Why and how fossil fuels in buildings will be history by 2050

Read our new policy paper for fossil-free districts and cities!


Publication date

July 12, 2021

By 2050, fossil fuels in cities will hopefully be history. Renewable technologies that are already available, such as heat pumps and heat networks, will make it possible for a wide range of renewable resources to be used to heat cities. Renewable electricity, waste heat, geothermal and solar thermal energy will replace fossil fuels such as natural gas.

This fossil-free objective by 2050 is crucial and urgent to implement because, as Juergen Czernohorszky, Vienna Executive City Councillor for Climate, Environment, Democracy and Personnel, reminds us: “in 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population will be living in cities. What this urban life will look like will depend largely on the infrastructure and planning decisions we make today. It is absolutely critical to make the right decisions and to make them now, to ensure the well-being of city dwellers in liveable, sustainable cities”.

While this heat transformation of cities is possible, there still is a long way to go.  Fossil fuels currently account for 75% of the energy produced for heating the residential sector and buildings are responsible for 36% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from energy in the EU.

Thankfully, many local authorities want to drive their heat transition towards renewable sources.  

Vienna is one of the European acting cities on the heating transition: “We started a profound process towards a strategy and roadmap to transform the existing buildings and quarters. For that we also teamed up with Energy Cities and six other European cities to develop reliable solutions, accelerate their implementations and to share our knowledge in blueprint transition roadmaps with many other cities” explained Jürgen Czernohorszky, from Vienna city council.

But cities are facing barriers such as the lack of financial means to implement the heat planning and hire the required staff, but also the high upfront costs, the lack of data, the difficulties to engage citizens or building owners etc.

We have the technological solutions, we have the renewable energy sources and we have the will to show fossil fuels the door. What we need is a framework that allows us to move more boldly and faster. I, as Executive City Councillor for Climate, can only underline this urgency. The “Fit-for-55 Package” can provide that framework

Jürgen Czernohorszky, from Vienna city council

Indeed, the publication of the European Commission’s proposals on the revision of the energy efficiency (EED) and renewable energy directives (RED) on 14 July 2021 is much awaited as it could provide a more favourable framework for the deployment of renewable heat and help cities overcome some of the barriers to implementation.

We identified the key drivers to design this national and European framework in our policy paper for fossil-free districts and cities:

  • Create a level playing field for the development of renewable energy and heating technologies
  • Set clear national and European targets to support cities
  • Provide technical and financial support to the local level
  • Facilitate access to data 

In parallel, we also detail the key drivers used by acting European cities that are showing the way towards a fossil-free future by:

  • Ensuring a just and citizen-led transition (the city of Eeklo and the Ecopower cooperative, or the Dutch experiences on the citizens’ involvement)
  • Informing and supporting citizens in the transition towards renewable energy sources (examples of Rotterdam, Ghent, Lyon, or Winterthur offering financial support and information to their citizens)
  • Considering buildings in the context of their streets, blocks and neighbourhoods to address several challenges at once
  • Using the zoning methodology to adapt the solutions to the local context (Vienna example is key regarding zoning methodology)
  • Adopting the heat hierarchy principle to ensure the priority of energy efficiency
  • Setting some ambitious construction rules for future-proof buildings (as Vienna and Strasbourg did)
  • Developing data policies and platforms (the London Greater Authority example).

Find out more about the barriers but also the solutions and key drivers identified to drive the heating and cooling transition in cities in our latest policy paper.