Cities Get Common Standard to Calculate Greenhouse Gas Emissions

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil, April 3, 2010 (ENS) – Rio de Janeiro and Osaka, Japan have roughly the same population – about 10.5 million people – but which city emits the most greenhouse gases? Now these cities and all metropolitan areas around the world have a common standard by which to measure their emissions.

Until now, several organizations each had established different approaches for inventorying urban greenhouse gas emissions. But last week at the 5th World Urban Forum in Rio de Janeiro two UN organizations and the World Bank launched a common method for calculating the amount of greenhouse gases emitted from cities.

Central Rio de Janeiro (Photo by Rodrigo Soldon)

The UN Environment Programme, UN-HABITAT, and the World Bank jointly introduced the Draft International Standard for Determining Greenhouse Gas Emissions for Cities at the forum. The standard is now open for public comment.

“The common standard is a critical first step for cities to better understand their greenhouse gas emissions, with this knowledge cities can better target policies and inform their citizens,” said Zoubida Allaoua, World Bank director for finance, economics, and urban development.

To support policy decisions and access to finance, a critical requirement is the establishment of an open, global and harmonized protocol for quantifying the greenhouse gas emissions attributable to cities and local regions, delegates to the forum agreed.

The new Draft International Greenhouse Gas Standard calculates emissions on a per capita basis, allowing cities to compare their performance and analyze the differences.

Greenhouse gas emissions are 4.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per capita in Barcelona, Spain; for example, compared with 10.6 in Bangkok, Thailand; and 17.8 in Calgary, Canada.

Emissions can vary widely among cities depending on their primary energy source, climate, means of transportation and urban form.

For example, New York, a high-density city where public transportation is heavily used, produces 10.4 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per capita while Denver, a city with a much lower density where most people rely on their motor vehicles, produces more than double that at 21.3 tonnes.

UN-HABITAT Executive Director Anna Tibaijuka at the forum (Photo courtesy UN-HABITAT)

Anna Tibaijuka, executive director of UN-HABITAT sees cities as part of the solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“City officials are discovering new ways to get people out of cars and into rapid transit buses, to harness the methane released by landfills and turn it into energy, to support compact urban development and not urban sprawl,” Tibaijuka said.

The biennial forum was attended by some 13,718 participants from 150 countries.

The new common standard allows cities to compare their emissions over time, across cities and in specific sectors such as energy, transportation, or waste.

The Greenhouse Gas Standard builds on and is consistent with Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change protocol and other greenhouse gas initiatives such as those carried out by the World Resources Institute, ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, and the Clinton Climate Initiative.

The IPCC advises that, to avoid the worst impacts from climate change, global CO2 emissions must be cut by at least 50 percent by 2050. With the majority of the world’s population now urbanized, cities will be at the forefront of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The standard provides a common format to facilitate compilation by cities themselves, or through the academic community.

Measurements are now completed for more than 40 cities, but the goal of UNEP, UN-HABITAT and the World Bank is to eventually have all cities around the world represented.

The standard provides that annual, calendar year, emissions for all six gases governed by the Kyoto Protoco, and other greenhouse gases as relevant, should be reported.

The six gases are: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6).

The proposed standard recognizes that the vitality of cities gives rise to the production of greenhouse gas emissions outside of urban boundaries. This standard follows the World Resources Institute – World Business Council for Sustainable Development protocol by including out-of-boundary emissions that are driven by activities in cities.

While it is impractical to quantify all of the emissions associated with the myriad of goods and materials consumed in cities, the draft standard provides that urban greenhouse gas inventories must include:

  • Out-of-boundary emissions from the generation of electricity and district heating consumed in cities, including transmission and distribution losses
  • Emissions from aviation and marine vessels carrying passengers or freight away from cities
  • Out-of-boundary emissions from waste that is generated in cities

UNEP, UN-HABITAT, and the World Bank said in a joint statement that they recognize the importance of climate change for cities and are working jointly to produce tools, programming and resources for cities as they respond to climate change. The joint work program is being carried out with the support of Cities Alliance.

Delegates at the 5th World Urban Forum in Rio de Janeiro (Photo courtesy UN-HABITAT)

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said, “Cities can be a key catalyst towards the international aim of keeping a global temperature rise to under two degrees Celsius by 2050.”

“The Copenhagen Accord, for which 110 countries representing over 80 percent of global emissions have expressed support, remains a work in progress,” said Steiner.

“There remains an ambition gap between where we are and where we need to be in 2020,” he said. “Bigger cuts by cities may be one route towards bridging this divide.”

The Greenhouse Gas Standard, including a common format for conducting a Greenhouse Gas inventory, is available online at: www.unep.org/urban_environment

Comments on this draft standard are welcome and may be sent to Soraya Smaoun at UNEP: soraya.smaoun@unep.org, Raf Tuts at UN-HABITAT: Raf.Tuts@unhabitat.org, and Daniel Hoorweg at the World Bank: dhoornweg@worldbank.org.

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