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IEA: smart cities are key for a carbon-neutral future

The world’s cities can play a central role to accelerate progress towards clean, low-carbon, resilient and inclusive energy systems. This idea was recognised by climate and energy ministers from G20 nations who have met under the presidency of Italy in Naples.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) was invited by the Italian Presidency to be a strategic partner for its work on energy and climate. Under this role, it presented its report Empowering Cities for a Net Zero Future which builds on extensive consultations with over 125 leading experts and organisations and presents case studies from 100 cities in 40 countries.

The examples illustrate the wide range of opportunities and solutions that can help city-level authorities make full use of efficient and smart energy systems. Indeed, new technologies and increased connectivity, as well as the sheer scale of the world’s metropolises, are opening up massive opportunities to optimise urban planning, improve services and extend access, while at the same time creating revenue streams, jobs and business ventures.

And with growing urbanisation trends, the central role of cities will keep increasing. Cities today account for more than 50 per cent of the planet’s population, 80 per cent of its economic output, two-thirds of global energy consumption and more than 70 per cent of annual global carbon emissions. By 2050, more than 70 per cent of the world’s population will live in cities, resulting in a massive demand growth for urban energy infrastructure.

From smart street lamps to self-cooling buildings to smart electric car chargers, investing in city-level action can provide the biggest carbon-mitigation return on investment and accelerate inclusive clean energy transitions.

For example, the electricity consumed in street lighting globally is equivalent to Germany’s total annual electricity consumption and can constitute up to 65 per cent of municipal electricity budgets. Yet, only 3 per cent of the globe’s 320 million street lighting poles are smart enabled, even though smart street lighting can reduce electricity use by up to 80 per cent by adjusting output based on ambient light levels and weather. Smart street lamps can also monitor traffic, pedestrian crossings and noise and air pollution, as well as incorporate electric car chargers and cell phone infrastructure.

As economies recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, the IEA reminded that CO2 emissions are rebounding rapidly. The increase in global energy-related CO2 in 2021 could be the second-largest in recorded history. Cities are the globe’s economic engine and the solutions they seek can transform the energy landscape by creating new synergies to reduce emissions, improve energy efficiency, enhance resilience and provide a cleaner prosperous future for us all. Strong international cooperation and collaboration can play a crucial role in this, notably through emerging knowledge-sharing networks that span cities and countries. 

“My message to G20 energy and climate leaders today in Naples is clear: a new global energy economy is emerging,” said the IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. “We already have many of the technologies we need to reach net-zero and we know innovation can help finish the job. International cooperation is key to succeed.”

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