Cities - 07/October/2019

Put consumption at heart of urban energy transition

Even if many cities are finding it a challenge to meet decarbonisation targets, they have made progress over the last decade and are becoming increasingly ambitious

The absence of consumption-based emissions from cities’ carbon budgets will undermine their attempts to become carbon neutral. Data is urgently needed to better understand the problem of rising emissions from rising consumption and how cities can be a driver for the energy transition along the whole length of supply chains

Measure what you manage has long been a basic tenet for carbon reduction efforts. But a new report shows this is far from being reality, with cities across the globe leaving more than half of their carbon footprint out of the equation by failing to include consumption-based emissions. By only focusing on the carbon emitted within city boundaries from transport, buildings and industries and omitting the accumulated carbon footprint of everything imported, bought and consumed, the impact of urban residents and businesses on global emissions is being underplayed and undermining attempts by cities to claim carbon neutrality.

The report, published by C40 Cities in partnership with Arup, a consultancy, and the University of Leeds in the UK reveals that taking emissions from both production and consumption into consideration would force cities to more than double their reduction ambitions to comply with the Paris climate agreement. The Future of Urban Consumption in a 1.5°C World shows consumption emissions in big cities are around 58% higher than production-based emissions. Until now, cities engaged in the clean energy transition have developed production-based greenhouse gas inventories and carbon budgets based on emissions from energy use and the treatment of waste inside their territories, ignoring energy consumption and emissions from the consumption of goods and services.

Including both consumption and production emissions will increase pressure on cities to up their climate action, but also offers opportunities for them to drive the low carbon transition globally.
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This article is part of our special series looking indepth at how cities hold the key to the energy transition. All stories in the series will appear on our website and in the latest edition of our magazine to be published at the beginning of October 2019.

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