Cut Your Carbon Emissions in Half Overnight: Move to the City

barcelona street photo

Barcelona's per capita carbon emissions were particularly good. Photo: Amitabh Trehan via flickr

While cities certainly use a lot of energy in a concentrated area, the per capita emissions of their residents are often well below national averages, a new report from the International Institute for Environment and Development says. David Dodman compared the emissions of 12 of the world's major cities:Washington DC Emissions Highest in Survey
The worst of the cities studied was Washington DC, which at 19.7 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per person is about 82% of the US average, and about three times the amount of other large cities in the developed world. The reason DC's emissions are so high: Statistics really, a high proportion of office buildings to residents.

Service Oriented Economies Skew Emissions Down
Glasgow, Toronto and Shanghai all come in between 8.1-8.4 tonnes per person. This is also a bit of statistics: If it were not for manufacturing for overseas consumption, Shanghai's emissions would likely be lower; in fact its emissions are more than double the national average. And if the emissions of all those goods destined for purchase overseas were included there instead, the emissions of Glasgow and Toronto (to single them out) would likely be higher.

My own New York City comes in at 7.1 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per person. That's a third of the national average, which is great... Though that same caveats regarding consumption of goods produced overseas applies here as well.

Bejing comes in at 6.9 tonnes per person; and is, again, in a situation similar to Shanghai. The city boundaries encompass some surrounding rural area and there is a high level of manufacturing skewing the per capita emissions higher.

London, at 6.2 tonnes, is in a similar position to New York: Extensive public transportation and high housing density, and a service-oriented economy mean lower per capita emissions. In the case of London, about half the national average.

But What Are Tokyo, Seoul and Barcelona Doing So Well?
Tokyo, Seoul and Barcelona all come in at about one-third to a half of the national average: 4.8, 3.8 and 3.4 tonnes of emissions per capita respectively. The compelling thing here is that each of these cities have emissions significantly lower than other major cities with similar economies and standards of living. To me, it shows that even in places which are doing better than the national average (such as London or New York) there is still great room for improvement.

Deforestation, Agriculture Dominate Brazil's Emissions
Rounding out the 12 cities examined are Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo, Brazil. Rio residents emit 2.3 tonnes per capita, while those of Sao Paolo emit 1.5 tonnes. While these are 28% and 18% of the national averages, the bad news is that the reason for this, according to Dodman is because Brazil's emissions from agriculture and deforestation dominate its national emissions, not because these cities do anything particularly better than other places.

Service City's Emissions Low, But Material Consumption Still High
Beyond recognizing the benefits of higher density development in lower per capita emissions, the bigger thing to take away from this report is the effect of effectively outsourcing emissions.

TreeHugger has covered this a number of times, and there have been a number of reports on it. While it is true that the rising emissions of nations such as China are the result of the massive amounts of dirty coal they burn, and the increasing amounts of cars on the road, the reason their economy is booming (more broadly) is because they are the world's manufacturer. If the carbon emissions associated with the production of those goods were added into (or perhaps partially added into would be better) those of the nation where they were consumed, the per capita emissions figures would shift—China's cities would be lower, closer to the national average, while those of service-oriented cities in the developed world would increase.

via: New Scientist
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