When it comes to the development of the energy transition, local communities play a central role in leading the way to a decentralised energy democracy. The Policy Conference organised by the European Commission aiming to share and discuss new policy developments, best practices and sustainable energy ideas. As part of the conference, we will hold a session on the importance of energy communities presenting new roles and pathways communities are currently developing around Europe.
OBOR Cities Share Experience on Regenerative Urban Development at WUF 9
8th February 2018, at the 9th World Urban Forum in Kulua Lumpur Malaysia, the World Future Council in cooperation with the Energy Foundation organized a network event to facilitate cities from One Belt and One Road Initiative (OBOR) countries to exchange experience on regenerative city – regeneration of energy, resource, urban ecosystem and urban space in urban development.
Every year India struggles with natural conditions of drifting dust from the desert Thar which are aggravated by human impact and lead to environmentally, socially and economically costly air pollution. With the enabling policy framework, a proven technology could be part of a feasible scheme tackling all anthropogenic drivers at once – and ideally lead to a reduction of air pollution by up to 90%.
Starting a few months ago, India’s North has made headlines when air pollution reached an air quality index (AQI) of 1,001 – exceeding safe levels by a multitude of ten. In the national Capital Region of Delhi alone 45 million people have been affected, causing a spike in complaints of respiratory problems and an emergency state, declared by the Indian Medical Association.
Even though the news around the topic subsided, the officially monitored AQI which are even higher in the proximity of roads within major cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad and Kolkata, continue to range around hazardous levels. Inhalation of this air is comparable to smoking several packs of cigarettes a day  and serious respiratory effects in the general population can be expected while even putting susceptible groups at risk of premature death.
The death toll of air pollution in India was the highest of all countries around the world with 2,5 million in 2015. A global UNICEF study found recently, that over 90% of children are breathing polluted air not matching WHO guidelines and 17 million infants are exposed to levels six times the approved norms. Furthermore, household air pollution was recently discovered to be insalubrious even before birth, reducing birth weight, pregnancy duration and doubling perinatal mortality. This effect is owed to the burning of traditional fuels which exposes mostly women to pulmonary and vision hazards of indoor air pollution.
A study conducted by the World Bank concluded: The negative health impact of outdoor air pollution alone costs India 3% of its GDP which translates to an equivalent loss of roughly 35 billion Euros every year. Research found a direct impact of the atmospheric pollution on agriculture with wheat yields of 2010 being on average up to 36% lower than usual all over India due to reduced intensity of sunlight and toxic ozone reaching the plants. Additionally, increased amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere contribute to the greenhouse effect leading to more extreme and destructive weather events.
Two main causes for a myriad of manmade emission sources
In agricultural areas such as Punjab, the breadbasket of India, which singlehandedly produces 20% of India’s wheat and 10% of its rice, smoke blankets rise seasonally for several weeks despite a governmental ban when leftover straw stubble from mechanical harvesting is burned openly in the fields to clean the soil for new seeding  (see fig. 2).
Then, metropolitan areas are covered by the drifting haze of crop burning in addition to the smoke of millions of wood cook stoves in and outside of the urban areas as well as countless emitters of sulfates, nitrates and black carbon such as automobiles, coal-fired power plants, incinerators, smelters or brick kilns.
A comparison of several studies of Delhi shows the difficulty of solving the problem due to the relatively equal share of the main human-made sources of urban air pollution: Open burning of garbage and other diffused emitters contribute on average about a quarter, domestic or biomass burning as well as dust ranges around 15% while both traffic and industry (including coal power plants) are responsible for approximately one third. 
However, understanding the reasons of air pollution, the interconnectedness of land and city and the amplification of fog and aerosol hazes permits a vision for a future of clear skies and fresh breath. The main detrimental causes showed to be unsolvable if tackled one by one which is demonstrated by governmental emergency measures falling short every year.
Multiplying the negative causes turns into a feasible opportunity
The usually unused agricultural leftover biomass like paddy straw suddenly becomes an additional source of income for farmers as it already begins to prove itself as a viable source for power generation in rural India, offering employment for thousands of people. The calorific value per kilogram of coal and paddy straw are comparable while it burns cleanly in boilers with an efficiency as high as 99%. Combustion technology is commercialized and alone in the state of Punjab 332.5 MW of agro-waste based power projects are planned.
