Energy Efficient Megacities Have A Large Role to Play in Curbing Emissions

Energy efficiency in buildings is becoming increasingly critical as the level of urbanization escalates.
Published: Wed 14 Jan 2015

The world’s megacities are on the front line of climate change – accountable for the lion’s share of global greenhouse gas emissions, and at the same time the most vulnerable to its impacts. To get a better understanding of this challenge and what cities are doing to reduce emissions, Engerati spoke to Zoe Sprigings, C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group’s Network Manager for Energy Efficiency, who will be presenting at the upcoming ESCO Europe. The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40) is a group of the world’s megacities and their mayors, working to reduce carbon emissions and climate risk.

A network of energy efficiency officials

Sprigings points out that energy consumed in buildings is responsible for almost half of the greenhouse gas emissions in C40 cities. This means that many cities prioritise building energy efficiency in their efforts to tackle climate change, especially as it cuts energy bills and can also produce healthier workplaces, new jobs and improved energy security. Despite it being a common-sense mitigation option, energy efficiency is often hard to implement, says Sprigings.

C40 works on the principle that city officials facing the same challenges can best learn from one another, making it easier and quicker to implement tested solutions. C40 creates networks of officials focused on overcoming similar problems, such as the Private Building Efficiency Network and Municipal Building Efficiency Network.

These networks, already counting more than 30 cities across Asia, Oceania, Africa, Europe, Latin America and North America, continue to grow, according to Sprigings. Cities collaborate on joint projects, such as the recent compilation of building efficiency best practice volunteered by cities in the network: Urban Efficiency, A Global Survey of Building Energy Efficiency Policies in Cities. “It is a classic example of cities demonstrating leadership in policy development and action.”

Identifying the main elements of energy efficiency policy

The Urban Efficiency survey identified 11 main elements of building energy efficiency policy in cities around the world, particularly focused on existing buildings. Cities often combine different elements to suit local conditions. They are as follows:


  1. Building energy codes: many cities around the world develop their own codes for new buildings and major renovations that have a wider scope or are more stringent than national or state codes.

  2. Reporting and benchmarking: requiring energy performance data reporting appears to be a major trend, with most programmes targeting large buildings and requiring annual reporting. Some policies simply require disclosure between building owners and potential buyers or tenants, whilst others require public disclosure via city websites.

  3. Mandatory auditing and retro-commissioning: this has emerged in leading American and Asian cities. They tend to target large buildings in the non-residential sector and are often implemented along with reporting and benchmarking schemes, so that the identification of energy efficiency improvements accompanies reporting of current energy performance.

  1. Emissions trading schemes: the mandatory emissions trading scheme in Tokyo is unique in that it was developed by a city, is managed by a city and is focused on buildings.

  1. Green building and energy ratings: it is uncommon for a green building certification or rating scheme to be run by a city government, as they tend to be managed by a national non-governmental organisation. Nonetheless, a popular way to promote their uptake is to use them as standards that must be met to qualify for incentives (as described below).

  1. Financial incentives: these are common, and range from free energy efficient fixtures and rebates on larger appliances, to more sophisticated financial instruments like loans and tax incentives, which often target key groups such as home owners or small businesses.

  2. Non-financial incentives: these depend on the city’s legislative landscape, but can include expedited building permits or an allowance for extra height or floor area for new or redeveloped buildings which meet a particular green building or energy efficiency standard.

  3. Awareness raising programmes: cities often provide information online, and occasionally supplement this with free or subsidised audits to drive uptake of energy efficiency measures.

  4. Promoting green leases: although this is ultimately a matter for the building owner and tenant, several cities try to support adoption of green leases through providing toolkits and draft model clauses.

  5. Voluntary leadership programmes: these are popular with cities, who either run programmes which reward voluntary leadership with mayoral recognition and publicity, or provide particular support to specific leaders.

  1. Government leadership: cities generally lead by example, either by setting themselves standards for new build or by leading the way in retrofitting owned city buildings.

Energy efficient buildings are fundamental

With urbanisation on the increase, cities are becoming more important as leaders and doers tackling energy efficiency and carbon emissions, says Sprigings. Initiatives like the Compact of Mayors shows how cities’ ambitions to tackle climate change continue to increase. Building energy efficiency will be a key part of this as buildings are fundamental to the fabric of cities. She adds, “Those in the ESCO industry who recognise the influence of cities in this field, and tailor their offerings to suit city needs, will be the ones who win business.”

We asked what Ms Sprigings was looking forward to at ESCO Europe and she said, “I’m looking forward to learning about the latest developments in ESCO policy and also the latest technology and finance offerings from the market. In particular, I am hoping to find out how providers are focusing on meeting city needs.”

Further reading

C40 Cities-Urban Efficiency- A Global Survey of Building Energy Efficiency Policies in Cities [pdf]

C40 Cities - Global Mayors Compact Shows Unity and Ambition to Tackle Climate Change