The COVID-19 crisis has had a severe impact across the globe, not just from a health but also from a societal and economic perspective.
But the reduced economic activity and stay-at-home measures also gave us a glimpse of how to come closer to having a world as we would like it.
With the lockdowns, air and noise pollution also dropped remarkably across the world’s cities, and in regions with lockdowns, there was a decrease of 50-75% in road transport activity and up to 95% in rush-hour traffic congestion in major cities offering more livable, sustainable cities.
All over the world, governments are now looking towards reopening society with recovery packages with focus on economic development and job creation. But this is also an opportunity to accelerate towards carbon neutrality and mark this moment as a historical turning point.
The good news is that this is possible.
Creating jobs and improving the climate
A recent report from Navigant shows that just from implementing existing technology solutions for electrification of transport, energy efficient heating and cooling of buildings and sector integration – urban areas can bridge half of the gap needed to reach the 1.5°C Paris Agreement target in urban areas.
In other words, it is both technological and economically feasible for urban areas to achieve the 1.5-degree target by 2050.
And if we take a look at electrification of transport, another report from IEA identifies new electric and high efficiency cars as both timely, a good match for providing jobs for displaced workers and a cost-efficient way of reducing emissions.
This proofs that we can restart and future-proof our economies through green investments.
Cities’ impact on climate and health is enormous
The focus of the green investments should be in cities as they are inevitable if we are to reach the 1.5-degree target.
The world’s cities occupy just 3% of the Earth’s land, but account for two-thirds of the world´s energy demand and 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions. More than 80% of people living in urban areas are exposed to air quality levels that exceed the World Health Organization (WHO) limits, largely caused by heating and cooling of buildings and transport based on fossil fuels.
At the same time, the emissions from transport and heating and cooling of buildings are especially high in urban areas
The good news is that cities’ high density of facilities and infrastructure offer a unique opportunity to drive cost-effective technology innovation and exploit synergies between sectors to create a highly efficient energy system.
These specific technology investments in urban areas would contribute with more than one-third of total needed global emissions reductions and ensure good air quality.
That’s why focusing on cities is a good starting point for green investments.
Electrification of transport
The report from Navigant also shows that if all urban areas in Europe, China and the US electrified their private and public transport, they could close 28% of the emissions reductions gap needed between today’s total emissions and a 1.5°C scenario.
Additionally, currently available electrification technologies have the potential to reduce NOX emissions by 90% per passenger kilometer by 2050.
Transport emissions have more than doubled since 1970 and today account for over 24% of global CO2 emissions and around 30% of global final energy demand. Transport is also accounting for around half of current global NOX emissions.
Let’s change this as we recover our economies.
And, the required technologies already exist or are in the pipeline and are starting to see good traction in the market. To give some examples, technology for the full electrification of cars, buses, and trucks, as well as city boats, work boats, and ferries, already exists. Further, big vessels like cruise ships can already be powered from sustainable energy through shore-side supply while at berth.
Doing the climate math is easy
The report shows what it takes, and if policy makers prioritize investments in the three areas below, they can reach the 1.5-degree target.
1) full utilization of e-mobility
2) technical building systems, including controls, and district energy, to ensure energy efficient heating and cooling
3) sector integration in urban areas
The solutions are ready to be implemented quickly and cost-effectively, so if we take action now, the 1,5-degree pathway can be within reach.