In the survey, three out of four people said that investing in energy efficiency should be the number one priority for governments this year. Reducing energy expenditure in the built environment presents a logical solution for cutting emissions, considering that energy use in buildings and construction account for one third of greenhouse gas emissions. Despite this data illustrating the impact it could have, retrofitting buildings with low emission technology still remains underutilized due to insufficient government funding, according to the International Energy Agency.
These findings align with our survey results, which also identify funding as the greatest barrier to climate action in cities. Governments must continue to ramp up efforts to direct spending towards green technologies, along with putting in place effective energy-efficient policies and phasing out fossil fuel-based assets and subsidies. The private sector has a role to play as well, with private models such as the creation of ‘green banks’ emerging to bridge funding gaps that exist in the public sector.
Other solutions identified to explore more in the coming year include densification, adaptive reuse, and nature-based solutions.
Density, which is intertwined with housing, mobility, and land-use planning, is a powerful tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, suggests Curbed. Density and mixed zoning means that more housing is built in proximity to daily services and transit corridors, reducing individual reliability on personal vehicles. As cities continue to grow in population size, managing space through increasing density, zoning, and gentle infill will become more and more important.
Adaptive reuse and other design practices for optimizing space such as chronotopy and reversibility are gaining momentum in urban circles. Retrofitting empty buildings with more sustainable and resilient alternatives was a growing trend in 2021, with record apartment conversions this year in the United States. Not only are retrofits contributing to the vibrancy of neighborhoods, they also limit urban sprawl, leaving more of the environment intact on the outskirts of town.
Coming in a close third, nature-based solutions were favored by 61% of survey respondents. More and more people are recognizing the benefits of protecting and restoring natural systems for the essential ecosystem services that they provide. Experts now say that natural climate solutions can provide around 30% of the emission reductions required to achieve the 1.5 degree target. However, there is still a significant financial gap to achieving this. The latest figures in UNEP’s 2021 State of Finance for Nature report show that $8.1 trillion in investments is needed by 2050.
By contrast, electrifying vehicles and mobility fleets, a top priority in local energy agendas, scored last amongst the list of priorities in our survey, showing a misalignment between public preference and the solutions gaining the most traction in the current landscape.