Urban sustainability requires urban governance and social, economic and environmental development according to United Nations. Among the many components such as investment in safe and affordable housing, public transport, urban planning, water and energy conservation etc. a rising trend is the transitioning of cities from fossil to renewable energy. Investment and promotion of renewable energy is also part of SGD11, which is about making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
A latest and new series of report by REN21 - a global think tank focusing on renewable energy – involves the global stock taking of cities’ efforts to transition to renewable energy, a much needed analysis of the status of renewables in many global cities. According to the report, cities account for 55 of percent the global population, over80 percent of global GDP, and an estimated 75 percent of global CO2 emissions. Hence increasing renewable energy in cities can significantly alter the environmental impact these large cities are making whether in terms of carbon footprint, or air quality, or the financial burden of rising energy costs.
While those leading are the developed cites of the west particularly Europe, strides by developing countries like India increasingly shows how renewable energy investments at local level (city level) is making them independent and reducing their energy footprint and burden on the national grids.
Of all its benefits and perks, which are evenly attractive for cities of Pakistan, one of the most powerful motivations of reducing fossil burning and transitioning to renewable sources for power, transport as well as heating and/or cooling purposes is the air pollution. Air pollution is among the greatest environmental risks to health and well-being today, and 91 percent of the global urban population is exposed to PM2.5 levels exceeding safety standards as per the study. The same has reached hazardous levels in the urban centres of Pakistan including Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, Rawalpindi, Faisalabad, Gujranwala.
Some key take-away particularly in controlling air pollution that cities through renewables for Lahore and other urban areas include the need for provincial, local and municipal authorities to get their act together. For example, the report highlights that Beijing has taken steps to reduce or shut down coal fired plants for electricity and heat generation, and the city has announced a target to achieve 8 percent renewables share in its total final energy consumption by 2020. While data on province-wise consumption and resources is available, and A critical point here is data dissemination at city level by the authorities, which can help in the local think tanks and policy institutes help in policy making.
Another lesson from those who are benefitting from advancing renewables is its use in the transport sector. Electronic vehicles and cars along with efforts to encourage public transport, banning polluting vehicles have gone a long way in fixing the air quality of cities of China, Europe and Latin America. According to the report, mayors from 26 cities on 6 continents have committed to procuring only zero-emission buses starting in 2025; whereas in some cities, there have been commitment targets for 100 percent renewable energy public transport in the next 2 decades. Such target need to be adopted at home as around 40 percent of air pollution in Pakistan is caused by the transport sector.
Switching to renewable solutions like electric stoves, geysers, heaters powered by solar panels is also another air friendly lesson that can help in reducing the burden on air quality by burning fossil fuels.