practices, be it the reliance on carbon-intensive energy production systems that impact the global climate or more localized effects such as charcoal production that leads to deforestation and land degradation around urban centres (see IEA 2006).

UNRISD research on the Social Dimensions of Green Economy (see www.unrisd.org/greeneconomy ) has underlined the importance of recognizing “the multiplicity of social institutions (norms, regulation, rights, trust and cooperation) and social relations (class, gender, ethnicity) that underpin people’s vulnerability; the capacity of individuals, groups and organizations to respond; and likely winners and losers from processes of policy and institutional change” (UNRISD 2012). In addition to these social drivers of sustainable development (also see UNRISD 2014), energy policies often have social repercussions. Our research identified, for example, that energy policies in the UK and other advanced industrialized countries are often regressive and put a disproportionate burden on low-income households (UNRISD 2012; Gough 2011). In developing countries, additional challenges arise from the need to achieve universal access to sustainable energy and to reduce adverse impacts, for example from the use of traditional biomass for cooking. The associated indoor air pollution particularly affects women and children (due to their higher exposure) and, at the global scale, is responsible for more deaths than malaria (IEA 2006). Many urban residents in developing countries still rely on the use of solid fuels.

Rapidly expanding cities in developing countries and emerging economies are often faced with additional challenges, such as increasing levels of informality and unplanned urban growth. Such growth is associated with rising energy demand in areas that are not yet connected to the electricity grid. In many cities, both established and rapidly expanding, urban upgrading and improved infrastructure planning are needed to promote sustainability and resilience. To ensure that such approaches are effective, however, they must include real participation measures and implement social policies. Research from Brazil, Malaysia and South Africa shows, for example, that dialogue with local populations affected by green economy projects is a critical element for ensuring that policies have local uptake and ownership (UNRISD 2012).

In order to promote social development along with energy transition, policies must be anchored in the social pillar and address multiple goals. Cook et al. (2012) give some examples for co-benefit approaches that have positive effects in both environmental and social terms:

  • linking climate and employment via green (and decent) jobs, such as in the renewable energy or clean waste sectors; job creation and training in “green and decent” work; education, retraining and skills for the transition from “dirty” to green jobs (Hezri and Ghazali 2011; Musyoki 2012);
  • incentives for green consumption and production, while compensating for negative impacts of such policies; such as green energy rebates and green/carbon tax incentives for green consumption (Merritt and Stubbs 2012);
  • energy-efficient housing design for state welfare housing; provision of ecological low-cost housing (Gough 2011);
  • In a similar vein, Igiraneza (2013) highlights – on the basis of an ILO study – the role of renewable energy cooperatives which can offer consumers a local option for clean energy while investing socially and economically in sustainable development.

You can find more information on our website:

Cook et al. (2012): https://www.unrisd.org//op-cook-et-al

Gough (2011): https://www.unrisd.org/publications/op-gough

Hezri and Ghazali (2011): https://www.unrisd.org/publications/op-hezri-ghazali

Igiraneza (2013): https://www.unrisd.org/thinkpiece-emery

Musyoki (2012): https://www.unrisd.org/publications/op-musyoki

UNRISD (2012): https://www.unrisd.org/rpb12e

UNRISD (2014): www.unrisd.org/post-2015-4

Matthew Ulterino Urban Planning Consultant from United Kingdom
Sun, January 17, 2016 at 07.18 pm

Establishing governance rules/arrangements for city-scale distributed energy that will involve a mucher wider array of stakeholders than has traditionally been the case in energy services, and undertaking enabling actions to facilitate investment in localised energy systems, are much needed. This will be a siginificant challenge for cities as energy has rarely been a core function of municipal action or competence. But as technology evolves to make energy supply, distrubution, storage and management much more locally oriented, cities need to be highly engaged and proactive. 

Governance arrangements are part of the needed market rules and regulations ti clarify which entities can be energy generators for themselves, or for others (enabled by net metering); providers of storage; distributors; ancillary service provides (e.g., demand shifting and demand management); and so forth. There are many entities that are seeking to invest in and deliver energy services, and substantial global financial resources willing to do so, but which may be constained by market uncertainty. This makes governance critical.

In terms of enabling actions to facilitate investment, long-term and significant distributed/low-carbon energy targets are very likely more meaningful than subsidies. Unless traditional energy is very highly subsidised, the cost effectiveness and benefits of localised renewable energy is surpasses that of centralised fossil energy presently or will do so within a few years. Other important roles for cities will be to identify investment opportunities and contribute to investment cases; use their purchashing power; and/or leverage their borrowing power or specialist/concessional financing sources to become magnets for investments in energy services that have strong local benefits in terms of job creation, energy reliability, and low-carbon marketing.