Zero Emissions Cities

Zero Emissions Cities will be critical to reducing future fossil energy demand and GHG emissions.

The Problem: The success of limiting climate change caused by greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will depend on the commitment of cities, because by 2030 5 billion people (70% of global population) will live in cities, causing 75% of total energy demand and 70% of global GHG emissions. By 2030 total electricity generation will increase by 60%, driven by population growth. Today 80% of the total energy supplied is based on fossil energy sources, causing the equivalent of 36-39 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions in a business-as-usual scenario by 2030.

The Solution: Potential GHG emissions from cities can be reduced by fully electrifying the consuming sectors in the city and implementing high-efficiency measures for mobility, buildings and industries. Energy supply and demand can be optimized and harmonized through ICT solutions, and electricity supply transformed to zero-carbon with maximum efficiency for energy transmission and distribution.

The Business Case

  • It’s intelligent and holistic. Linking energy demand and supply with ICT provides the opportunity to optimize and harmonize performance of all components of the energy system. It provides the basis for innovative business models (e.g., of local clean-tech small- and medium-size enterprises), and multinationals’ and citizens’ engagement in optimizing their energy demand. The integrated approach will have a direct impact on all energy-system related components and provides the opportunity to take advantage of cross-cutting effects between the various components.

  • It provides multiple solutions at scale. The transition to zero carbon cities has many co-benefits. It will improve air quality while reducing the complexity of infrastructure, leading to more flexibility regarding technical equipment (e.g., no additional fossil-fuel infrastructure needed parallel to electricity) and lowering investment and maintenance costs. The solution also helps meet supply and demand gaps in developing countries by strengthening distributed electricity-generation business models.

  • It’s available now. Roughly 75% of the total abatement potential of this concept can be covered with existing technologies and services, such as heat pumps, LEDs, e-vehicles, storage, smart grid systems, renewables and more.


April 2014

Concept development. Define methodology to electrify cities toward zero emissions:

  • Toolkit of technology solutions and policy requirements.

  • Diagnosis methodology to evaluate a city.

  • Framework for customizable implementation plan.

September 2014

Project scoping. Five potential cities will be identified, key stakeholders defined and cooperation models evaluated. Pilots will be selected in various energy market environments: decisions on the approach, investment scope and ease of implementation (policy, technology) will
be part of the identification process.

July 2015

Set up individual implementation plans for each pilot.

July 2020

Identify another 15 cities and put in place implementation plans, and impact and progress monitoring.


  • Policy. Commitment of mayors and city councils.

  • Partnerships. Engage local/regional stakeholders.

  • Awareness, capacity building, education. Support by the broad public.

  • Data and Technology. Availability and maturity of technologies.

  • Partnerships. Foster collaboration across industry and with governments.

  • Finance. Increase transparency about cost/benefits of energy efficient and/or low-carbon technology. Develop financing models that promote innovative technologies and business solutions.

  • Regulation. Smart use of (local) energy requires regulatory frameworks that suit decentralized energy systems.

  • Partnerships. Cooperation with initiatives and organizations, including the WBCSD’s Energy Efficiency in Buildings 2.0, Sustainable Mobility 2.0, Urban Infrastructure Initiative, Water Solutions and urban farm initiatives.


  • High technological, institutional and regulatory complexity of all three areas (energy demand, supply and ICT) may cause hesitation to touch all areas at once. There is a lack of understanding on the interdependencies of system elements.

  • Absence of incentives to optimize and invest. Low carbon prices and lobbying activities may encourage industry to burn fossil fuels. Investments in energy efficiency also require upfront costs and can have longer payoff times.

  • Insufficient infrastructure, premature technology and knowledge.

  • Lack of standardization of IT systems. Existing ICT solutions prevent compatibility of systems/ technologies. Infrastructure needs to be installed, hence substantial investments needed.

  • Lack of knowledge of technologies and investment amortization/payback times at the city level. Necessity to transform mobility and buildings may create a risk of stranded assets.

Relevant priority areas

Jointly developed with: