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Cities can change the game: the fight against emissions and air pollution

Fossil fuel bans jump fivefold in 2020

The pandemic has thrown into stark relief the global battle of cities for cleaner air and a better future. The 2021 edition of REN21’s Renewables in Cities Global Status Report, the only stock-taking of cities’ energy transition efforts worldwide, shows that one billion people live in cities with a renewable energy target or policy,[i] The number of cities that have enforced partial or complete bans on fossil fuels jumped fivefold in 2020.[ii]

For the second year, REN21 takes the temperature of how cities worldwide use renewable energy to battle emissions to prevent air pollution and climate change.[iii] More than half of the global population lives in cities, which account for three-quarters of global final energy consumption.  

“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,” says REN21’s Executive Director, Rana Adib. “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.”

Cities must transition to renewables and set end dates for fossil fuels in all sectors

A critical factor for the success of cities’ climate strategies is to rapidly replace fossil fuels with renewable energy in heating and cooling as well as in transport. These sectors are responsible for the biggest share of global emissions, and they are best addressed at the local level.

The report shows that often, purchasing renewable electricity for the city’s own operations is one of the first steps local leaders take. But according to Adib, this is not enough. “Cities like Hamburg, San Francisco and Shanghai show, the more ambitious they are, the more they think of renewable energy everywhere. They impose strict building codes and renewable energy obligations. But most importantly, they set an end date to the use of gas, oil and coal.”

By 2020, 43 cities had done so and enforced fossil fuel bans in heating and/or transport, five times as many as in 2019.[iv] In total, one billion people – about one-quarter of the global urban population – live in cities with a renewable energy target or policy.[v] “But as inspiring as these examples are,” says Adib, “we are still a far cry from what is needed to curb climate change in time.”

A flavour of clean air and clear skies  

Last year’s lockdowns with the sudden disappearance of traffic, the complete alteration of lifestyles resulting in cleaner air and less noisy environments, have given citizens a flavour of how alternatives to packed roads and polluted skies could look.

City leaders are now building on this momentum, moving away from polluting fossil fuels and building clean and resilient energy systems in their place. “Growing citizen support gives Santiago a real mandate to take action against climate change. Our residents demand that the government take bold measures,” explains Isabel Aguilera, Environmental Director for the city of Santiago (Chile).

The race towards renewables is an obstacle course

The Renewables in Cities 2021 Global Status Report also shows that besides emission reductions, many other local benefits await those who take their energy future into their own hands: from the creation of local jobs and welfare to greater quality of life and healthier citizens. “The transition to a zero-carbon economy presents tremendous economic development opportunities for Orlando and the Central Florida region, some that we are already beginning to see stimulate our local economy, improve public health, reduce environmental impacts, and create meaningful high-wage jobs for our residents,” says Mayor Buddy Dyer of the City of Orlando (Florida, USA).

Sometimes, like in recent examples from Japan and the Republic of Korea, city governments can even push national governments to be more ambitious.[vi] But, while the report features encouraging stories from all regions of the world,[vii] the large majority of cities have not yet figured out how to take ambitious action, or they lack the power and resources to do it.

“Provide cities around the world with support”

Even those who seem ready and willing to move forward, run into obstacles. All too often, powerful fossil fuel interests put a stop to cities’ decarbonisation plans.

“It’s a sad fact that wherever in the world cities seek to phase-out fossil fuels, the industry puts a lot of resources into fighting back.

“They take local authorities to court or, as seen recently in the US, convince state policymakers to make it legally impossible for cities to take such decisions at all,” says Adib.

Martina Otto, heading the cities work at the United Nations Environmental Programme, concludes: “There is huge untapped potential. We can both increase the level of ambition and progress in meeting national climate commitments if national and regional governments around the world provide cities with support well beyond the creation of better financial conditions. Getting over territorial boundaries to empower cities means unleashing the power of our strongest allies.”

