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Low-Carbon City UPSC NOTE

 Why are energy-system transitions important?

  • In 2020, cities dumped a whopping 29 trillion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

  • Low-carbon cities are crucial to mitigate the effects of climate change.

  • An energy-system transition could reduce urban carbon dioxide emissions by around 74%.

  • With rapid advancements in clean energy and related technologies and nosediving prices, we have crossed the economic and technological barriers to implementing low-carbon solutions.

  • The transition must be implemented both on the demand and the supply side.

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Why are energy-system transitions important?

Mitigation options on the supply side:

  • Phasing out fossil fuels and increasing the share of renewables in the energy mix.

  • Using carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies.

Mitigation options on the demand side:

  • Using the ‘avoid, shift, improve’ framework would entail reducing the demand for materials and energy, and substituting the demand for fossil fuels with renewables.

  • To address residual emissions in the energy sector, implement carbon-dioxide removal (CDR) technologies.

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What are the different strategies?

  • Varies based on a city’s characteristics.

  • Transitioning to renewable energy sources is not as simple as replacing fossil fuels with clean energy. 

  • There are multifarious issues of energy justice and social equity to be dealt with.

  • This is a key consideration when we frame energy-transition policies that are socially and environmentally fair.

  • These considerations are a city’s spatial form, land-use pattern, level of development, and the state of urbanisation.

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What are the different strategies?

  • An established city can retrofit and repurpose its infrastructure to increase energy efficiency, and promote public as well as active transport like bicycling and walking.

  • Walkable cities designed around people can significantly reduce energy demand.

    • Electrifying public transport 

    • Setting up renewable-based district cooling and heating networks.

  • A rapidly growing city can try to colocate housing and jobs — by bringing places of work closer to residential complexes, thus reducing transport energy demand. 

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What are the different strategies?

  • Such cities can also leapfrog to low-carbon technologies, including renewables and CCS.

  • New and emerging cities - most potential to reduce emissions — using energy-efficient services and infrastructure, and a people-centric urban design. 

    • They can also implement building codes that mandate net-zero energy use and retrofit existing buildings, all while gradually shifting to low-emission construction material.

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How can an energy transition be just?

  • Energy systems are directly and indirectly linked to livelihoods, local economic development, and the socio-economic well-being of people engaged in diverse sectors. 

  • So a one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to ensure a socially and environmentally just transition. 

  • For example, transitioning to renewable-energy sources could disproportionately affect groups of people or communities in developing economies and sectors that depend on fossil fuels.

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How can an energy transition be just?

  • The energy supply needs to be balanced against fast-growing energy demand (due to urbanisation), the needs of energy security, and exports.

  • Other Justice Concerns:

    • Land dispossession related to large-scale renewable energy projects, 

    • Spatial concentration of poverty

    • The marginalisation of certain communities

    • Gendered impacts

    • Reliance on coal for livelihoods.

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Concerns - Examples

  • Developing economies, including Nigeria, Angola, and Venezuela, owe a significant fraction of their GDPs to fossil-fuel exports. 

  • Transitioning away from these industries could devastate their economies, with the consequences landing particularly heavily on the workers employed in the fossil-fuel sector.

  • Similarly, in developed countries, many communities suffer energy poverty and inequity due to high energy costs, low incomes, and inadequate infrastructure. 

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Concerns - Examples

  • In the U.S., expenditure on energy bills is a significant chunk of the total income of low-income households. This can crowd out expenses for other amenities like healthcare and nutrition.

Way forward

  • Ensuring a transition to low-carbon energy systems in cities at different stages of urbanisation, national contexts, and institutional capacities requires strategic and bespoke efforts.

  • They must be directed at governance and planning, achieving behavioural shifts.


Way forward

  • Promoting technology and innovation, and building institutional capacity.

  • Adopt a comprehensive approach to address the root causes of energy and environmental injustices. This includes :

  • Mitigation and adaptation responses that engage multiple stakeholders in energy governance and decision-making, 

  • Promoting energy-efficiency, scaling up climate investments, and capturing alternate knowledge streams (including indigenous and local lived experiences).

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