FROM THE COMMUNITY

Fernando Murillo from Buenos Aires, Argentina, is an architect and urban planner and is director of a research program at the University of Buenos Aires. Along with three international experts, Mr. Murillo was recently chosen as member of the the jury responsible for selecting the six Metropolis pilot projects. We spoke to him about energy access, climate protection and the challenges involved in meeting the indicators and goals of SDG 7.

 

In 2014, the United Nations reported that approximately 1 billion people on the planet had no access to energy. In the most vulnerable countries, energy access is a priority. At the same time, the world needs to move towards a climate resilient energy system. Can both be achieved simultaneously?

Yes, both can be achieved simultaneously. However, financial and technical incentives are necessary for vulnerable countries to move towards a climate resilient energy system. Vulnerable countries are confronted with the tough decision of choosing short term-development actions supported by traditional energy systems or opting for targeting their economic development for the longer term by developing more mixed energy generation plans. The urgent shifts towards new technologies for energy production demands bold policies investing in scientific development and international and regional cooperation.

This dilemma involves a complex north-south dialogue and requires a critical view of international trade and cooperation priorities. Assuming that a reasonable north-south understanding will happen in the coming years, vulnerable countries will have the chance to shape their energy production and consumption models. This must happen by transferring know-how and resources to facilitate the adoption of more efficient and clean technologies without creating additional dependence.

The close relationship between energy and poverty reflects the need for finding suitable ways to deliver goods and services as a way to unblock the potential of vulnerable communities trapped in lagging regions. The current global challenge to move towards more resilient energy systems gives the chance for governments of vulnerable societies to explore suitable ways for sustainable development and design energy systems minimizing their dependency on foreign resources. This is a remarkable difference from the past: Historically, national energy production systems benefit capital cities and metropolises, while renewable systems can be applied at local level in remote and lagging regions.

Such resilience skills, although available in poor communities of the global south are not necessarily fully operational in their governments. Energy reforms in vulnerable countries can benefit from learning from technical and managerial models of other more developed countries. This implies the double work of promoting innovative production and consumption and creating the right incentives to work collaboratively. Finding specific green activities to generate jobs and protect the environment, as well as improve urban systems including energy efficient buildings that maintain temperatures, optimize natural resources and transport.     

Many cities around the world have set their own carbon reduction targets and adopted climate action plans. Local mitigation and adaptation strategies often require large financial investments in energy infrastructure and clean energy technologies. How can subnational authorities, such as city governments, metropolitan authorities and regional administrations both support and fund this shift?

Sub-national entities together with private enterprises can play a major role in supporting and funding the shift towards local mitigation and adaptation strategies. Starting from the commitment to develop and implement climate action plans, followed by finding the necessary human and financial resources, to make them work. However, municipal campaigns seeking public endorsement for climate action plans often lack legitimacy when citizens are not aware of the rationale behind the metropolitan plans. For this reason, the slogan of the Rio 92 climate change summit “think global, act local” is still valid and worthy to be reminded of as a golden rule for success. Municipal and metropolitan agencies have the capacity to develop sustainable financial mechanisms to implement climate plans that have impact at a local level. This capacity needs to be co-ordinated with public utility companies to ensure the adoption of efficient energy systems to cope with urban and regional transformation challenges.

Recently, international organizations have started to provide lending and special finance to sub-national entities acknowledging their leading roles in introducing local climate mitigation measures. But sub-national entities in vulnerable countries tend to be focussed on delivering services rather than planning and developing more efficient service delivery systems. Here is where the guidance and support of the international community is relevant.

Considering your experience in many different urban contexts, how close do youbelieve we are to the implementation of SDG7, which is to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all?

I believe that the implementation of SDG7 is still far off in most urban contexts, especially in countries of the Global South. The reasons behind this are closely related to the inability of governments at national, regional and local levels to reform their energy production systems, especially in lagging regions with high energy costs and lack of distribution infrastructure. The high-cost of energy production in certain countries impacts severely on vulnerable groups who are unable to afford basic services including street lighting and power for small businesses, as well as impeding any kind of industrial activities generating income for the region. A vicious circle is created with scarce energy production limiting industrial development and job creation, resulting in not enough taxation revenue to provide the necessary funds to make the existing energy systems efficient and green. To combat this,  revisiting local, regional and national strategies is required to develop an understanding of energy as a strategic resource for social inclusion and human rights realization rather than purely a commercial asset.

What needs to be done to meet the indicators and measures of this goal?