About REN21 and the Renewables in Cities Global Status Report

REN21 is the only global renewable energy community of actors from science, governments, NGOs and industry. We provide up-to-date and peer-reviewed facts, figures and analysis of global developments in technology, policies and markets. Our goal: enable decision-makers to make the shift to renewable energy happen – now.

The Renewables in Cities Global Status Report is an annual stock-take of the global transition to renewable energy at the city-level. The 2021 edition has been co-authored by over 330 experts and is endorsed by an Advisory Committee of 20 organizations including city networks. 


[i] 1,300 cities worldwide have either a renewable energy target or policy in place. Globally, over 830 cities in 72 countries have binding renewable energy targets and around 800 cities have implemented policies to help advance renewables in their cities.  See table below for more details.

Selected countries with renewable energy targets, net-zero targets and/or policies in cities

 Cities with renewable energy targetsCities with net-zero targetsCities with renewable energy policesCities with renewable energy targets and/or policies  Share of urban population with renewable energy targets and/or policy (%)
Country (#)(% of global total) (#)(% of global total) (#)(% of global total) (#)(% of global total)
United States of America33740.4%11214.1%35744.7%47936.17%28%
Italy597.1%475.9%9712.1%15011.30%47%
Germany617.3%131.6%9011.3%14010.55%40%
United Kingdom9411.3%455.7%243%1067.99%73%
Spain151.8%172.1%627.8%725.43%34%
South Africa70.8%50.6%313.9%342.56%40%
China60.7%81%212.6%251.88%38%
Sweden242.9%243%81%251.88%46%
Netherlands, The81%81%202.5%221.66%43%
Canada151.8%253.1%20.3%161.21%36%
Japan101.2%10312.9%30.4%110.8%40%
Republic of Korea50.6%20.3%10.1%50.4%55%
GLOBAL TOTAL834 796 799 1327 25%

[ii] See data on fossil fuel bans below.

[iii] More than 10,500 cities globally had adopted CO2 emission reduction targets, and around 800 cities have committed to net-zero emissions in 2020 – up sharply from the 100 cities with such commitments in 2019.

[iv] See data on fossil fuel bans below.

[v] See endnote (i) above.

[vi] Local governments in Japan have been instrumental in pushing the national governments to commit to carbon neutrality and/or adopt net-zero targets. As part of the Korean Local Governments’ Action Alliance for Carbon-Neutrality, 226 local governments that had already declared a climate emergency by September 2020, pushed the national government to commit to carbon neutrality by 2050.

[vii] Data has been collected on hundreds of cities, ranging from mega-cities to small and medium size cities and towns. The report features specific case studies on: Adelaide (Australia); Palmas (Brazil); Recife (Brazil); Yaoundé IV (Cameroon); Cocody (Côte d’Ivoire); Rajkot (India); North Lombok Regency (Indonesia); Jakarta (Indonesia); Seoul (Republic of Korea); Dakar (Senegal); Cape Town (South Africa); Malmö (Sweden); Tsévié (Togo); Kampala (Uganda); Oxford (UK); Orlando, FL (USA).

Additional case studies that will be provided as supplements are: Vancouver (Canada) and Heidelberg (Germany).

Data about city-level fossil fuel bans

Summary: There are 66 cities worldwide with a proposed and/or passed fossil fuel bans for heating and cooling and/or transport. In total these 66 cities have 67 bans as 1 city has both a ban for buildings and one for transport. (Note: not all of them have been enforced yet). Regarding enforcement: 4 went into force before 2019, 4 went into force into 2019, and 35 went into force in 2020; for a total of 43 enforced in 2020. 20 will go into force in the future. Plus 4 for which there is no known enforcement date. Date of enactment: 11 were voted before 2019, 37 were voted in 2019, and 13 were voted in 2020. Plus 6 for which we have no date; for a total of 67.

