Greenhouse gases, global warming, climate change and carbon footprints: these terms coexist as a result of carbon dioxide emissions.
The main source of carbon dioxide? The combustion of fossil fuels, primarily through electricity, transportation and industry according to the EPA. Cut back on these three man-made areas of activity, and rates of those terms all decline. Cities are the best starting place to do so, and some of the world’s largest cities have determined measures they are taking, or should be taking, in the battle to bat down carbon emissions.
Carbon Emissions Trading
Emissions trading, or cap-and-trade, has been around since the 1980s. As discussed in the Smithsonian, this outlandish concept of trading pollution rights originated from Reagan administration attorney C. Boyden Gray. Today, emissions trading is a global phenomenon under the guise of the Kyoto Protocol. It is also the main way that major urban centers manage to offset advancing levels of pollution.
By trading emissions credits, the cities with the biggest carbon footprints are able to sell off their pollution to other not-so-polluted cities. The European Commission and Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency released a report showing results from the EDGAR (Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis and Retrieval) database regarding carbon footprints of the planet. In 2014, the top 10 countries with the biggest carbon footprints accounted for 68.2 percent of the total carbon emissions. The total amount of carbon dioxide emissions for the world was 35.6 million.
These 10 countries include:
China: 10.5 million CO2 emissions (kt)
USA: 5.3 million kt
European Union: 3.4 million kt
India: 2.3 million kt
Russia: 1.7 million kt
Japan: 1.2 kt
Germany: 767,000 kt
Iran: 618,000 kt
South Korea: 610,000 kt
Canada: 565,000 kt
Making a market of pollution sounds out of touch, but in truth this economical solution is holding massive metropolitan spaces in check. If a city doesn’t have enough emissions credits to be within its emissions allowances, and they exceed their limits, they can buy credits from another city. Some cities have figured out other means for meeting their limits. Cities, such as San Francisco, Copenhagen, Portland, Vaxjo and Bristol, are exceeding expectations for emission reduction.
Cleaner Flower Power of San Francisco
California leads the the emissions conversation in the U.S. There, truck drivers are banned from idling, and the state has the most progressive emissions controls standards in the country. San Francisco, the most densely populated city in California with more than 18,187 people per square mile, is equally as passionate about climate control. In order to stymie the steadily increasing release of carbon dioxide emissions in San Francisco, serious steps are being taken.
By focusing on three main areas—waste, transportation and buildings—San Francisco is striving for the greenest streets in the state. San Francisco Department of the Environment (SFE) director Melanie Nutter notes, “Our citywide carbon reductions—the equivalent of taking 128,000 cars off the road, or avoiding the burning of 1.5 million barrels of oil every year—are the result of the hard work and collaboration of many city departments, private sector partnerships and San Francisco residents. This shows us how far we have come and will be critical in developing plans to continue on our clean and green path.”
Exactly how far has San Francisco come? A 2010 analysis of the city’s carbon footprint equaled 5.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, a decrease from 6.2 million 20 years prior. In that same time, the city population has increased by nearly 100,000 residents. Two main changes were enacted. The city closed two natural gas power plants, which were the source of dirty and inefficient power, replacing them with clean power via a hydroelectric system. To reduce transportation emissions, an improved infrastructure for biking, electric vehicles and walking was established. To cut out waste emissions, the city passed a mandatory waste recycling and composting law. San Francisco residents now have a 78 percent recycling and diversion rate.
Coping with Climate Change in Copenhagen
In the European Union, one city is setting the pace for a reduced carbon footprint, Copenhagen, Denmark. Home to more than half a million residents, Copenhagen produced a scant 2.8 tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2014, compared to 7.3 tonnes produced on average by other EU countries. As a result, Copenhagen is expected to be the first city on the planet to be carbon emissions neutral by 2025. How do they do it? To start, Copenhagen cuts down on heating emissions, which is the greatest source of all carbon emissions in the EU, by using heat and power plants, along with waste incineration. By this method, more than half of the city’s heating fuel comes from a form of biomass.
As for the city’s electricity, currently four percent are powered up from a large wind park located in Copenhagen’s harbor; however, an investment of 100 wind turbines, on and off shore, along with 700 million Euros, will increase this capacity to half of the city’s electrical production by 2020. The next move is to increase legislation on the national level. While Copenhagen is pushing toward carbon neutral, its founding nation of Denmark continues to lag behind in the emissions conversation. According to C40 executive director Mark Watts, Denmark still more progress to make. “There have been no incentives for geothermal,” Watts said, “which we could use in the district heating system instead of fossil fuels, and there has been no investment in solar since the government cut [feeding] tariffs.” Copenhagen may be the forerunner in the world’s race to cut down emissions, but they are far from reaching the end of their mission.
Cities like San Francisco and Copenhagen lead the way toward carbon neutral neighbourhoods, but eventually the move to make cities more eco-friendly will require the collaboration of entire states, countries and continents. If the world’s largest cities want to push for the most progressive reform on greenhouse gases, global warming, climate change and carbon footprints, then they need the global support of their nation’s legislation and infrastructures.
Written by Alex Neagu Project Director at Energy Digital