Actions to address SDG7 need coordinated strategies at multiple levels. At the national scale, it is necessary to identify feasible energy production and distribution systems with a resilient approach addressing the risks faced by different regions. Revisiting national consumption patterns is also important as significant energy savings can be achieved by introducing innovations in production and urban development systems. National governments need to create frameworks for engaging private and community investment in energy production and distribution. Some countries of the global south that are rich in renewable energies have started encouraging investment in energy production through regional corporations and cooperatives competing successfully in national markets. National pro-poor and green regulatory frameworks are required to support these trends in the long run.    

At the regional level, it is very important to ensure energy supply for lagging regions, and when national distribution gridlines are not available or very costly, the introduction of renewable local solutions to provide reliable energy supply. Also, developing good tariff systems, including fair subsidies to ensure the inclusion of vulnerable groups is important. Metropolitan governments have the capacity to design and implement measures on a massive scale with political delegation of power and financial capacity. In addition, metropolitan governments have a unique opportunity to lead their cities and influence national policies. An agreement among citizens on shared responsibilities on encouragement for energy production-consumption and socially inclusive distribution is a key action in line with the United Nation principle for not leaving anyone behind.

Credibility of municipalities as the lowest institutional governmental level is relevant for engaging citizens for the sustainability and resilience agenda through associations, non-government actors and the public sector. Systematic measurement of progress and advising on measures to meet SDG7 are important to provide a sense of direction and indicators on how far societies at national and local levels are in different contexts reaching the agreed goals.

What role can sub-national authorities play in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals?

Sustainable energy production and distribution is a strategic factor for achieving SDG7 at local level. Traditionally, centralized countries distribution of energy benefits the biggest and richest cities, neglecting the poorest regions. However, the New urban Agenda foresees a more equal access to energy of all territories. Such challenges require paying special attention to the provision of services in specific territories. The provision of partial services to lagging territories, either social, infrastructures, jobs or vice-versa, does not change the complex phenomena of socio-economic marginalization. For this reason it is necessary that policies support full packages of services starting with adequate and affordable supply of secure and clean energies.

State, district governments, governorates and public service authorities can play relevant roles in advocating and creating suitable frameworks supporting specific policies for achieving SDGs. Integrating development and resilient agendas and setting up priorities at their respective scales is a critical role that these authorities can play. SDGs require specific actions to be performed at different levels; At the national level, goals and general strategies can be established. At the sub-national level, the development of concrete plans to achieve these goals on the principles of efficiency, effectiveness and equity at short and long term can be implemented. In parallel, universities play a major role linking national and sub-national entities and introducing skills and innovations specific to the particular possibilities of local populations. Engagement of stakeholders based on citizen and customer values is also important to support well-functioning service delivery systems.

In your opinion, what benefits can local authorities derive from joining Metropolis? Do you consider the Policy Transfer Platform (PTP) a useful tool in supporting knowledge exchange for cities?

Metropolis is a good example of a pro-active government and non-government initiative working towards achieving SDGs by overcoming traditional silo-knowledge production and distribution model. Instead of promoting cooperation based on commercial exchange, the network operates as a global hub of skills, practices and contact sharing. This is already an important benefit to highlight, considering that achieving SDGs demands free access to the right detailed information on how to carry out positive transformations in vulnerable cities and countries and the contacts to carry out joint activities. Examples from different countries in which circular and green economies have been supported by affordable energy illustrates the example of how to responsibly achieve SDGs without compromising the available natural resources for the next generations.  Above all, Metropolis invites local and metropolitan governments to unite and think outside the box by inspiring and at the same time providing practical examples of different ways to overcome challenges optimising local resources and expertise.

Is there any particular PTP case study or expert from the PTP community that you find inspiring or relevant for your work?

Yes! Three PTP case studies were particularly relevant for me. Visionary Vancouver: Creating a welcoming and sustainable place for all, in which the author explains how a metropolitan city was able to work with multiple levels of governments through a Greenest city Initiative in addition to citizens and businesses collaborating on the three pillars of the program: Zero carbon, zero waste and Healthy Eco-Systems. Secondly, the City of Mexico Resilient Strategy provides a good reference for metropolises in the global south to develop practical approaches integrating various sectors, water, energy, etc. and governmental level, regional, metropolitan and local. And project that I find particularly amazing is Smart City, Freedom through Technological Project, because the relevant contribution that Ramallah in Palestine made internationally to the cause of citizens struggling to be organized in the context of violent conflicts and human rights deprivation using cutting edge information and telecommunication technologies for public participation.