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Urbanising energy efficiency

December 1, 2010

There is no ‘magic medicine’ climate solution. From mitigation to adaptation, solutions range from REDD to restore forests as carbon sinks to reduce levels of CO2, to Clean Development Mechanisms that help developing countries to go green.

What all these have in common is that they are finding ways to combat the amount of CO2 produced without starting at its root cause: energy consumption. Of course, some CDM projects make use of this concept to earn their carbon credits. But what I’m talking about is something much more fundamental and simpler.

At a side event at COP 16 called Energy Efficient Cities, hosted by ASE, a panel discussed the advantages and disadvantages of greening cities.

Over 50% of the world’s population lives in cities now, and the United Nations projects that 60% will do so by 2030. As more people live in megalopolises, they will consume more energy.

“Energy efficiency must come first, before sourcing for alternative energy. There is no point putting biodiesel in a Hummer. You’re not going to get very far.”

This quote by speaker McKinsey reflects the intricate relationship between energy efficiency and the harnessing of alternative energy. Alternative energy can be a cleaner way of working, but if you could implement simpler technology than producing solar panels from scratch, the result is worth it. We are consuming less from the start, instead of trying to meet demands of an energy-hungry world with machinery that isn’t working to its full potential.

“Less for more, not more for the same.”

Even as plenaries like the AWG-LCA and its contact group on Adaptation are meeting formally to put into action a legally-binding deal, the speakers at this side event unanimously agreed that legislation is an advantageous way to get cities greening their buildings and operations. Cities which have a mandate to do so set off a reaction chain: management invests heavily in energy efficiency to cut costs, and so they increasing keep track of their energy consumption in order to make sure that their investment is growing in terms of the productivity that has improved. The mid- to long-term certainty is guaranteed as companies try to maximize returns. On the other hand, without legislation, buildings which voluntarily do so can gain a competitive edge. This is an incentive which SMEs are taking up. However, big corporation-owned buildings which are doing just fine without efficient technology require legislation, or a shift in perception to invest in energy efficient methods.

However, energy efficiency is still not enough. From a building’s construction to its eventual opening and thereafter operations, CO2 is emitted from the amount of materials and energy that is required to set everything in motion. Transportation brings concrete and steel to the site, electricity is used for daily lighting… Therefore, the ecological footprint of one building, no matter how small, is not measurable. Now, imagine a whole city with hundreds of buildings, all sucking up power to
The impact of it is unknown presently, other than that it is contributing to climate change.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 2, 2010 1:08 am

    Hey guys,
    we pulled together some interesting facts from today’s published list of delegations. Did you know that full 81 delegations present have 5 or less representatives? Japan has 157 delegates compared to the entire AOSIS negotiating block’s 116! Read the post for more informations!

    Love and Peace,

  2. December 2, 2010 11:06 am

    I think that more effort/legislation should be put into encouraging cities to use municipal CHP (combined heat and power) systems. Communal heating and energy systems are much more efficient than everyone having their own system, and save the participants money on utilities too. Why don’t all new inner city developments make use of this technology?

  3. December 4, 2010 12:57 am

    Sorry, I was quoting some wrong stats in my previous post! *delete*? still have a look at the (latest) version of the report though! 🙂


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