These power plants can sell their power due to the “New & Renewable Sources of Energy Policy” and generate income under a Clean Development Mechanism while suppling millions of kWh to the grid for years.  Even individual households value the significant financial benefit of a carbon credit scheme which earns them up to 500 Rupees per month in a pilot project and convinces them to maintain the use of improved cook stoves.
There are numerous reasons aside from health benefits for extending the understanding of sustainable cooking beyond improved cook stoves. A new one is provided by a recent study, that noted villagers truly wish for cooking like in the cities – preferably with LPG which is out of reach for many due to its higher costs compared to wood. The so-called producer gas of low-cost straw-based power plants is an ideal replacement of a cleanly burning fuel, reducing indoor air pollution significantly in poor or disconnected rural and urban households alike.
Moreover, the processing of biomass and organic waste opens the opportunity of bio-oil production which can be handled exactly like a petroleum-based product to power suited diesel generators and fuel traffic in the cities. This not only reduces transport emissions greatly but adds value to the commonly high share of organic waste (~30%) in Indian cities, attracting the informal sector in waste collection and reducing open garbage burning.
If now the government would take a leap forward by providing legislative support for this scheme in a holistic framework and additionally phase out coal power plants, manmade air pollution could ideally be reduced by roughly up to 90% through counteracting the aforementioned emission sources. In addition to environmental and social health improvements, the positive economic impact would be substantial: An IRENA study estimated a total benefit of 59 to 224 billion USD in savings following a restructuring of the power sector. India’s INDC target of 40% renewable energy in 2030 is a promising step into the right direction.
– written by Lisa Harseim –
As forests burn in the Amazon, the World Future Council highlights that the forest is a common heritage of humanity critical for climate and biodiversity and that governments need to urgently step up action to protect the Amazon.
PRESS RELEASE – Study released during political conference in Dar Es Salaam
Dar Es Salam, Tanzania, 17th October 2017 – By deploying 100% renewable energy, Tanzania can provide access to reliable energy for all its citizens, while increasing living standards to the level of industrialized countries by 2050. This is the conclusion of a scientific study that is released today in Dar Es Salaam by the Institute for Sustainable Futures (ISF) of the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), Climate Action Network Tanzania (CAN Tanzania), Bread for the World and the World Future Council (WFC). The study also reveals that generating electricity from renewable sources is about 30% cheaper than from fossil resources.
The World Future Council, Bread for the World and CAN-Tanzania hosted a workshop in February Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to kick-off an 18-months project, aiming at exploring the feasibility of 100% RE targets and its implications for Tanzania’s Sustainable Low Carbon Development and Poverty Reduction Goals.
40 Chinese Mayors visit World Future Council Headquarters
As part of the Sino-German Mayor Exchange, over 40 mayors from different provinces of China visited the World Future Council in Hamburg last Friday, 22 September 2017. The workshop’s aim was to inform about the experience with cities’ resilience, building regenerative and climate resilient cities and to exchange views on sponge cities.
Focusing on the German experience on urban water sustainable management, Stefan Schurig from the World Future Council gave an introduction to regenerative cities in connection with sponge cities. Thereafter, Professor Ralf Otterpohl, Director of the Institute of Wastewater Management and Water Protection, TUHH (Technical University) Hamburg-Harburg turned to the topic of combining food and water security. Mr Daniel Schumann-Hindenberg from the Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl, then spoke about urban planning of sponge cities.
After the workshop, the World Future Council invited the participants to a reception into the premises of the Council’s headquarters.
The event was hosted by the German Ministry for Environment, Nature, Building and Nuclear Safety and the Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development and carried out by GIZ and China Association of Mayors.
Dear Colleagues and Friends, After ten years with the World Future Council, I will be moving on and will be leaving the organisation for a new career step. It was truly an honor for me to serve the organisation since April 2007…
The F20 Platform is looking back to a successful event in Hamburg
The F20 Foundations Platform is an alliance of more than 45 foundations and philanthropic organizations from twelve countries that have joined forces in order to further shape the political discourse on future sustainability measures.
Ahead of the G20 summit in Hamburg, representatives from participating foundations got together to discuss the challenges and opportunities of the implementation of the Paris Agreement. In a joint statement, they called upon the G20 states to confirm their commitment to the Paris Agreement.
