European cities ‘take the lead’ in fighting global warming

London dominates the $5-trillion-a-day foreign exchange market, trading twice as many dollars as the United States and more than twice as many euros as the entire euro zone, according to TheCityUK study.

European cities are taking the lead in fighting climate change, according to a new report ranking the continent’s financial capitals according to their green credentials.

Copenhagen, closely followed by other Scandinavian capital cities, tops the index of European green cities published by German company Siemens yesterday (8 December). 

The detailed environmental data on 30 cities, ranging from air quality to emissions and transport, was presented at the Copenhagen climate conference to show international negotiators that cities have a role to play in combating global warming.

Generally, the cities faired well in terms of their environmental performance as most of them had lower per capita CO2 emissions than the average across the 27 member states, the report showed.

Nevertheless, there is a large gap between old and new member states in that Eastern European cities tended to fall at the bottom of the chart. Tellingly, Sofia and Bucharest beat only Kiev in the overall ranking.

Consequently, the greenness of a city is strongly influenced by wealth, concluded the Economist Intelligence Unit, which compiled the index. 

“This shows that green investment is considered a luxury good as opposed to something which can help everybody,” said Paul Kielstra of the Economist Intelligence Unit. He added that environmental performance is something that you can get better at over time, as evidenced by Sweden, Denmark and Finland, which have been investing in it since the 1970s.

“Europeans are trying hard in this area,” Kielstra said, adding that they are now finding economies of scale for environmental measures.

But it is not all good news. For example, a third of city residents still drive to work, according to the results.

“If there’s anywhere where public transport can work, it’s in the middle of a city,” Kielstra said, hoping that this number would go down.

Brussels is a prime example of a city where excessive car use contributes to below-average air quality, the report shows. Only 2% of the population chooses to walk or cycle to work in the Belgian city, while the leading city, Stockholm, boasts the staggering figure of 68%.

Furthermore, renewable energy has not taken off according to the EU’s ambitions. On average, only 7.3% of energy consumed in the cities was renewable, a long way from the 20% goal for 2020.

Room for improvement on renewables

Indeed, a report also published yesterday by the International Energy Agency (IEA) found that while leading cities are putting in place innovative policies to promote renewable energy uptake, most are not grabbing the opportunity to do so. 

If innovative policies and successful renewable energy projects in leading cities could be replicated a hundred-fold in the coming decade, cities would become “facilitators of change in the energy sector,” the report argued.

“Renewable energy resources know no boundaries,” said Nobuo Tanaka, IEA executive director. “Businesses and residents of cities and towns can therefore benefit from increasing the use of renewable energy technologies to help meet their energy demands for heating, cooling, electricity and transport fuels,” he added. 

The report stressed that local authorities have significant potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by facilitating the uptake of renewable energy systems. Drawing evidence from case studies of cities and towns that have adopted aggressive promotion schemes, it argued that a suite of policy options is already available for policymakers from which they can pick those most suitable for their own conditions. 

The IEA argued that there is always scope to learn from others. In fact, many local governments tend to follow early innovators rather than design renewable energy demonstration projects themselves, it pointed out.

Communities usually adopt a specific renewable energy source that is available locally, the report outlined. The task is easier for small rural communities, but larger cities can also meet a portion of total energy demand by making use of renewable projects within their boundaries, such as waste-to-energy combined heat and power plants and solar systems, it encouraged.

The IEA foresees communities experimenting on innovative policies, which could be replicated nationally. Crucial to success here is educating citizens to gain strong support and develop a sense of pride in the community for being an early adopter, it added.

Home to 80% of EU citizens and 70% of greenhouse gas emissions, urban cities play a key role in fighting climate change (see EURACTIV LinksDossier on 'Cities and climate change').

The European Commission's major initiative in the field, the Covenant of Mayors, was signed by over 350 mayors from across Europe in February 2009 (EURACTIV 11/02/09). The city leaders, whose number has since reached a thousand, committed to going beyond the EU's own stated aim of slashing CO2 emissions by 20% by 2020.

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