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East Asian Cities Set to Become 100% Renewable Energy-Powered in 15 Years

Cities in East Asia have begunEnergy-safe Cities East Asia Conference an ambitious new program to help them become 100% renewable energy-powered in just 15 years. The initiative has been launched by ICLEI, the global network for sustainable local government, together with the Wuppertal Institute.

At a symposium in Beijing marking the launch of the programme, calleEnergy-safe Cities – East Asia, Konrad Otto-Zimmermann, Founding Director of ICLEI's East Asia Secretariat and Chairman, ICLEI Urban Agendas, , remarking on the long life span of urban infrastructure and their long-term impact on the environment, urged cities to act ambitiously to turn their energy systems into low-risk, low-carbon and resilient. "Whatever we build has a long life time, that means we have to be very careful with what we invest. We do not only bear the responsibility of today but also for tomorrow," he said.

Any city in the East Asia region (including cities from Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Japan, Mongolia, People's Republic of China, Republic of Korea and Russia) was invited to participate in an expert symposium which will lead to the creation of strategies and roadmaps; participation was limited to a maximum of three cities from each country. The symposium took place at the end of October in Beijing.

It drew over 70 participants, including national and local government officials from 11 East Asian cities from China, Japan, Korea and Mongolia, as well as international experts and industry representatives from the field of sustainable energy, to share their expertise, technological experience and demonstrate examples of their work in cities.

Otto-Zimmermann told delegates: "A city which is one hundred percent supplied from renewable energy sources in a resilient way deserves the label 'energy-safe'."

Selling German expertise

Germany, which hosts both the ICLEI and the Wuppertal Institute, is already a pioneer in 100% renewable energy regions. Across the country there are over 100 regions that have implemented and even exceeded a 100% renewable energy target. They are called 100% RE regions and cover about a quarter of the country's population.

Map of Germany's energy regions.

Map of Germany's energy regions. Source.

Each of these regions has had to come up with a strategy, and municipalities have had to be given far-reaching instruments of control with regard to authorisation and installation of renewable energy, to enable local implementation of national energy policies.

Local governments and citizens partially fund their installation and maybe even be involved in the operation, and increasingly communities are adopting their own renewable energy development goals. Feed in tariffs have played a special part by acting as a stimulus. In his new book, Creating Regenerative Cities, Herbert Girardet describes these regions and says "one of the key lessons is that the pride of ownership should not be underestimated. When local citizens and communities have a direct financial stake in renewable energy projects, social acceptance tends to be greater".

 Copenhagen offshore windfarmOther cities with 100% renewable energy goals include Copenhagen, which has a target of becoming carbon neutral by 2025, which includes transport. It aims to be the world's first carbon neutral capital city. Its municipal strategic climate action plan combines 50 different initiatives. Amongst these are offshore wind farms (right).

Organisers of the symposium cited these examples but also those of the cities of Sydney, Reykjavik, Freiburg and Malmö that have shown already that there are a wide range of technologies, policy strategies, as well as financial and social tools that are being effectively applied toward the goal of low-risk, resilient, and 100 percent renewable energy-based cities.

The experience of these cities is that adopting a policy like this creates a huge number of jobs as well as guaranteeing energy security. In Copenhagen, following adoption of the policy, the green sector grew by 55% between 2007 and 2012, creating thousands of new jobs.

"Cities are a focal point of emissions, and targets drive action," agrees Mark Kenber, CEO of The Climate Group. Besides being responsible for most of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, "cities are where Jevon's paradox comes in to its own, meaning that as technology makes resource use (such as energy) more efficient, consumption of that resource increases," he believes. That is why conversion to renewable energy is essential, because technical fixes to improve efficiency will not reduce emissions.

The symposium

Launched during an Energy-safe Cities symposium in Beijing, China, vice mayors and technical department heads participated from Baoding, Yixing, and Zhenjiang from China; Kyoto, Tokyo, and Yokohama from Japan; Mongolia's capital city Ulaanbaatar; and Cheongju, Inje, Jeonju, and Samcheok from South Korea.

The symposium is the first step of the programme to explore the pathway leading up to 2017 when specific action plans will be announced to achieve the 100 percent renewable energy goal.

Aixing Han, Vice Director of the Building Energy Saving and Technology Division of China's Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, shared China's challenge in urban development in his keynote speech. He emphasized the value of regional cooperation, as well as the importance of learning from the East. "In the past years, we've been cooperating with western countries, but regional cooperation is lacking and is much needed. Indeed, there are a lot of things we can learn from the East. The Chinese traditional belief in the harmonious unity of man and nature is not only a slogan, it is a reality."

"We must fully exploit what today's technologies are offering and envisage radical solutions," added Otto-Zimmermann. "These will make cities more resilient, energy supplies more sustainable, and the economy greener."

Huang Ming, Chairman and CEO of China-Himin Solar Energy Group, and Vice President of the International Solar Energy Society said that cities and governments could learn a lot from the business sector. "The automobile industry and the IT industry rarely hold conferences on policies, but they are very successful in changing people's behaviors and selling their products. There is much to be learnt from the industry in changing our ways in dealing with energy," he said.

The Chinese city Yixin, Korean cities Cheongju, Inje, Jeonju and Samcheok, Japanese cities Kyoto, Tokyo and Yokohama, and Mongolia's capital city Ulaanbaatar all presented their cities' efforts and achievements in energy transformation.

Although these cities have very different climate conditions, geographical, cultural and industrial features and political structures, all expressed great hopes in making their cities low-carbon, more resilient and livable.

To achieve this, they have already established goals to reduce emissions and energy consumption, as well as raising the ratio of renewable energy in their cities' total energy use.

The symposium was co-hosted by Green Technology Center–Korea and endorsed by international renewable and sustainable energy associations.

The second stage of the programme will now begin, spanning eight to 12 months, where local scenario workshops will be held in cities that commit to undertake Goal 2030 for 100 percent renewable and energy-safe cities.