Mayors showcase energy savings despite stalled EU talks

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Over 3,000 mayors teamed up yesterday (30 November) in efforts to demonstrate that energy efficiency targets could be implemented through a bottom-up approach, despite stagnating talks on a proposed EU energy efficiency directive.

“People do not always do what you tell them to do, but they are likely to follow your example. A mayor must ride the bicycle and save energy through all means possible,” said Bo Frank, mayor of Växjö, a city in Sweden which in 1993 decided to move away from fossil fuel dependence and which he claims is now the greenest in Europe.

The “zero tolerance to pollution” Frank promotes has attracted “a lot of money from the EU for energy-saving projects” and the mayor goes so far each year as to organise competitions of energy-efficient action plans between local authorities.

Image plays an important role in promoting energy efficiency, explains Frank, who contributed to the launch of the 'Engage' campaign, a project that is expected to become the largest EU-wide local authority initiative promoting energy savings within the next year. Gérard Magnin, its executive director, hopes to see its supporters rise from the current 12 to over 150 members.

The 'Engage' campaign echoes the message sent out by the more than 3,000 mayors to national leaders. Organisers are convinced that “people want to know what they can do to save energy and we need to explain to them why they need to store waste in a different box,” said Frank.

“It’s a step-by-step approach,” added Magnin, pointing out to the bottom-up approach. “Local-level citizens are committed to help their mayors achieve their goals,” without having to wait for leaders to sign supranational targets.

Through 'Engage', mayors are teaming up in order to have a single, stronger voice. “Each city has a message of its own, but a shared vision is important, because it is wide-reaching,” said Jennifer Katan of the London-based communication company Futerra, which plans to publish a guide on best practices to distribute online and to hold biannual conferences.

The project is still young, but “it’s been tested and it’s working,” says Magnin.

Giovanni Degorte, mayor of Sedini, a commune in the province of Sassari in the Italian region of Sardinia, has promised to reduce his commune’s energy consumption by 20% until 2020. The commune just joined the Covenant.

Degorte could take advantage of the network to introduce further energy savings. Frank has managed to reduce the CO2 emissions of Växjö by 36% since 1995, but he admits, like other mayors, that communication is the greatest challenge. “Organising conferences in different parts of the city and getting people engaged, that’s what it is all about,” said Frank.

Whilst some like the human approach, others tackle the issue by more modern means. For example, Sir Richard Leese, leader of the Manchester City Council, encourages companies, universities and NGOs to buy technological equipment that uses less energy. He also uses up-to-date technology to monitor consumption and find additional savings.

“I didn’t want to keep waiting for decisions to be taken at European level, so I started at a local level,” Leese said.  “The increase in the cost of energy will drive energy efficiency to become a real market value,” he said.

Attracting Arab investors

Leese is planning ways to reduce Manchester’s CO2 emissions by 30% in the coming years. Soon, he is hoping to develop heat networks that would be controlled from a central digital system. He is not waiting for money from the EU either. Already, his plans have attracted a number of Arab investors.

Keeping a close watch on energy consumption at a local level can also drive creativity.

The leader of the Bristol City Council, Barbara Janke, has found a more energy-efficient way of controlling traffic, by using technology that creates smart traffic flows.

Miguel Angel Botia, mayor of Murcia, a city in southeastern Spain, prided himself with the very high use of photovoltaic panels in his local authority.

At a conference organised yesterday in the European Parliament, especially for those mayors taking part in a separate project, the Green Digital Charter, Botia mentioned the awards his city has won for its efforts in this field and promised to reduce the GHG emission in Murcia by 40% in the following eight years. 

Mayors are surely seeking appreciation and recognition for their efforts to boost energy efficiency even though most countries are failing to meet EU targets. Their steps may be small, but have started to become more and more coordinated. 

During the talks surrounding the 24 November progress report of a proposed EU energy efficiency directive, representatives of member states argued that some measures needed to implement energy efficiency could hamper growth. Local success stories prove the opposite, argues town mayor of Växjö, Bo Frank.

“It’s stupid to say it hampers growth, it’s quite the opposite, according to our facts and figures. We have seen that that our local growth was higher than in other Swedish cities, because switching to renewables created more business opportunities and encouraged initiatives, thus creating more jobs.” Frank claims that the “bioenergy-based society” of Växjö will not be affected by the import costs of oil, which have this year soared to more than $400 billion, according to the latest report of the International Energy Agency. 

The mayor ceremony organised in the European Parliament saw the attendance of important EU actors such as EP President Jerzy Buzek, Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger and the president of the Committee of the Regions, Mercedes Bresso.

In the opening speech of the ceremony, Buzek said: “Cities are as close to the European citizens and their concerns, as we aim to be at the level of the European Union. It is at local and regional level that Europeans engage. Europe and European Policies become real for the citizen, when they are touching the local and regional level. And it works also the other way around: European Policies become effective, when they start at local and regional level. Here policies and policy changes matter.”

Günther Oettinger said: "The aim is to deal with the energy challenges of the European Union. You take an integrated look at your community and ask how you can improve the quality of living in your area, and that involves energy efficiency.(..)”

One of the newest energy-saving initiatives of mayors is the use of information and communications technology. Russ DeVeau, of Climate Savers Computing, said: “Our members are focused solely on the adoption of PC Power Management and on the development and deployment of energy efficient ICT. On the power management front, we estimate an organisation can save up to $60 a year by implementing power management on just one computer. If an organisation has hundreds or thousands of computers, the savings can be incredibly huge. Energy efficiency across networks and connected devices can contribute significantly to the savings.”

The Covenant of Mayors was launched by the European Commission in 2008, after the adoption of the EU Climate and Energy Package.

It represents the mainstream European movement comprised of over 3,000 local and regional authorities, which have voluntarily committed to increasing energy efficiency and use of renewable energy sources on their territories.

The signatories aim to meet and exceed the European Union 20% CO2 reduction objective by 2020.

Energy efficiency is one of the EU’s three 20-20-20 targets for the decade, along with increasing the use of renewable energies to 20% of its overall energy mix and reducing greenhouse emission by 20%. 

Unlike the other two goals, however, the energy efficiency targets are not legally binding and it is the only one that the EU is set to miss.

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