Five cities proving that we can quit fossil fuels

An oil processing plant in Tula, Mexico. Image: Getty.

Powering a city is a major undertaking: all that economic activity, culture and innovation requires a lot of fuel. As a result, while cities house just over half the world’s population, but are responsible for nearly 80 per cent of the world’s energy consumption.

The result of all this is rising greenhouse gas emissions.  This year looks set to smash all previous temperature records, and cities are no strangers to the consequences of a hotter planet. From rising sea levels, encroaching on coastline properties, to droughts and heatwaves that threaten citizens and businesses, the likes of Bangkok, Paris, New York and countless others know what climate change looks like first hand.

So what can be done about it? Weaning our cities off fossil fuels, the most polluting sources of energy, is key – but this is much more easily said than done. Many city governments lack the ability to directly control the energy mix of their electricity as policies are often set at state or national levels. With few national governments setting ambitious goals to be fossil fuel-free, the odds appear stacked against cities.

Despite these challenges, some major cities are showing that it is possible to reduce fossil fuel usage. This year over 300 cities joined in CDP’s cities programme, sharing information on how they are taking actions to reduce carbon emissions and managing climate risks. Over a third of these cities told us they have some kind of renewable energy goal in place. More promisingly still, some, including the city of Aspen in the US, have in fact already declared themselves fossil fuel-free.

Here are five cities already making the shift to a low-carbon future.

Cape Town, South Africa

Locals in Cape Town, who affectionately refer to it as the Mother City, are familiar with the country’s ongoing issues with energy supply and demand. Over the past six years the price of electricity has jumped by 340 per cent, putting a strain on local businesses and households. The city’s current energy mix is heavily reliant on coal, which supplies up to 72 per cent of its electricity.

However with growing concern over energy security and the city’s high carbon footprint, officials are catalysing a transition to renewables. Cape Town aims to source 10 per cent of the city’s electricity from renewable energy by 2020 – a change that will save greenhouse gas emissions by 1m metric tons. 


Houston, Texas

Texas may be known as an oil-rich state, but its most populous city, Houston, happens to be the largest municipal purchaser of green power in the US. The city estimates it is using almost 623,000 mWh of green power per year, which is equivalent to the amount of energy needed to power over 55,000 homes annually.  

This power plan benefits locals too – Houston reports being able to maintain a relatively flat power price while increasing the amount of renewable energy in its mix, proving that going green doesn’t have to be costly.

Stockholm, Sweden

Sweden’s capital had already set an ambitious goal to be 100 per cent fossil fuel-free by 2050, but decided it should aim to achieve that target ten years sooner. Stockholm is making this task easier by first reducing the amount of overall energy it uses, then replacing fossil fuels with alternative sources such as biogas, biodiesel and solar. It doesn’t have far to go: fossil fuels currently make up just 9 per cent of its energy mix for power.

Sydney, Australia

Sydney proudly boasts one of the most ambitious emissions reduction targets in the country, and is hoping to achieve that in part through obtaining 30 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.  It also has the farthest to go compared to other cities on this list in this regard – its current energy mix is dominated entirely by coal.

The city’s renewable energy master plan draws on solar PV, solar thermal hot water, wind energy and geothermal from within the city’s boundary and other technologies (such as onshore wind turbines) to meet its goal. 

Tokyo, Japan

One of the world’s largest mega-cities and among the first to earn that title, Tokyo has a big task in powering its 62 sprawling municipalities. The city is currently heavily reliant on fossil fuels, but officials are aiming to get a fifth of its total energy from renewable sources by 2024.

Part of its plan to achieve this is to establish a system in which consumers can chose clean energy – giving power, literally, to the people.

Kyra Appleby is head of cities at CDP.

 
 
 
 

Here are all the names of London tube stations that we’ve just stopped noticing are weird

What the hell. Swiss Cottage. Image: Oxyman/Wikipedia Commons.

Angel

 “The next station is Gnome. Change here for Elf, Cherubim and Gnome.”

Arsenal

Would be a lot less weird if it wasn’t a good eight miles away from where they actually built the arsenal.

Bank

It’s like something from a kid’s picture book where everything is labelled incredibly literally. Was even sillier when the next station along was still called Post Office. (It’s St Paul’s now.)

Barking

Disappointing lack of doggos.

Barkingside

Same, also a surprisingly long way from Barking.

Bromley-by-Bow

But not by Bromley which, once again, is eight bloody miles awy.

Canada Water

No.

Chalk Farm

Chalk isn’t a plant, lads.

Cockfosters

...

Elephant & Castle

What.

Grange Hill.

Hainault

Hang on, that’s in Belgium isn’t it?

Hornchurch

There are literally horns no the church, to be fair.

Kentish Town

Actually in Middlesex, nowhere near Kent.

Knightsbridge

Not only no knights, but no bridge either.


Oval

Might as well have a station called “oblong” or “dodecahedon”.

Oxford Circus

Plenty of clowns though, amirite?

Perivale

Does any other London suburb promise such a vertiginous drop between name and reality?

Plaistow

To be honest the name’s fine, I just wish people knew how to pronounce it.

Roding Valley

The river’s more than 30 miles long, guys, this doesn’t narrow it down.

Seven Sisters

None that I’ve noticed.

Shepherd’s Bush

“Now where are those sheep hiding now?”

Shepherd’s Bush Market

Because one bush is never enough.

Southwark

1. That’s not how that combination of letters should sound. 2. That’s not where Southwark is. Other than that you’re fine.

Swiss Cottage

Sure, let’s name a station after a novelty drinking establishment, why the hell not.

Waterloo

Okay, this one is definitely in Belgium.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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