Cities and Climate Change: The potential for large scale emissions reductions
Written by: Matthew Sander, Kinesis
Since the Federal Government's decision not to consider implementation of its proposed emissions trading scheme until after the end of the current Kyoto period in 20121, there is considerable uncertainty regarding the future direction of Australia's climate change policy at the Federal level.
Regardless of whether Australia eventually has a price on carbon, a carbon price alone is not likely to achieve Australia's short and long-term emissions reduction targets. Complementary measures, including action from state and local governments will be required. One potential source of significant emissions abatement opportunities is cities. This article considers the role Australia's cities can play in assisting the country in meeting its emissions reduction obligations.
The Clinton Climate Initiative has stated that cities produce more than 70% of the world's total greenhouse emissions2. While this figure may be accurate, it provides little guidance for policy makers as to how they can reduce greenhouse gas emissions within their city. This is because many of the emissions which are attributable to a city are not produced within a city’s boundaries. For example, the emissions produced by electricity which is used within a city, often occurs at power stations that are placed sometimes hundreds of kilometres away. A report by David Satterthwaite, Senior Fellow at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), argues that perhaps less than half of global emissions actually occur within a city's boundaries3.
Policy makers must therefore determine what part of a city's emissions they can affect and the policy, regulatory and financial mechanisms they have to reduce those emissions. They must recognise that all cities are unique and can have very different transportation systems, electricity sources and population densities. One strategy implemented at one city may not have the same impact as another. For example, because Hobart receives most of its electricity from hydro power plants that produce no greenhouse gas emissions, installing a cogeneration plants in Tasmania would actually result in an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. They must also accept that significant change will not happen on a building by building basis, it requires a comprehensive city scale approach.
Before setting ambitious emissions reduction targets city policy makers should therefore set out to determine what their city's total emissions are, what their cities main source of emissions are and what actions can they take to reduce those emissions. For example, when the City of Sydney set its initial emissions reduction target of a 70% reduction below 2006 levels by 2030 it had not quantified the mechanisms it could use to meet that target. That's why its 2030 Sustainable Sydney strategy modelled a series of actions to identify the interventions with the most potential. From this work, it has been able to begin the process of planning how to implement each of the identified actions and is now developing implementation master plans for a distributed cogeneration network, increased renewable energy and waste to energy technologies.
The City of Sydney is not the only city pursuing comprehensive strategies for reducing city emissions. The City of Melbourne has numerous projects underway to meet its target of zero net emissions by 2020, including the Cycle Melbourne scheme to increase bicycle use4.
The potential cumulative effect of all of Australia's major cities pursuing comprehensive emissions reduction strategies is considerable. In 2009, Australia’s Council of Capital City Lord Mayors released a report titled Australian Capital Cities: examining the abatement potential of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. The purpose of this report, which Kinesis assisted in producing, was to quantitatively assess the contribution each capital city could make to reducing Australia's greenhouse gas emissions. The report modelled a series of emissions reduction actions across each capital city. The aim was not to assess every potential abatement opportunity, but rather to identify actions and policies which could be implemented by local government authorities. The report also recognised the individual characteristics of each city. For example, no cogeneration was modelled for Hobart. The actions modelled in the report were:
- Building energy efficiency retrofits
- Waste to energy
- Improved street lighting efficiency
- Reduced car use and improved vehicle efficiency
- Increased employee density
- Renewable energy
The report found that by implementing each of the described interventions Australia's capital cities could reduce their emissions by 57 Mt per annum by 2020. This represents a 40% reduction against business as usual emissions and a 41% contribution to Australia’s 5% emissions reduction target.
Jane Jacobs, in her seminal 1961 book on urban planning; The Life and Death of the Great American City said: "We may wish for easier, all purpose analyses, and for simpler, magical, all purpose cures, but wishing cannot change these problems into simpler matters than organised complexity." Like the urban issues that have dogged cities in the past, such as congestion and the destruction of local communities there is no all purpose cure for reducing greenhouse gas emissions at the city scale. It requires careful analysis of what can be achieved, a comprehensive strategy that targets the things city planners and authorities can affect and it requires the means and will to implement complex solutions.
Matthew Sander is the policy analyst at Kinesis; a consultancy firm working with government and business on climate change and innovative ways to reduce emissions. You can find Matthew on the member directory.
1 Department of Climate Change (2010), Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, Available here.
2 Clinton Climate Initiative (2010), Clinton Climate Initiative, What We Do, Available here.
3 Satterthwaite, D. (2008), Cities' contribution to global warming: notes on the allocation of greenhouse gas emissions, Environment and Urbanization, Available here.
4 City of Melbourne (2010), Zero Net Emissions, Available here.