In 2021, climate and energy action in cities was shaped by tumultuous global events. COVID-19 restrictions remained in place throughout the year, keeping most cities (as well as countries) focused on rebuilding the economy and protecting public health. At the same time, concerns about rising energy prices and their effects on city budgets and municipal utilities elevated the importance of a stable and affordable energy supply on the policy agenda.1 Driven by these trends – as well as by growing climate concern, rising air pollution and public pressure – cities increased their commitments towards net zero emissionsi and renewable energy action, particularly in advance of the November 2021 UN climate talks in Glasgow (Scotland).2

City governments used a broad range of targets, policies and actions to show local commitment to renewables. By the end of 2021, around 1,500 cities had renewable energy targets and/or policies, up from around 1,300 the previous year.3 This meant that, collectively, more than 1.3 billion people – around 30% of the urban population – were living in a city with a renewable energy target and/or policy (up from 25% in 2020).4 ( See Figure 63.) City governments also have taken action that indirectly supports the shift to renewables, such as setting net zero targets and targets for electrifying heating, cooling and transport.5

Energy use in cities accounts for


of global finalenergy use.

Such local action has been key in supporting both national decarbonisation efforts and efforts to achieve global goals such as the Paris Agreement. Cities are home to around 55% of the world's population, and energy use in cities accounts for three-quarters of global final energy use (and a similar share of energy-related CO2 emissions).6 Energy demand in cities continues to grow, particularly in Africa and Asia, due mainly to urban population growth (including urbanisation) and economic development.7 As city governments move towards electrifying transport as well as heating and cooling in buildings, electricity demand also is expected to grow.8 Municipal buildings and transport account for only a small share of urban energy demand – the bulk of the energy consumed city-wide is used in residential and commercial buildings, and for private transport.9

City governments have played a role in expanding sustainable energy access and reducing energy poverty for inhabitants. Around 1 billion urban and peri-urban dwellers live in rapidly growing slums and informal settlements, often located on the periphery of cities.10 Many inhabitants continue to lack access to energy and to other urban services and infrastructure. City action on sustainable and reliable energy access has been key to improving living conditions for the urban poor and to efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 7 (on sustainable energy for all) and interlinked goals.11


Note: Calculations based on population in cities with renewable energy targets and/or policies and their share of the national population. Excludes cities with energy efficiency, electric vehicle and/or net zero targets. Data not available for some countries. See Reference Table R3 in the GSR 2022 Data Pack.

Source: See endnote 4 for this chapter.

To support vulnerable communities, the Race to Resilience campaign was launched in mid-2021 to boost the resilience of some 4 billion people by 2030, with a focus on transforming urban slums into healthy, clean and safe environments.12 Renewables have played a role in many local resilience efforts: for example, the Sunnyside project in Houston (Texas, US) powered around 5,000 low-income homes with solar energy in 2021, with the aim of reducing energy costs and creating jobs.13

Many challenges remain for cities to take climate and energy action. The degree to which national governments grant their city counterparts regulatory power and access to financial markets is decisive in cities' abilities to advance renewables.14 Cities also are subject to market rules and energy regulations set at higher levels of government – and to the political dynamics that shape these instruments.15 For example, persistent fossil fuel subsidies adopted at the national level may contribute to a clash in priorities and a lack of coherence between national and local policies.16

In 2021, state lawmakers in Ohio (US) enacted a law that allows counties to veto renewable energy projects and that bans local governments from restricting natural gas use; these developments could impede the city of Columbus in achieving its 100% renewable electricity target.17 In Florida, a 2021 law prohibits local governments from any action restricting a utility's energy choices, hampering St. Petersburg's progress on its 100% renewable energy target and delaying Tampa's passing of a target.18

Other factors affecting cities' ability to advance renewables include the lack of institutional and human capacities as well as insufficient awareness of how cities can contribute to the energy transition.19 In general, city voices remain underrepresented in global energy and climate debates, and their role in supporting national decarbonisation plans often is not reflected in countries' Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) towards reducing emissions under the Paris Agreement.20 Although city governments play no official role in the ongoing UN climate negotiations, the Glasgow Climate Pact, for the first time, emphasised the urgency of multi-level, co-operative action to achieve the Paris goals.21

In response to the diverse challenges they face, some local governments have collaborated with higher-level national governments to realise renewable energy projects, while others have initiated and/or supported legal challenges to remove legislative barriers to climate and energy action. City engagement in global and regional city networks seeking to tackle rising emissions – such as the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy, ICLEI–Local Governments for Sustainability and C40 Cities – also has grown.22

iNet zero emissions can be achieved, for example, by using natural sinks, such as reforesting land or adopting agricultural best practices, or through a technological solution, such as carbon capture and storage. Net zero targets also are referred to as “climate neutral”, “carbon neutral” or “zero emission” targets, although technically these differ. Carbon neutrality refers to net zero emissions of only carbon dioxide (CO2), whereas climate neutrality indicates a broader focus on all greenhouse gases. There is no agreed definition, and implementation of these targets also varies broadly. See Glossary.i




Snapshot. Helsinki, Finland

Snapshot. Durban, South Africa


On-Site Generation

Snapshot. Paris, Rouen and Le Havre, France

Snapshot. US Cities

Purchase Agreements and Partnerships

Municipal Energy Infrastructure

All City Buildings

Snapshot. Essen, Germany


Public Transport and Municipal Fleets

Policies for Private Transport