Recent studies and research in the last few years gives us a better idea of carbon footprints from cities.
In the past, there’s been focus on global emission numbers, as well as country wide data.
This begs the questions – should we be focussing on cities over entire countries if we want to address climate change?
Summary – Should We Focus On The City Or Country Level When Addressing Climate Change?
- When comparing emission data and trends between cities and countries, there’s some overlap in results, but there’s also some differences
- Both sets of data appear to be valuable in terms of reducing emissions and addressing climate change
- Country wide data is important from the perspective that national policy and national government is at play
- Whereas city data is important as it can help us get an idea of emission trends in locations where humans are most heavily populating the country, as well as address emissions on a more specific, and either local or state/province based level (with state or province based government and councils)
- There’s not only the difference between countries and cities in emissions data and trends, and the governments and policies that might be at play – but, there’s also a difference between rural, urban (suburbs), and inner city and CBD living within countries. Each of these areas within countries might require slightly different approaches in regards to coming up with solutions to lower emissions, along with other mitigation, adaptation and sequestering strategies. There’s also the fact that some countries are represented in top emitting city lists, but not tp emitting country lists.
- So, in summary, city based data on emissions is very helpful, but country based data is too
- They offer a complement to each other in addressing the overall climate change issue
- Focussing on both, either at the same time or in alternation, is beneficial to coming up with solutions
What Have We Found Out About Emissions From Countries?
When we break down emissions by country, there’s several measurements that identify countries with the largest emissions footprints.
We can also get an idea of which countries might need to do more to reduce their emissions by looking at cumulative emissions, per capita emissions and how countries are tracking according to ‘fair effort’ and how they are progressing with their emission targets. We see that Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the Ukraine and Qatar appear among these measurements.
If we use the US and China as examples for a moment when looking at where their emissions come from:
- China – mostly from coal, and mostly from the power generation and industrial sectors are responsible for carbon emissions in China
- The US – the US has more mixed emission sources, and most of their greenhouse gas emissions came from transportation, electricity generation and the industrial sector in 2010
With China in particular, on a country wide/national level, we know China are going to continue their coal consumption for the short term future, and will face some challenges in transitioning to cleaner energy in the future.
What Have We Found Out About Emissions From Cities?
When we look at the top emitting cities list, we see a number of countries represented even in the top 30 cities, that aren’t on the top emitting countries list.
South Korea, the Country Of Singapore and Japan are just a few examples of cities
Also, what we know about the most developed cities in the world, is that on a more granular level, we can see that a large portion of their carbon footprint comes from goods and services that are imported from outside the city limits, but consumed within the city.
We can also see that consumption happens in several more specific areas and activities than what we can see on the country level.
Capital (commercial buildings and other buildings), utilities (electricity for example) and housing, food, beverage and tobacco, public transport, private transport and government are some of those activities.
Some of these activities line up with national sectors such as power generation and transport.
With cities, what we know for sure is that the most developed cities are highly concentrated places for greenhouse gas emissions:
- Residents of just 100 cities (out of 13,000 studied) account for 20 percent of humanity’s overall carbon footprint (scientificamerican.com)