Accelerating the uptake of energy efficiency and renewable energy in the global energy mix is the single biggest contribution to keep global temperature rise under 2 degrees Celsius (°C) and to reap the multiple benefits of an inclusive green economy. Cities account for over 70 percent of global energy use and, 40 to 50 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. In several cities, heating and cooling can account for up to half of local energy consumption. Any solution for the climate and energy transition must explicitly address sustainable urban heating and cooling, as well as electricity. One of the least-cost and most efficient solutions in reducing emissions and primary energy demand is the development of modern (climate-resilient and low-carbon) district energy in cities. To facilitate this energy transition, UNEP has initiated a new initiative on District Energy in Cities, as the implementing mechanism for the SE4ALL District Energy Accelerator.


Tackling the energy transition will require the active role of cities. Among the core components of the transition to a sustainable energy future are the integration of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies, and the need to use “systems thinking” when addressing challenges in the energy, transport, buildings and industry sectors. As managers of energy infrastructure and services, local governments are uniquely positioned to accelerate the transition to sustainable energy.

A new report from UNEP has surveyed low-carbon cities worldwide to identify the key factors underlying their success in scaling up energy efficiency and renewable energy, as well as in attaining targets for zero or low greenhouse gas emissions. District energy systems (DES) emerged as a best practice approach for providing a local, affordable and sustainable energy supply, improve energy efficiency and support energy access efforts. They represented a significant opportunity for countries and cities around the world to move towards climate-resilient, resource-efficient and low-carbon pathways.

is among the first publication to provide concrete policy, finance and technology best practice guidance on addressing the heating and cooling sectors in cities through energy-efficiency improvements and the integration of renewable energy technology. It provides a glimpse into what integration and systems thinking look like in practice when addressing challenges in the energy, transport, buildings and industry sectors. The publication also consolidates data on the multiple benefits that cities, regions and countries have achieved from a transition to modern district energy systems including:

Message for Achim Steiner, UN Environment Executive Director. Launch of the District Energy in Cities Report - Paris, 25 February 2015

Ligia Noronha, Director of the UNEP Divison of Technology, Industry and Economics, gave a an address on 26 February at the high level opening of the EU Conference on Heating and Cooling in the EU Transition, alongside Miguel Arias Canete, European Commisioner fr Climate Action and Energy.    Read more

Greenhouse gas emissions reductions. DES allows for a transition away from fossil fuel use and can result in a 30–50 per cent reduction in primary energy consumption. DES is a core strategy chosen by the City of Paris for its pathway to a 75 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050; the city’s waste-to-energy plants alone avoid the emission of 800,000 tons of CO2 annually.

Air pollution reductions. By reducing fossil fuel use, DES can lead to reductions in indoor and outdoor air pollution and the associated health impacts. In China, the city of Anshan aims to reduce its use of heavily polluting coal by a projected 1.2 million tons annually through the pooling of separate networks and the capture of 1 gigawatt of waste heat from a steel plant in the city.

Energy-efficiency improvements. Linking the heat and electricity sectors through district energy infrastructure and utilizing low-grade energy sources, such as waste heat or free cooling, can greatly improve the operational efficiency of new or existing buildings. In many cities – such as Dubai in the United Arab Emirates – district cooling can result in 50 per cent reductions in electricity use compared to other forms of cooling. Gujarat International Finance Tec-City, known as GIFT City, India, is developing the country’s first district cooling system, which could reduce electricity demand for cooling by 65-80 per cent.

Use of local and renewable resources. Through economies of scale and the use of thermal storage, district energy systems are one of the most effective means for integrating renewable energy sources into the heating and cooling sectors. DES also enables higher shares of renewable power production through balancing. DES is enabling 11 of the 45 cities to reach, in principle, 100% renewable energy or carbon-neutral targets.

Resilience and energy access. DES can boost resilience and energy access through their ability to improve the management of electricity demand, reduce the risk of brownouts and adapt to pressures such as fuel price shocks, for example, through cost- effective decarbonization, centralized fuel-switching and affordable energy services. Yerevan, Armenia, is retrofitting and modernizing its district heating systems, which historically had losses as high as 50 per cent. After the first phase of refurbishment, 10,000 residents were reconnected, reducing energy consumption by 50.2 GWh annually and providing heat at cheaper rates than with residential gas boilers.

