Decarbonizing cities for a better planet
The fourth edition of the study on circular cities carried out by Enel with the scientific contribution of Enel Foundation and in collaboration with Arup, titled "Circular Cities - Decarbonization and Other Benefits", was presented during COP26. The research was done in collaboration with Bocconi University, University of Genova and University de los Andes of Bogotà, assessing the impact of circular economy initiatives in cities in terms of emissions, quality of life and resilience. Milan, Genova, Glasgow and Bogotà were taken as sample cities and analyzed through interviews with players from the public and private sector.
Up until the end of the 18th century there were only three cities in the world that exceeded one million citizens: Tokyo, Beijing and London. Today, there are more than 550, and the pace of urban growth and the importance of cities have accelerated dramatically. Fifteen years ago, the urban population surpassed the rural population, and now cities are responsible for more than 80% of economic production.
Cities produce about 70% of global carbon emissions, are responsible for more than 60% of resource use, and produce 50% of global waste. Given that about two-thirds of the world's population is projected to live in cities by 2050, they will play a key role in tackling the effects of climate change. In order to do that, they can systematically adopt circular economy initiatives and strategies. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) estimates, for example, that the transition to a circular economy in the production of raw materials such as concrete or steel - based on the concept of reduce, reuse, recycle and recover - would contribute to a 45% reduction in greenhouse gases and, together with the decarbonization of power generation, help achieve carbon neutrality.
The study identifies - thanks to a reference model and through the analysis of decarbonization and circular policies and strategies already adopted by the cities - the most significant circular interventions that in each of the three sectors considered would lead to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The research thus indicates "significant opportunities to reduce consumption-based emissions and achieve broader benefits, such as improved quality of life for residents and increased resilience of cities." They range from the electrification of transport and consumption in buildings, to the promotion of flexible working models, through the extension of the life of products and the use of materials that emit less CO2 and the construction of fewer buildings to meet the same needs through formulas of modularity and space sharing, from the promotion of the use of renewable energy to digitization.
In order to work, all these proposals need though to be put in practice. Cities are expected to set ambitious goals with clear interventions to achieve them, with multi-stakeholder collaboration across all sectors also creating demand on which the private sector can act.