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  • Writer's pictureIHS Alumni

[research paper] Emissions, Death and Damages: Top Local Government Priorities

If local governments in Europe were to choose which low-carbon technologies to implement, what could be their main criteria for evaluation? What would be the priorities of European local governments for low-carbon energy technologies based on their population size and geographical region? Is there a relationship between local governments’ priorities and their gross domestic product (GPD) per capita?  These are the questions that we tried to examine in our research paper published this month in Energies.

Nowadays, actions for reducing greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions, such as adoption of renewable energy technologies, are being implemented by local governments in Europe. To illustrate, the Covenant of Mayors, a network of local and regional authorities committed to the implementation of sustainable energy policies, has been established. More than 4000 signatories have pledged their commitments and have outlined their specific actions through their Sustainable Energy Action Plans (SEAPs).

However, in planning and implementing energy actions, aside from considering local conditions, such as geographical location and available renewable energy sources, it is also important to look into different stakeholders’ preferences, priorities of local communities, and public acceptance issues. What are the costs and benefits of low-carbon energy technologies to multiple stakeholders? What are the possible impacts - from global to local? Which social, environmental, and economic interests have to be taken into account?

In our research paper, we referred to ten (10) low-carbon energy technologies, such as solar photovoltaic, hydropower, and biogas, for possible implementation by different European local governments. In the assessment of these technologies, we developed 33 evaluation criteria that have been reviewed by internal and external experts as well as local energy stakeholders. These evaluation criteria were categorized into five: social, economic, environmental, technological, and energy system resilience.

Our methodology? A survey, a workshop, and a webinar using Multiple Criteria Analysis, a tool for decision support that was made available in Microsoft Excel. Thirty one (31) local government representatives from Europe participated in our research study. The results? CO2 emissions is the most important criterion for local governments in Europe when assessing low-carbon energy technologies for implementation. The top ten criteria of local governments are as follows:

  1. CO2 emissions

  2. Mortality and morbidity

  3. Ecosystem damages

  4. Resilience to climate change

  5. Employment generation

  6. Accident fatalities

  7. Levelised costs

  8. Radioactive waste

  9. Level of public resistance/opposition

  10. Waste disposal (infrastructure)

The participating local governments were from 16 large and 15 medium-sized cities in Europe. Based on geographical region, 13 were from Western/North Europe (France, Austria, Finland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Belgium and Denmark), 11 from South Europe (Italy, Spain, and Greece, and 7 from Eastern Europe (Romania, Poland, Turkey, Serbia, Georgia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia). All the participating local governments have developed SEAPs and submitted them either to the Covenant of Mayors or the Carbonn online registry of ICLEI.

Based on the three geographical regions, CO2 emission, levelized costs, and employment generation were the most common priorities of local governments. Based on the top most important criteria, local governments prioritize three (3) environmental, two (2) economic, two (2) social, and one (1) energy criteria. None of the criteria from the technological category were considered of high importance by the local governments.

Our research also showed that large cities prioritize resilience to climate change which suggests the need to develop strategies to cope with future climatic shocks and stresses. Moreover, large cities place emphasis on (radioactive) waste which implies the need for cleaner electricity generation sources and the importance of reduced environmental impacts. It is also evident that larger cities with big populations and assets are potentially more vulnerable in cases of energy system disturbances or failure due to climate extremes.

Based on the positive relationship between local governments’ priorities and GPD per capita, wealthy cities tend to prioritize technological innovation, which could possibly drive their competitiveness with regard to low-carbon energy technologies, and energy security supply which can enhance their resilience to any energy supply disturbance while minimizing negative effects to their economy. However, there is a need for further studies in these aspects.

While our research study may not provide a definitive representation and generalized results for all local governments, we recommend an extensive application of the methodology to a larger sample in Europe. Moreover, it is deemed necessary to conduct a similar study for other geographical regions (e.g., Asia, North and South America). Furthermore, a similar approach could be also applied for eliciting preferences regarding the most important criteria in the actual development and planning of local SEAPs.

Article source: SUSTAIN Research paper authors: Elena Ensenado - IHS alumna and Research Assistant, Urban Environment & Climate Change, Stelios Grafakos - Senior Expert in Urban Sustainability and Climate Change at IHS, Alexandros Flamos - Univ. of Piraeus and Jan Rotmans - DRIFT, EUR.


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