During the event in the prestigious Hamburg Town Hall, which was mainly organised by the World Future Council, WFC-Councillor Dr Auma Obama and Honorary Councillor Dr Michael Otto took part in the press conference. Dr Otto emphasised the importance of the implementation of the Paris Agreement and urged for more ambitious climate action, also in Germany: He pressed for a German withdrawal from fossile fuel and the promotion of renewable energies and carbon-neutral traffic.
During her speech at the event, Dr Obama stressed that African people must be included when talking about climate action: They should not be doing the same mistakes as the industrialised countries, and would be able to leapfrog developments. Other speakers included Laurence Tubiana, the architect behind the Paris Agreement, the US-american physicist and environmentalist Amory B. Lovins, as well as the British economist Lord Nicholas Stern. Around 400 people attended the event; the side-events before and after the main event included an energy transition tour through Hamburg and other workshops organised by F20 foundations.
At the end of the main event in Hamburg, the German minister for the environment, Barbara Hendricks, received the F20 publication. Climate action and sustainable development must become core duties of the leading industrialised and threshold countries. The Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is “short sighted and irresponsible”, as the F20 members state. We are positive that the event on the 4th of July here in Hamburg was just the start of a success story for common and transnational action towards a zero carbon economy and a successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda.
For more information on the F20 Platform, please visit www.foundations-20.org
Martin Bosak, Coordinator Foundation Platform F20, World Future Council.
A regional approach to achieving a European Renewable Energy Union
In times of rising populism, internal cleavages and climate scepticism across EU Member States, Europe needs to reconnect with its citizens. Uniting the continent and re-gaining people´s trust in the European integration has never been more relevant. In fact, building a European Renewable Energy Union with regions, cities, municipalities and indeed citizens at its core could be the vehicle to realize this goal. The idea of regional cooperation can fill the ambition gap between national energy strategies and a standardized EU-wide approach. For MEP Claude Turmes, rapporteur of EU´s renewable energy governance reform, the direction is clear: “We are stronger together. [..) Can we think of a more positive project than local energy citizens?” And Brendan Devlin from DG Energy in the European Commission adds “We now see that individuals and communities are the actors that can bring us to meet the Paris Agreement goals”.
EU legislation must foster regional cooperation on the sub-national level.
So, what is needed to put words into action? In a policy debate on cross-border cooperation for renewable energy, organized by the Heinrich Boell Foundation EU and the World Future Council, hosted by the European Committee of the Regions, about 50 policy makers and key energy stakeholders concluded that EU legislation must foster regional cooperation on the sub-national level. While the “Clean Energy Package for All Europeans” only supports member states to collaborate on renewable energy development and to interconnect the transmission grid across borders, municipalities and regions lack political support.
The project “Smart Energy Union Emmen Haren” (SEREH), which aims at building a regional, decentralized and mostly community-owned cross-border energy system, is a living example of the untapped potential that micro-level cooperation can unlock in accelerating the pace of energy transition in Europe. It is also illustrative of the current regulatory and legal barriers that local and regional pioneers are facing on the ground. “The current regulation is based on centralized systems that work top-down, while we need a distributed system that works bottom-up”, says Melinda Loonstra from the Dutch municipality Emmen. Emmen and its German neighbour Haren want to build a cross-border interconnection between their local renewable energy markets to become carbon neutral. “This link can help to build up a robust, reliable and affordable energy supply based on renewable sources in the Netherlands and Germany.” A direct exchange of electricity between the two regions could be the first step to another type of electricity market – a market where communities and small producers can trade their own energy via a digital platform. This micro-level form of cooperation could bring various advantages for European citizens: community-owned energy sources, keeping revenues in the region, reducing transport costs through local production and use, more affordable energy and the emergence of new businesses. One of the biggest challenges that Emmen and Haren are facing is conflicting national regulation on interconnection. And according to European law, only the Transmission System Operator (TSO) is permitted to transport electricity across border on the high-voltage grid. Also, legislative proposals that are currently discussed in the European parliament do not allow local DSOs to build interconnections on the medium-voltage grid between two countries.
