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How to go beyond 90% GHG emissions reduction at city-scale?

Workshop participants in Bologna

As the City of Bologna starts a new strategic planning cycle and decides whether to commit to the Covenant of Mayors’ revised target of 40% greenhouse gas emissions reduction by 2030, the City Council hosted a future energy scenario workshop. Helsinki and Warsaw also took part in this Urban-LEDS project event. “Eye-opener” and “mind-changing” were some of the expressions used by the participants.

The workshop used the GRIP scenario tool, developed by Dr. Sebastian Carney, to facilitate dialogue and build a shared vision of a future where Bologna wishes to be in 2030 and 2050. The City of Bologna, one of the European cities in the Urban-LEDS project, wishes to become more attractive and more efficient by regenerating the existing urban fabric, to become more compact and better interconnected to reduce the need to travel, using smart grids and making more and better use of information. The question asked: Is it possible to achieve these objectives while simultaneously doing its share to avoid the dangerous effects of climate change? The resounding answer: Yes, but this requires a whole systems approach across different sectors: residential, services, transport, industry and energy supply.

“An 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is not an ambitious target but rather a necessary target. We need to achieve it in order to keep global warming below 2o Celsius in this century”, said Dr. Sebastian Carney of Inspired Energy PLC. “GRIP helps create awareness to the scale of change which is necessary. Local, regional and national policies and procurement strategies should already be in place today as we are rapidly using up our emissions quotas”.

After completing two initial scenarios that respectively yielded a 35% GHG emissions reduction by 2030 and 75% reduction by 2050, Giovanni Fini, Coordinator of Environmental Projects and responsible for the Sustainable Energy Action Plan (SEAP) of the City of Bologna, said “Although we were working with a hypothetical future scenario, we were still cautious in our assumptions. But I recognize that it is not enough to do what we have been doing in a more efficient way. We need to transform the energy system and how we use energy”. The review of these initial scenarios enabled the definition of a future where Bologna reaches a 95% GHG reduction by 2050.

The shift away from fossil fuels to 100% renewable energy sources, including the enhancement of community-owned distributed electricity generation and the use of district energy systems, have important roles to play to deliver the system’s transformation at the rate of change needed. It was agreed that assertive action is needed, both on the energy supply and demand sides.

The workshop participants shared different realities. While Bologna indicated that due to multiple property owners and thus a difficulty to invest are key obstacles to change, Warsaw spoke of the importance of the coal value chain to the country’s economy as it employs a very large number of workers in this sector. On the other hand, Helsinki shared a recent decision: in 2020 the city-owned energy utility is going to shut down its largest coal power plant as a new biomass plant will begin operation, significantly increasing the share of renewable energy used in the city.

The workshop took place in Bologna on March 16 and 17, 2016, with the participation of local stakeholders from Bologna, namely the association of building owners and the association of architects.