Patrick SissonJun 12, 2019, 3:03pm EDT
As alarming new climate news has become a daily part of the media cycle, it’s natural to cling to suggestions that someone, somewhere is getting it right. Cities have been held up as climate champions, passing aggressive emissions targets and promoting progressive pilot programs that many believe can be models for the globe.
A new report released by C40, a global network of 94 cities that accounts for a quarter of the world’s GDP, suggests that while cities may lead the way, they’re still far from making the changes required to meet climate goals.
The new report, “The Future of Urban Consumption in a 1.5 C World,” compiled by C40, Arup, and the University of Leeds, throws cold water on the idea that cities have turned the corner on cutting carbon emissions—or are anywhere close to meeting Paris Agreement targets of capping warming at a 1.5-degree Celsius increase in average global temperatures.
The crux of the carbon question is consumption emissions versus production emissions. The former encompasses any and every expenditure of energy or materials used for a good or service consumed in a city. The latter only looks at the actual energy used within city limits, a much more lax standard that makes cities seem more serious about confronting climate change (not coincidentally, it’s the one used most often by governments to measure their progress).
The gulf between both standards is enormous. “The Future of Urban Consumption” found that 85 percent of the emissions related to goods and services in C40 cities are generated outside city limits. Tom Bailey, a senior research manager for C40 Cities and one of the project leader for the report, called the difference “gobsmacking.”
The report uses a pair of jeans to illustrate the difference between the two concepts. If you’re measuring the climate impact of the sale of a pair of jeans, for example, the lax standard only takes into account the energy used in the store where its sold, and whatever the consumer uses to get to and from the store. Consumption emissions would look at the total climate impact from production to purchase, including emissions that come from growing cotton, manufacturing, transporting, and selling the product.
While C40 cities have strong action-plans in place, when one factors in consumption emissions with this more holistic perspective, their current efforts fall far short of what’s needed. If left unchecked, current consumption emissions from these metro areas will rise 87 percent by 2050. To avoid what the report labels “climate breakdown,” overall emissions from high-income cities must decrease by two-thirds within the next decade.
It’s a sobering reminder of the challenge of achieving systemic economic change to meet current climate goals. But it also points to the power C40 cities represent. Using the consumption standard, C40 cities represent 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The practices put forth by the world’s largest cities can still help save the world, the thinking goes, but establishing new models of a sustainable, circular, and carbon-free economy won’t be an easy goal.
“That requires a massive reworking of how and what we consume,” said Bailey. “Consumption isn’t distributed evenly around the world. The cities in the global north need to do much more, and much quicker.
Cities’ climate plans are wildly underestimating emissions – Curbed
Patrick SissonJun 12, 2019, 3:03pm EDT As alarming new climate news has become a daily part of the media cycle, it’s natural to cling to suggestions that someone, somewhere is getting it right. Cities have been held up as climate champions, passing aggressive emissions targets and promoting progressive pilot programs that many believe can be… [Read More]