Per capita emission of greenhouse gas in Beijing......



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Greenhouse gases: Rich cities,
not big cities, are main culprits

A report by the International Institute for
Environment and Development
reviewed by Brian Baker*

17 February, 2011: It’s the wealthy cities - not big cities in general - that produce most greenhouse gases, according to a new study. David Satterthwaite, editor of the academic journal Environment and Urbanization, who is to publish the research in April, said: “It is the world’s wealthiest cities and their wealthiest inhabitants that cause unsustainable levels of greenhouse gas emissions, not cities in general.” He added: “Most cities in Africa, Asia and Latin America have low emissions per person. The challenge for them is to keep these emissions low even as their wealth grows.”

The new study into greenhouse gas emissions found that major cities were not the worst culprits and that the developing world’s cities were often still performing better than those elsewhere despite fast industrial growth. The researchers urge policy makers and international institutions to take a broader look at climate change. They said: “Cities are major players in climate change mitigation but climate change will require city administrations to develop more robust partnerships with their constituencies in low and middle income countries.”

The study adds that cities have the potential to capitalise on the co-benefits of mitigation, adaptation and improved access to services. “Cities with excellent services are resilient.” The report draws on a comprehensive range of sources and data that helped the three authors identify and analyse emissions per person in 100 cities in 33 countries and to arrive at some innovative and surprising conclusions.

However, there was a note of caution regarding making extensive comparisons between individual cities in the list. Some of the data was not from peer-reviewed work and not all of it was recent. The authors suggest that more global debate is necessary on understanding fully the factors leading to emissions and in seeking agreement on how they should be measured and responsibility apportioned.

Crucially, the measurement of consumption and production in parallel was necessary to attempt effective analysis of the carbon footprints of individuals and of places. On an assessment that reflects both production and consumption and relates carbon emissions to lifestyles, many of the worst production polluters over the past ten years, notably the larger cities of China, become much less of the problem and wealthy cities with aspiring populations become more central to it.

One of the authors, Daniel Hoornweg, a World Bank climate change expert, observed: “Lifestyles and consumption patterns are key drivers of greenhouse gas emissions in far-off cities as in the example of Western consumer demand for Chinese goods. From the production perspective Shanghai has high emissions but from the consumption perspective its emissions are much lower.”

Of the 100 cities addressed, the highest greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions ((tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tco2e)/capita)) were attributed to Rotterdam at 29.8. The highest attributed to one of the cities commonly cited as one of the world’s greats was Sydney at 20.3.

Port cities were affected by the production/consumption dynamic as measures of their pollution included fuel for the dirty diesel sea-going craft that transport goods in such large quantities to the affluent.

China’s cities record much higher emissions than those of India, though none of the India data is peer-reviewed or recent. While the large cities of China have much higher emissions than the nation overall, the writers point out that a lot of industrial production takes place within cities and that rural lifestyles are not dominated by private motorised transport.

In contrast with China, all the US cities are less polluting than the nation overall, reinforcing the view that the pattern of habitation, production and consumption in the US is generally more sustainable in the metropolitan areas. The report highlights the role of large volumes of private motorised travel in conjunction with low density development.

The biggest cities tend to have the best sustainable mobility systems and the highest population densities so it will be no surprise to those who keep in touch with climate change that these have lower emissions per person than those cities that are both wealthy and allow low density development.

Calgary’s GHG tCO2e capita is double that of Toronto and three times that of Vancouver. In 2005, New Yorker’s average emissions were less than half those of Denver inhabitants. San Francisco’s emissions are less than 50 per cent of that of any of the Texas cities included in the survey.

Another of the report’s authors, Lorraine Sugar, is Toronto-based. She says that residential emissions in a dense inner city neighbourhood there are 1.3 tonnes of Co2, equivalent per person, while in the same conurbation in an outer suburb it is 13 tonnes.

In Europe the city/nation matrix is more mixed but most of the big cities are less polluting than their national averages. Helsinki and Stockholm are both cited at 50 per cent, as are Barcelona and Madrid. Stuttgart, in contrast, is 50 per cent above the German average, though this may in part be because of the particular wind patterns affecting the Baden-Württemberg capital.

The writers concede that measuring the true responsibility of cities and city dwellers is very difficult, and comparing them even more so.

Per capital CHG emissions
for selected countries and cities

Country/city
GHG emission (tCO2e/capita)
Argentina
7.64
Buenos Aires
3.83
Australia
25.75
Sydney
20.3
Belgium
12.36
Brussels
7.5
Brazil
4.16
Rio de Janeiro
2.1
São Paulo
1.4
Canada
22.65
Calgary
17.7
Toronto (City of Toronto)
9.5
Toronto (Metropolitan Area)
11.6
Vancouver
4.9
China
3.40
Beijing
10.1
Shanghai
11.7
France
8.68
Paris
5.2
Germany
11.62
Frankfurt
13.7
Hamburg
9.7
Stuttgart
16.0
Greece
11.78
Athens
10.4
Italy
9.31
Bologna (Province)
11.1
Naples (Province)
4.0
Turin
9.7
Japan
10.76
Tokyo
4.89
Mexico
5.53
Mexico City
4.25
Netherlands
12.67
Rotterdam
29.8
Spain
9.86
Barcelona
4.2
Madrid
6.9
Sweden
7.15
Stockholm
3.6
Switzerland
6.79
Geneva
7.8
UK
10.50
London
9.6
Glasgow
8.8
USA
23.59
Austin
15.57
Baltimore
14.4
Boston
13.3
Chicago
12.0
Dallas
15.2
Denver
21.5
Houston
14.1
Philadelphia
11.1
Juneau
14.37
Los Angeles
13.0
Menlo Park
16.37
Miami
11.9
Minneapolis
18.34
New York City
10.5
Portland, OR
12.41
San Diego
11.4
San Francisco
10.1
Seattle
13.68
Washington DC
19.70
The authors caution regarding making extensive comparisons between individual cities in the above table. Some of the data was not from peer-reviewed work and not all of it was recent. The authors suggest that more global debate is necessary on understanding fully the factors leading to emissions and in seeking agreement on how they should be measured and responsibility apportioned.

*Environment and Urbanization is published by Sage Publications and the International Institute of Environment and Development. Cities and Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Moving Forward. 2011. Environment and Urbanization Vol 23 (2). www.iied.org Authors D. Hoornweg, L. Sugar, C. L. Trejos Gomez.

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