According to Roberto Zangrandi, Secretary General of EDSO for Smart Grids, contradicting and diverse regulatory frameworks are indeed the biggest impediments to a rapid evolution of local networks. Depending on the respective national policies, the autonomy of the DSOs varies from country to country. In addition, the different support schemes, permitting procedures and administrative rules on the two sides of the borders also pose significant obstacles to the cross-border interaction between neighbouring regions or municipalities. Despite the possibilities for European funding of cross-border projects, these funds are in most of the cases considered out of reach for local actors, mostly due to co-financing and the complexity of application and reporting.
It is local actors that catalyse change.
However, it is exactly these local actors that catalyse change. As Jan Carsten Gjerløw from the Akershus County Council, Norway highlighted in the policy debate: “I think citizens and regions are actually the most important drivers. And we will see that governments and law, they will come after, they will follow up.” The City of Oslo has improved air quality standards, which has been the driving force behind the development of new national low carbon solutions in the transport sector. Also Susanne Nies, Corporate Affairs Manager with ENTSO-E underlines that local actors are at the frontline of innovation. “TSOs, regulators and national governments work in a triangle. The local level has to push this triangle.” Meanwhile, Magdalena Jaworska-Dużyńska from the Polish city Karlino highlighted that it is not only the big cities but also the small towns and municipalities that need political support. “People in Karlino want to be green and do more than the national government. But for this, we need Europe´s support.”
According to Claude Turmes, there should be an obligation to incorporate multi-level governance dialogue in the current legislation. The concrete proposal in the new governance regulation aims at establishing a permanent multi-level energy dialogue platform gathering among others regional and local authorities, civil society actors, business communities and investors to discuss different energy scenarios and shape the development of national energy and climate plans is a step in the right direction. It is now essential that Member States will institutionalize this dialogue in the legislative framework.
“The sky is the limit with this EGTC tool.”
A very concrete and in fact promising tool to support local actors especially in border regions is the European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation (EGTC). This tool has been designed to facilitate cross-border, trans-national or interregional cooperation in any sector. Regarding renewable energy, the EGTC can provide subnational frontrunner regions with regulatory support and flexibility to adopt a specific framework of rules and regulation in a specific cross-border territory. By creating one single legal entity to attract funding for cross-border areas, the tool will not be dependent on political changes at national level and could bring benefits directly to local communities without the need to involve national governments. This could simplify the complex and cumbersome administrative procedures and enable local and regional actors to develop long-term strategies in the context of a more stable regulatory environment. “The sky is the limit with this EGTC tool”, comments Slaven Klobučar from the European Committee of the Regions.
Aiming to strengthen territorial cohesion during its Presidency, the Luxembourg government launched further proposals for improving this legal tool that would allow cooperating cross-border regions to set up their own set of fitted legislation for a specific area or project. In this way, two municipal entities on both sides of the border could negotiate a specific regional legislative agreement that could be reviewed and approved by the national states before it becomes binding. While it would not deprive Member States from sovereignty, it will give possibilities to regions to “pull legislation from one side of the border to the other” and become “living laboratories”. The improved tool could also provide legal certainty to bottom-up initiatives, ensure better control of the outcomes, accelerate the adoption of new rules and promote cross-border experimentation zones. The next step in the process is the implementation of this tool. “The ball really lies with the Commission”, explains Frederick Richters from the Government of Luxembourg. In order to bring these concrete suggestions to fruition, the Commission has to turn them into a legislative proposal, for example, through incorporating them into the EU cohesion policy package.
One of Luxembourg´s supporters in this process is Alexandra Lafont from Mission Opérationelle Transfrontalière. “Often people do not even know which people to speak to on the other side of the border. This is why they need platforms and institutions” , she points out in the policy dialogue in Brussels. In fact, in a Europe that is close to its citizens, EU institutions should be seen not only as a regulator but rather as an enabler that brings together various actors at different levels, promotes an interactive exchange through an institutionalized dialogue and facilitates access to financing for small towns and municipalities and community-owned projects. “Europe is more than legislation” , says Brendan Devlin from DG Energy in the European Commission. “Even though it will be difficult to move from a regulator towards an enabler of policy outcomes, this is what we need.”
– Radostina Primova (Heinrich Boell Foundatin EU Office), Maren Preuss (Heinrich Boell Foundatin EU Office) and Anna Leidreiter (World Future Council) –
To watch the recording of the full policy debate that took place on 6 th June 2017 in the Committee of the Regions in Brussels, please click here. You can also find some photos here and more background information about the topic and other activities in this programme here.