Towards post carbon cities: Why? How? (3-310-13)

Eric Vidalenc, Ademe, France
Jacques Theys, Former Director of Forward looking Unit, France

This is a peer-reviewed paper.


cities, transition, long-term scenarios, local energy policies, post carbon


The emerging concept of a transition to a so-called "post-carbon" society has gradually been gathering steam (EC, 2007). The concept discussed in this paper, “post carbon cities” in France, follows the next objectives: by 2050, a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by a Factor 4 compared to 1990 levels, a near self-sufficiency in carbon fuels (oil, gas, coal) and the capacity to adapt to climate change. These issues will be treated in two main parts; in the first one, we will focus first on the ”why” "post carbon cities" could be relevant to address these challenges, and then ”how”, cities already act, and can go beyond.

Considering cities in foresight analysis is quite recent. But a strong dilemma exists about the potentials of local initiatives for the energy transition. On one side, cities can be considered as a lever thanks to the impact of local actions and to their international networks for promoting best practices. On the other side, the urban ecosystem is very inert, probably more as the energy system production. Almost 70% of the “city” of 2050 is already built in France.

The research programme Rethinking cities in a post carbon society, launched in 2008 by the Ministry of Sustainable Development and the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME), analysed the role of cities in the post carbon transition through: thematic seminars, on-site research projects and scenario building. This paper describes some results from this foresight programme and particularly the six transition paths developed in a workshop with several energy and urban experts. Considering the case of French cities, we present an in-depth analysis of the role urban stakeholders’ play, or could play, in promoting profound changes on the path to a post-carbon society. We highlight two major challenges related to the achievement of this goal: coordinating the three timeframes _short, medium and long term_ and different spatial scales _from individual to global scale_.

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