KATOWICE, Poland (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Fossil fuel-dependent Ukraine will strengthen its climate change action plan under the Paris Agreement to curb global warming, its government said at U.N. climate talks in Poland this week.
Four Ukrainian cities also reaffirmed their goal of shifting to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, announced this year.
Svitlana Romanko, Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia director for climate campaign 350.org, said Ukrainian citizens and mayors were showing that a rapid and fair transition to clean energy was “both possible and popular”.
“The new national target should reflect and build on these cities’ climate and energy plans,” she added.
Ukraine has pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2030, under the 2015 Paris accord.
By 2016, its emissions had already fallen 64 percent due to an economic collapse following the break-up of the Soviet Union.
Ilya Eremenko, head of the Ukrainian Climate Network, said many cities had set their own goals for reducing emissions, which are far more ambitious than national ones.
“A combination of national and local targets is crucial for effective climate policy,” he added.
In June, the northwest Ukrainian city of Zhytomyr became the first city in the wider region to adopt a target of using 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, according to its mayor.
Three other Ukrainian cities - Kamianets-Podilskyi, Chortkiv and Lviv - have since signed up to the same ambition.
In Ukraine, energy is a crucial issue in both international and domestic politics, Zhytomyr Mayor Serhiy Sukhomlyn told the Thomson Reuters Foundation at September’s Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco.
Moving to local, clean energy production would end dependence on imported fossil fuels, including natural gas, which can be exploited for political ends, he said.
“Hundred percent renewable also means 100 percent energy independence,” Sukhomlyn said.
Major rows have flared up several times with Russia over issues such as whether Ukraine siphoned off gas supplies for Europe as they were transported through Russia’s neighboring state, as well as payments relating to gas supply and transit.
Since Russia annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea in 2014, Ukraine imports gas mainly from other European countries, though some of that originates from Russia. And it is aiming to produce more from its own fields, including shale gas, in future.
To help end Zhytomyr’s dependency on gas and other fossil fuels, it plans to build a 10-megawatt (MW) solar power plant by mid-2019, and add another 30 MW of solar capacity later.
Today, renewable sources account for less than 1 percent of energy used by the city, known as the birthplace of Soviet rocket engineer Sergei Korolev, who played a lead role in launching the first human into space.
Zhytomyr is also planning four micro-hydropower plants and three biofuel co-generation plants, replacing close to half the gas used by the city in the next few years.
Sukhomlyn said the projects had been made possible by reforms to decentralize energy production in Ukraine.
“Local authorities and municipalities are getting a lot of independence”, enabling them to develop partnerships with investors and international financial institutions, he said.
The energy transition in the city of just over 250,000 people is supported by donors including Germany, Switzerland and Slovenia, as well as multilateral financial institutions.
Sukhomlyn said the city plans to reduce energy consumption by at least 20 percent by 2050 and curb related emissions.
To help achieve that, it will retrofit schools and other municipal buildings, put in new electric trolley buses, and use LED bulbs for street lighting.
The district heating system will be modernized with boilers that run on biofuels including wood chips and farm waste.
The city has also launched a program to fund energy-efficient insulation for co-owned housing associations.
The overall transformation aims to bring down energy prices for households by 10 percent, the city council said. Producing energy locally will be cheaper than importing gas, and efficiency measures will lower usage, it added.
The economic rationale for going self-sufficient in energy is key to getting citizens onboard, said the mayor.
“Fossil fuel prices have recently been increasing, and switching to local energy sources will provide stable and cheaper alternatives,” Sukhomlyn said.
In 2012, Zhytomyr joined the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, an international coalition, and committed to reduce its carbon emissions by at least 20 percent by 2020.
Two years later, a working group uniting city government experts, municipal energy companies, scientists and the public drafted a 10-year sustainable energy policy.
Climate action group 350.org will help city authorities develop further plans for the transition to renewable energy and craft a climate strategy in 2019 together with inhabitants.
“Public demand for clean energy is also an opportunity for city residents to have an influence over the decision makers on local climate and energy solutions,” said Romanko.
Activists, meanwhile, have launched an app called “Climate Drops” that rewards green behavior such as recycling and tree-planting.
When residents bring plastic bottles to the recycling center, for example, they receive points (or “drops”) via the app which can be traded for discounts in restaurants and stores.
The app has spread to another 10 cities across the country and has about 1,000 active users.
Excluding large hydropower dams, renewable energy accounts for less than 2 percent of Ukraine’s electricity production, said Komila Nabiyeva of Energy Watch Group, a Berlin-based network of scientists and parliamentarians.
The government has set a 2020 target to generate 11 percent from renewable sources, but that includes hydropower, which already accounts for 7 percent, making the goal unambitious, said Nabiyeva.
This year, Ukraine also published a low-emission development strategy through to 2050, aimed at helping work out how to boost renewable energy and implement energy efficiency measures, while modernizing its electricity grid and transport infrastructure.
Nabiyeva said a recent study by Energy Watch Group and Finland’s LUT University showed Ukraine’s electricity could be supplied entirely from local renewable energy sources - excluding large hydro dams - by 2050, which would be more cost-effective than today’s system based mainly on coal and nuclear.
The government’s current energy strategy, which runs until 2026, prioritizes growth in hydropower.
While it is aimed at reducing coal-fired production, the plan could be thwarted by strong coal lobby groups, warned Ukrainian energy journalist Sergey Golovnev.
Reporting by Angelina Davydova; editing by Megan Rowling.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit news.trust.org/climate
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