Raw data:

CountryCityBanned technology/fuelBans and restrictions in buildingsVehicle bans and restrictionsPolicy statusYear of enactmentYear of entry into force
AustraliaSydneyCoalX Proposed20182035
AustraliaAustralian Capital Territory (Canberra)N/AX Passed20202025-2045
AustriaViennaOil and gas heatingX Passed20202020
CanadaMontrealOil furnacesX Passed20162017-2021
CanadaVancouverNatural gasX Passed20162030
ChinaHandanCoalX Passed20172017
ChinaTaiyuanCoalX Passed20172017
ChinaXingtaiCoalX Passed20172017
FranceParisoilX Passed20202022
GermanyHamburgOilX Proposed20202021
Netherlands, TheAmsterdamNatural gasX Passed20202020-2040
PolandKrakowCoal boiler, fuelwood in boilers, stoves and fireplacesX Passed20132019
SwedenStockholmCoalX Passed20192022
United KingdomLondonNatural gas banX Passed20192019
United StatesAlameda, CANatural gasX Passed20192020
United StatesAlbany, CANatural gas banX Passed20162020
United StatesBerkeley, CANatural gasX Passed20192020
United StatesBrisbane, CANatural gasX Passed20192020
United StatesBrookline, MAOil and gasX Passed20192021
United StatesBurlingame, CANatural gasX Passed20192020
United StatesCambridge, MANatural gasX Proposed2019N/A
United StatesCampbell, CANatural gasX Proposed2020N/A
United StatesCarlsbad, CANatural gasX Passed20192020
United StatesCupertino, CANatural gasX Passed20192020
United StatesDavis, CANatural gasX Passed20192020
United StatesHayward, CANatural gasX Passed20192020
United StatesHealdburg, CANatural gasX Passed20192020
United StatesLos Altos Hills, CANatural gasX Passed20192020
United StatesLos Gatos, CAStorage; natural gasX Passed20192020
United StatesMenlo Park, CANatural gasX Passed20192020
United StatesMill Valley, CANatural gasX Passed20192020
United StatesMillbrae, CANatural gasX Passed20192019
United StatesMilpitas, CANatural gasX Passed20192020
United StatesMorgan Hilll, CANatural gasX Passed20192020
United StatesMountain View, CANatural gasX Passed20192020
United StatesNewton, MANatural gasX Proposed2019N/A
United StatesOakland, CANatural gasX Passed20192020
United StatesOjai, CANatural gasX Proposed20202020
United StatesPacifica, CANatural gasX Passed20192020
United StatesPalo Alto, CANatural gasX Passed20192020
United StatesPiedmont, PANatural gasX Passed20192020
United StatesRedwood City, CANatural gasX Passed20202020
United StatesRichmond, CANatural gasX Passed20192020
United StatesSan Francisco, CANatural gasX Passed20202020
United StatesSan Jose, CANatural gasX Passed20192020
United StatesSan Mateo, CANatural gasX Passed20192020
United StatesSanta Cruz, CANatural gasX Passed20192020
United StatesSanta Monica, CANatural gasX Passed20192020
United StatesSanta Rosa, CANatural gasX Passed20192020
United StatesSaratoga, CANatural gasX Proposed2019N/A
United StatesSeattle, WANatural gasX Proposed20202021
United StatesSunnyvale, CASolar; natural gas banX Proposed20192020
United StatesWindsor, CANatural gasX Passed20192020
ChinaShanghaiDiesel trucks XPassedN/A2022
ChinaXi’anICE Vehicles XPassed20182019
FranceStrasbourgICE Vehicles XProposed20202025
GermanyStuttgartDiesel vehicles XPassedN/A2020
GreeceAthensDiesel Vehicles XProposed20162018
IndiaDelhiDiesel Vehicles XPassed20152020
ItalyRomeICE Vehicles XProposedN/A2024-2030
Korea, Rep.SeoulDiesel and gasoline vehicles XProposed20202035
Netherlands, TheAmersfoortICE Vehicles XPassedN/A2021
Netherlands, TheGroningenICE Vehicles XPassedN/A2022
SpainBarcelonaICE Vehicles XPassedN/A2020 – 2021
United KingdomBristolDiesel Vehicles XPassed20192021
United KingdomYorkICE Vehicles XPassed20202023
United StatesSan Francisco, CAICE Vehicles XProposed20192030

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