The first area of discussion the panellists covered was the progress being made in the decarbonisation of cities. A common theme in several of their responses was that political motivation and political pressure from citizens was integral to maximising progress. This was driving the implementation of large scale solutions around mobility, construction, housing but also smart solutions for air quality monitoring. Therefore, while it was easy to perceive the solution as technological, it was in fact very much institutional and political.
This was evident from the shift in city administrations' criteria in selecting private sector business partners. "We operate in 12 cities around the globe ranging across the US, Australia, Asia and Europe," said Tom Mackellar of Lendlease. "Across those cities, most of the new business we are securing is ~70% attributable to our sustainability social credentials. Economics, which was once the predominant motivation, now probably only accounts for ~30% of the selection process in our experience."
The panel highlighted a number of areas where they felt progress was still lagging, with insufficient publicising of government sustainability funding being one example. Europe currently has ~100mn older housing units that are over-consuming energy by 6 to 9 times the consumption of new low consumption housing units. "Subsidies are available to help consumers improve their homes to address this issue, but many of them are not well publicised, so take up is low," explained Myriam Maestroni of Economie d'Energie. "Since energy consumption at the household level accounts for more than a third of CO2 emissions, this is an important issue."
A related obstacle is the disparity of financing across renewables generation and energy efficiency, which is also hindering progress. According to International Energy Agency projections, 42% of decarbonisation is expected to come from energy efficiency and 38% from renewables. However, while their relative importance may be approximately equal, their financing is not, with by far the bulk of financing currently going to renewables.
Another area where the panel felt progress had been limited was urban sprawl. Recent studies have highlighted that urban sprawl is expanding as a multiple of the population growth. In the worst cases, cities' footprints are expanding at seven times the rate of their population growth. This is a major problem because of the impact it has on transportation, energy consumption and carbon emissions.