FREE Launches Strategy at COP-21 in Paris

ParisFREE launched a new 3-point strategy after the United Nations Climate Conference in December 2015 in Paris. FREE is focusing on further development of ‘solar cities’ and ‘sustainable energy financing’ in the context of ‘polycentric’ climate change governance.

FREE’s 3-point Strategy

A FREE delegation attended the 21st meeting of the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP-21) on climate change in Paris (30 November – 12 December 2015). The climate change talks concluded with a ‘Paris Agreement’. Forged by nearly 200 countries, the agreement marks a historic shift in climate diplomacy as, for the first time, climate change mitigation commitments from all major negotiating Parties (including the U.S., China, India, and Brazil) have been made.  

Through participation in side events, the FREE delegation introduced its 3-point strategy at the conference. The strategy offers a clear research and project implementation strategy. The first key point is a continuation of FREE’s efforts in sustainable energy financing. Through programs such as PennSEF in Pennsylvania, FREE intends to further sustainable energy implementation across municipalities and communities in the U.S. and beyond. The second prong of the strategy is further research and development of the ‘solar city’ concept as well as developing roadmaps for communities to implement city-level planning options. The third part of the strategy involves a ‘polycentric’ context for diffusion of innovation climate change project implementation. Future FREE projects and programs will be conceived and planned as a roll-out of polycentric climate change governance.    

‘Sustainability as Infrastructure’ through Intelligent Design of Sustainable Energy Financing

Sustainability as infrastructure is a key pillar of the FREE strategy. The Pennsylvania Sustainable Energy Finance Program (PennSEF) and continued development of the Sustainable Energy Utility (SEU) model. The PennSEF program revolves around a partnership between FREE and the Pennsylvania Treasury Department, with financial support from the West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund, to launch a prudent, market-based investment vehicle that promotes energy and water efficiency, clean energy generation, economic development and environmental improvement. The PennSEF program will provide technical and legal assistance, as well as low-cost capital, for energy improvement projects by municipalities, universities, schools, and hospitals. The PennSEF program is planned as a $20-$30 million dollar investment into Pennsylvania’s municipalities to use less energy for the same level of services.  

Urban Rooftops as the Host of the Power Plant of the Future

Climate change mitigation and adaptation activity pursued by cities around the world has picked up considerable momentum. Reflected in networks such as Climate Alliance’s Covenant of Mayors, the C40 network, or ICLEI, cities have positioned themselves as active players in climate change policy. The FREE delegation co-organized and participated in COP-21 side events focused on city networks as the innovators and implementers. As one panelists suggested, “seal the deal” and “cities will take it from there”.  

FREE has been active from the outset in subnational climate change innovation, leadership, and governance. Recently, it has put forth the concept of ‘solar cities’ as a planning and project implementation strategy that could advance city-wide climate change action. A ‘solar city’ deploys an often under-appreciated asset – unused rooftop space. This resource is available to city planners in abundance: FREE’s research shows that multi-gigawatt installations of solar technology are possible in cities like New York, Seoul, London, and Tokyo but that also smaller cities like Amsterdam and Munich have considerable potential. FREE’s research has identified a solar city strategy that, for instance, fulfills 66% of Seoul’s daylight energy needs, over 30% of its annual needs, and during certain moments the rooftop power plant can produce more electricity than it requires. FREE has followed up on this research with investigations into potential financing pathways for projects and will continue to further develop the concept. FREE is actively exploring practical implementation pathways for the solar city option through agreements like the Memorandum of Understanding between FREE and the Seoul Metropolitan Government.

A ‘Polycentric’ Climate Change Vision

The ‘Paris Agreement’ has effectively rebranded the UN approach to climate change as nation-states have been provided with self-determination of climate change commitments based on local conditions. Unlike the previously adopted ‘Kyoto’ approach, where targets and timetables were mandated from the top-down, the new strategy empowers a diverse network of agents of change to design and govern climate change policy responses. FREE has been at the forefront of the discussion and has illustrated how such ‘polycentric’ governance could advance climate change action.

The polycentric governance model recognizes the non-linear character of innovation, the need to address social and environmental consequences of climate change in practical contexts where actions can form, and the imperative to facilitate bottom-up architectures of change.  The polycentric strategy is dynamic and experimental, and organized through networks of creative innovation and leadership by non-state and state actors. Reliance on local and creative efforts forms the bedrock of FREE research, outreach, and project implementation. Future projects, research programs, and other work done by FREE can be placed in this wider context of experimentation and innovation in the polycentric landscape.

Looking Forward

The success of the Paris Agreement will depend upon action by both state and non-state actors in mobilizing and accelerating climate change action. Sub-national actors will need to deliver on their promise to “take it from here” and implement aggressive programs and policies. The emerging polycentric paradigm of climate change governance is strengthened with each successful implementation of local, networked action.

FREE will continue to develop its three key action points through both future research and actual implementation. The success of programs like PennSEF and the pursuit of transformative ideas such as solar cities can deliver critical contributions to the overall accomplishment of the Paris principles.

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