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The growth and the progress made by cities all across the world in transitioning towards renewable energy is being viewed on a much bigger a canvas that just improving the air quality. Renewable energy has the ability to help urban centres become livable and sustainable and achieve a wide range of objectives that also come under SGD-11.

According to the new report by REN21, the key drivers for renewable energy uptake by the cities include fighting local air pollution, mitigating and adapting to climate change, reducing municipal energy costs, supporting economic development, energy access and promoting a secure and stable supply.

These benefits sound great to the ear and make a good case for urban centres in Pakistan. However, even if it were to start with only the major cities like Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, a lot of ground work needs to be done before renewable energy becomes a way to run these cities.

A key challenge in Pakistan is the role of politics. Working at city-level means the empowerment of local governments. Without clearly operating and delivering local governments, such plans remain on paper and are useless. And where there are some local efforts, they are vulnerable to policies and regulations at either the provincial or federal level. And then comes the coordination within the local setup among various departments that hampers any development.

Local government around the world are setting city targets for renewables followed by polies and strategies to achieve them. Apart from the power sector where global transitioning cities have been directing their efforts to introduce and increase the use of renewable resources, areas like heating and cooling and the transport sectors have also seen some policy initiatives by the local governments globally. One such example highlighted by REN21 report is of electric vehicle (EV) and charging networks where renewables are playing a role. The fate of the same in Pakistan is still not known as federal ministers have raised their qualms about its jurisdiction of the EV Policy Pakistan.

Similarly, without getting into the details of whether the new Renewable Energy Policy 2019 is a good one (which will be taken up later in this space), federal and provincial tussle has started to emerge over the latest policy announced and approved by the government just recently. It is this lack of coordination and planning within governments that needs to be fixed.

Yet another example of a much relevant attempt by the federal government is the initiation of Clean, Green Index where in the initial phase 19 cities in Punjab and KP will be ranked based on their cleanliness and ‘green’ character.  Despite the fact that it is an effort that would encourage cities to uptake renewable energy, critics have started raising concerns over the workability of the program with the incapacitating and paralyzed local governments.

Another issue the local government setup faces are the limited resources and access to funds. Globally, the transitioning cities are allocating their funds or are borrowing renewable energy- projects though DFIs, bonds, and public private partnerships.

Hence, in order for any sort of concrete steps taken towards making cities sustainable through renewables, coordination between local government departs, and with the provincial and federal government is a prerequisite. Transitioning cities to this clean model is not possible in isolation and also requires regulations and policies that have all stakeholder onboard. It’s a very good opportunity to get closer to the ambitious target of reaching 30 percent in renewable energy’s share by 2030. But for that, efforts have to begin from grass root governance.