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October 23, 2015

Mapping and Measuring European Local Governments’ Priorities for a Sustainable and Low-Carbon Energy Future

Abstract: The main objective of this article is to assess the priorities of local governments (LGs) in Europe regarding climate change mitigation technologies evaluation in the electricity sector and to provide important insights for energy policy design. The study applies a hybrid weighting methodology to elicit LGs’ preferences in a constructive and iterative way regarding the evaluation criteria of low-carbon energy technologies. Furthermore, the study employs three data collection and preference elicitation methods, namely: survey, workshop, and webinar. The study was conducted across thirty one (31) European LGs that were categorized according to three variables: population size, geographical region and gross domestic product (GDP) per capita. The analysis shows that “CO2 emissions” is the most important criterion among European LGs, followed by “mortality and morbidity” and “ecosystem damages”. The results illustrate the potential synergies of climate and energy policies for addressing both CO2 emissions and air pollution. It was also found, based on a correlation analysis, that LGs with higher GDP per capita tend to provide higher weights to criteria related to security of energy supply and technological innovation. The current study provides insights on the actual LGs’ priorities that are important to consider during low-carbon energy technologies evaluation and energy policy design. Interestingly, the results of the European LGs’ preferences clearly show that the EU climate policy objectives have reached different levels of governance—and at this particular case, the local level. Furthermore, the developed methodology could be applied at different geographical regions to map other regions’ LG priorities, but also at a group decision making context to elicit relevant stakeholders’ preferences regarding low-carbon energy technologies and policy objectives. 

Introduction: The dominant policy paradigm for global climate change in the last decade has, to a large extent, adopted a top-down approach. State, regional, and local governments (LGs) develop and carry out climate change policies, programmes, and actions developed through dialogues at the international, supra-national, and national policy levels. There is considerable evidence, however, that many LGs are agenda setters, front runners, and pioneering innovators in terms of climate change initiatives [1]. In the long run, LGs, which can establish and implement climate change mitigation action plans in their own jurisdictions, will play substantial roles to reverse the rise of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions [2,3].

The concentration of GHG emissions in the atmosphere should be limited to 450 ppm to remain within the safe threshold of global average temperature of no more than 2 degrees centigrade [4]. The global climate change policy architecture, which was built under this assumption, led to binding agreements wherein the main emitters commit to limit their GHG emissions by certain levels according to their historic responsibilities and capacities to mitigate.

The European Union (EU) climate change policy, with its sustainability targets, has been considered as the most ambitious among the main emitters so far. The so called “20-20-20” targets for 2020 aim to reduce GHG emissions, increase renewable energy production, and increase energy efficiency by 20% in 2020. The EU 2030 Strategy aims to achieve even more ambitious climate change mitigation targets, such as 40% GHG emissions reduction compared to 1990 levels [5]. As outlined in its roadmap to a low-carbon economy, the European Union aims to reduce GHG emissions by 80%–95% by the year 2050 compared with 1990 levels [5].

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