Despite their different strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats, a few steps are relevant to all cities:
Rethink existing plans: The thirty-year horizon to 2050 to establish the essential preconditions for success might now have compressed to about ten years. The IEA recommends ceasing all new development of oil and gas fields immediately.
For those in fossil fuel-related industries thinking that the key threat was from government mandates and related regulation, recent events suggest that the pressure could come from multiple sources: the legal system, the boardroom, investors, insurers
and even consumer actions. The drastic drop in demand caused in 2020 due to COVID could be a preview of the future state of oil markets.
The economics of power provision are changing quickly. Take the example of Dubai’s clean coal plant. When the deal was made, the agreed price of about 5 cents per kilowatt-hour was cheaper
than the price from local solar farms. That is no longer the case.
Current strategies should be stress-tested across shorter timeframes, and across social, technological, environmental, economic and political domains. The aim is to ensure there is a clear view of advantages and disadvantages and where additional capabilities must be brought in.
Then, create a modular set of strategy elements that are resilient and flexible across a variety of plausible timelines. Identify no-regret moves and robust moves and prioritise the sequence.
Form partnerships: Cities are where action needs to happen, but they cannot do it on their own. The transition will “involve simultaneous transformation of several vital, interconnected infrastructure systems” and this requires a system-wide approach, meaning collaboration and partnerships at all levels: country, community, company, citizens.
Move faster: Both cities have net zero plans that are more ambitious and with shorter timeframes than the national plans. The technologies needed to meet their respective goals –methane
capture and solar generation for Dubai; alternative heat sources (electric pumps, biofuels, heat networks) and transport types for Manchester—are available and deployed profitably at scale elsewhere.
The IEA calls for a ban on sales of fossil fuel boilers by 2025. The current UK government plan to have 600,000 heat pumps installed per year by 2028 would need to be much more than the 22,000 or so currently installed. This will need a big increase in training and certification of qualified installers. Can the UK accelerate its switch to decarbonised heat sources to meet the IEA timelines?
By having a good understanding of the transition, cities and their civic and commercial partners can take advantage of the opportunities in specific markets, such as transport, small-scale energy systems or building decarbonisation, or in specific business lines, such as energy efficiency retrofits, or electric vehicle charging.
The IEA’s message is clear: The transition is coming, whether or not governments, cities, companies or citizens are ready for it. The pace is about to pick up. The roadmap is clear. It is time for all parties to come together to make it happen.