Green economy. DES can contribute to the transition to a green economy through for example employment from jobs created in system design, construction, equipment manufacturing, and operation and maintenance. Oslo, Norway’s, employment benefits from DES are estimated at 1,375 full-time jobs. St. Paul, Minnesota, USA, uses DES fueled by municipal wood waste to displace 275,000 tons of coal annually and to keep US$12 million in energy expenses circulating in the local economy.


The District Energy in Cities Initiative will support national and municipal governments in their efforts to develop, retrofit or scale up district energy systems, with backing from international and financial partners and the private sector. The initiative will bring together cities, academia, technology providers and financial institutions in a joint ambition to build the necessary capacity and transfer of know-how while engaging all stakeholders and reducing emissions. Twinning between cities – matching champion ones with learned ones will be a key component of the new district energy in cities initiative to scale up lessons learned and best practices.

19 cities around the world have indicated interest in joining the initiative. In addition to Danfoss, eleven other private sector and industry associations' partners commit to contribute technical. In addition to UNEP, six intergovernmental and government organisations as well as networks are interested to support the new initiative and to facilitate technological expertise. This new initiative is being co-ordinated by UNEP and Danfoss with lead partners ICLEI and UN-Habitat.

Click here to download the District Energy in Cities flyer.

Click here to download the key findings.


This initiative is coordinated by UNEP and Danfoss. ICLEI –Local Governments for Sustainability and UN-Habitat are lead partners.

Private SectorDanfoss (co-chair), Grundfos, Siemens, Vattenfall,Veolia, Empower, Climespace.

Industry AssociationsInternational District Energy Association (IDEA), Euroheat and Power (EHP), Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), World Wind Energy Association (WWEA), World Bioenergy Association (WBA).

International OrganizationsUNEP (co-chair), UN-Habitat (lead partner), International Energy Agency (IEA), Copenhagen Centre on Energy Efficiency and US Department of Energy.

NetworksICLEI -Local Governments for Sustainability (lead partner) and Energies2050.

National and Municipal GovernmentsAnshan (Liaoning Province, China), Betim (Brazil), Bogotá (Colombia), Focsani (Romania), Helsinki(Finland), Jinan (Shandong province, China), London(UK), Milano (Italy), Nairobi (Kenya), Paris (France), Quito (Ecuador), Recife (Brazil), San Jose (Costa Rica), Santiago de Cali (Colombia), Seoul (South Korea), Sorocaba (Brazil), St. Paul (USA), and Vancouver (Canada), Vaxjo (Sweden).


Through a multi-stakeholder partnership model in two phases the project will support:

Demonstration:Provide technical assistance and capacity building to 1-2 cities to concretely demonstrate how to develop and implement a replicable district energy approach.

Scale up:Provide tailored assistance to other targeted cities using the district energy modules from the UNEP publication "District Energy in Cities: Unlocking the Full Potential of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy."

  • stimulate the uptake of district energy in cities around the world to contribute to climate change mitigation efforts
  • empower climate and energy action planning and the green economy for resilient urban futures
  • develop integrated district energy policy and investment roadmaps with interested local governments
  • address investment barriers through a policy-finance continuum bridging approach involving private sector partners and financing institutions


Modern district energy systems combine district heating, district cooling with combined heat and power, thermal storage, heat pumps and/or decentralised energy. They are increasingly climate resilient and low carbon, allowing the:

  • Recovery and distribution of surplus and low-grade heat and cold to end-users (e.g., previously unused waste heat from industry or power stations, waste water and use of natural water reserves such as lakes, rivers);
  • Storage of large amounts of energy – such as surplus wind power or surplus heat in the summer – at the lowest cost compared to other energy storage options; and
  • Integration and balancing of a large share of variable renewable power – for example, through conversion to heat and stored for use seasonally or during peak thermal demand.

It is time for a redefinition of District Energy. It is no longer exclusively about heat or surplus energy, the traditional drivers of district energy. It's about local production matched to local use – and not only at a building level, but also at the neighbourhood and city level. It's about sharing energy between buildings. And it's about resource efficient neighbourhoods and resilient cities. District energy is an approach to applying technologies to co-ordinate the production and supply of heat, cool, domestic hot water and power to optimise energy efficiency and local resource use.


For more information, please contact:
Djaheezah Subratty, Ag. Head Policy Unit, Energy Branch,
Lily Riahi, Advisor, Policy Unit, Energy Branch,