Cityi governments around the world are taking action to accelerate the global uptake of renewable energy. During 2020, the engagement of local governments continued to grow, driven by air pollution concerns, public pressure, and the need to create clean, liveable and equitable communities, among other factors. In some cases, these actions have been reinforced by the global health and economic crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. City governments use different types of targets, policies and actions to show their renewable energy ambition: overall, more than 1 billion people – around 25% of the urban population – lived in a city with either a renewable energy target and/or policy in 2020 ( see Figure 1 and Table 1).1 Other actions indirectly support the shift to renewables – such as efforts to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, including through net-zero commitment goals and the electrification of public transport.

More than 1 billion people

live in a city with a renewable energy target and/or policy.

Cities’ ambition to support the deployment of renewables is relevant because urban energy use has increased sharply in recent decades. In 1990, cities accounted for less than half (45%) of global final energy use, but by 2018 this share had risen to around three-quarters, and cities release a similar share of global energy-related CO2 emissions.2 Cities are now home to more than 55% of the world’s population, and urban inhabitants worldwide are negatively affected by the burning of fossil fuels.3

Energy demand in cities has surged in all end-use sectors – power, transport, industry and buildings – due mainly to rising global population growth, urbanisation and urban economic activity. Municipal government operations account for only a small percentage of urban energy use, including for public buildings, municipal services and vehicle fleetsii. The bulk of urban energy is used at the city-wide level, in the form of electricity, heating and cooling (for residential and commercial buildings and industrial activities) and private transport.4

Figure 1

Cape Town, South Africa

Over 1,300 cities

have renewable energy targets and/or policies, covering more than 1 billion people.

In addition, cities are responsible for global energy use that does not actually take place within urban boundaries.5 They contribute indirectly to energy use (as well as to greenhouse gas emissions) through their supply chains, which include construction materials (concrete, steel, etc.), everyday goods (food, clothing, electronics, etc.) and other products consumed in cities but produced beyond their borders.6 Thus, action in cities has the potential to make significant contributions to decarbonising the energy system, enhancing its resilience, and accelerating the development of renewable energy and other projects and investments – all of which contribute to key international goals such as limiting the average global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius (°C), as stipulated in the Paris Agreement.7

In cities with rapidly growing informal settlements and slumsiii, often located in the periphery of urban areas, many inhabitants lack access to basic services, including modern energy sources and city infrastructure, such as sanitation and public transport.8 Despite rising energy demand, 176 million people in urban areas still did not have access to electricity in 2019, and 2.6 billion people worldwide lacked access to clean cooking.9 Municipal governments can play a key role in expanding sustainable energy access and reducing energy poverty for their residents, including the 1 billion urban and peri-urban dwellers living in slums and informal settlements.10 Considering that the generation and use of renewable energy in cities is critical for achieving sustainable communities, and vice-versa, municipal governments can contribute to achieving United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 7 (on sustainable energy for all) as well as interlinked goalsiv.11

Table 1

Note: The number of cities with renewable energy policies by sector (power, heating and cooling, transport and buildings) does not equal the total number of renewable energy policies in cities, as cities with more than one policy in the same sector are counted only once. Cities with policies in multiple sectors are counted more than once. A total of 192 cities have policies in more than one sector.

Source: See endnote 1 for this chapter.

iAccording to the United Nations, the term “city” can connote a political or civic entity, a geographic unit, a formalised economy or an infrastructure bundle. In some instances, local communities, neighbourhood associations, urban businesses and industries may be subsumed under the term “city”. Throughout this report, both “municipal government” and “city government” refer to city-level decision-making bodies and government authorities (the mayor’s office, city council, etc.). “Local government” is a more generic term that can refer to different sub-national levels of public administration, including also counties, villages and other intermediate levels of government. In addition to municipal governments, key “urban actors” include individual citizens, groups of citizens and private enterprises, as well as various civil society groups that are active within the city.i

iiDepending on ownership structures, municipal transport fleets may entail public transport (e.g., buses and rail systems), street sweeper and refuse collection vehicles, maintenance vehicles, vehicles assigned to police, fire and other public services, taxi and car-sharing fleets, and delivery vehicles (e.g., postal and courier services). See Glossary.ii

iiiVarious factors have contributed to the emergence of informal settlements and slums, including population growth, urbanisation, lack of affordable housing, economic vulnerability, marginalisation and displacement. See endnote 8 for this chapter.iii

ivUrban areas are expected to play a key role in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular SDG 11 on Sustainable Cities and Communities. By one estimate, meeting 65% of the targets of the SDGs depends on the involvement of local governments and how they can engage their citizens and civil society using their roles and core competences in areas such as infrastructure, transport, housing, water use, land use and energy.iv



City Renewable Energy Commitments

Multi-level Governance of Urban Energy Systems

Renewables in Municipal Operations

Leveraging Renewables City-wide

City Leadership: Networks and Initiatives



North America


Sub-Saharan Africa


Middle East and North Africa