A new analysis from the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group has revealed that cities are actually generating up to 60% more greenhouse gasses than currently estimated due to the impact of trade in goods and services, but that this means cities now have even greater opportunities to deliver on the Paris Climate Agreement goals.
In a new study published earlier this week by the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group along with the University of Leeds, University of New South Wales, and Arup, it was revealed that greenhouse gas emissions generated by 79 cities around the world were as much as 60% higher than currently estimated — that is, when you account for the impact of trade in goods and service between cities and around the world. Specifically, the new study analyzed the greenhouse gas emissions that are associated with goods and services consumed by residents of 79 C40 cities, including food, clothing, electronic equipment, air travel, delivery trucks, and the construction industry.
The analysis found that almost two-thirds of consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions — or 2.2 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent (Gt CO2e) out of 3.5 Gt CO2e — are imported from regions outside the cities, meaning that these emissions are not accounted for in the cities’ own emissions calculations. According to the authors of the report, “This shows that consumption activities by residents of C40 cities has a significant impact on the generation of GHG emissions beyond their boundaries.”
And even though a city may have little to no control over these emissions, they are nevertheless a part of the equation for that cities’ emissions. Thus, this new “sphere of impact” opens up new opportunities for these cities.
“By revealing the scale of emissions generated by the urban consumption of a range of everyday goods and services, including the food on supermarket shelves, air travel or online shopping and home delivery, consumers and policy makers can make better informed decisions about the impact their choices are having,” said Mark Watts, Executive Director, C40 Cities. “Mayors need accurate data and scientific advice in order to make good policy decisions. This new research will help city policy makers to better understand the true impact of their city on global climate change, and so play an ever bigger leadership role in delivering climate action.”
It is a novel and important way to look at a cities’ emissions — and an even more novel way to view this re-calculation as an ‘opportunity’ for cities to make a bigger impact. It is doubly important for large cities across Europe and North America with their higher levels of consumption and the global nature of supply chains for the goods and services used by citizens. Specifically, 15 cities in the study from Europe and North America have consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions levels at least three times the size of their emissions calculated using the more traditional model.
“If you look at the emissions from ‘consumer’ cities like London, Paris or New York, they have very little from industry, because their economies and workforces are no longer reliant on manufacturing and factories,” said Mark Watts. “Yet ‘producer’ cities in India, Pakistan or Bangladesh, for example, are generating a lot of industrial pollution in the manufacture of products that will be sold and consumed in Europe and North America. By examining consumption-based GHG emissions alongside existing inventories, policy makers can get a more complete picture of the opportunities to reduce global GHG emissions and deliver on the goals of the Paris Agreement.”
The authors of the report make two recommendations — that cities either use consumption-based greenhouse gas inventories alongside their more traditional sector-based greenhouse gas inventories, or incorproate key supply chains into the latter. According to the authors of the report, “This would encourage more holistic GHG emissions assessments; enable decision-makers to consider a wider range of opportunities to reduce global GHG emissions; and provide an additional perspective with which to engage other stakeholders in climate action.”