A new international report shows that 34 South African cities, in which some 15.3-million people live and work, had adopted renewable-energy targets and/or policies by the end of 2020, with Cape Town, eThekwini, Johannesburg and Tshwane having also announced official net-zero targets.
The ‘Renewables in Cities Global Status Report’, published by REN21 on March 18, also shows that these South African cities are part of an international trend, with more than 1 300 cities globally having also adopted renewable-energy targets and/or policies by the end of last year.
Collectively, therefore, more than a billion people, representing about a quarter of the world’s urban population, currently live in cities with such targets or policies.
In addition, 43 cities enforced fossil-fuel bans in heating and/or transport in 2020, five times as many as in 2019.
Releasing the report during a virtual briefing, however, REN21 executive director Rana Adib stressed that targets and policies, while essential, were not sufficient and that cities also needed to exert their regulatory power, which was sometimes limited by national policy and legislation or even at odds with such policy and legislation.
“With their impact at scale, cities are our best bet to plan, develop and build a renewable future. But all too often their potential for transformation remains massively underused,” she said.
“It’s a tough job to turn low-carbon ambitions into reality in built and densely packed environments. National governments must put money, capacity and above all legislative powers into the hands of local authorities,” Adib added.
She highlighted Cape Town’s efforts in pushing for a greater role for renewables, which culminated in a court case through which the city sought the right to procure renewable electricity directly from independent power producers.
The regulations have since been amended separately to allow South African municipalities to build or procure their own renewable electricity directly and six Western Cape municipalities, as well as the City of Cape Town, were now set to participate in a broader provincial effort to prepare the way for such procurement.
The lack of legislative power was one of five barriers identified by Adib to cities taking action to leverage the energy transition. The others included:
- a lack of awareness of renewables as an urban opportunity;
- insufficient capacity and financial resources, including a lack of access to financial markets;
- conflicting policies, including ongoing national subsidies for fossil fuels, which undermined city action; and
- a lack of data and information to inform decision-making and to track progress.
Nevertheless, the REN21 report argued that city governments across sub-Saharan Africa, including in South Africa, had taken important steps in recent years to advance the deployment of renewables.
Africa’s urban population, the report noted, had increased more than 16-fold between 1950 and 2018, from 33-million to 548-million, making urban centres a key driver of rising energy demand.
“Cities across sub-Saharan Africa increasingly recognise the opportunities around renewable energy use to improve energy access, reduce energy poverty as well as boost the resilience and reliability of existing power systems.”
However, the report also stated that municipal governments in the region faced numerous barriers to the deployment of renewables.
“Key challenges included policy and regulation, underdeveloped grids and infrastructure, unstable off-taker arrangements, access to financial markets, data needs and technical capacity.”
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