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Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Cities can cut greenhouse gas emissions far beyond their urban borders

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November 7, 2017 Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)

Greenhouse gas emissions caused by urban households’ purchases of goods and services from beyond city limits are much bigger than previously thought. These upstream emissions may occur anywhere in the world and are roughly equal in size to the total emissions originating from a city’s own territory, a new study shows. This is not bad news but in fact offers local policy-makers more leverage to tackle climate change, the authors argue in view of the UN climate summit COP23 that just started…
The planned emission reductions presented so far by national governments at the UN summit are clearly insufficient to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, the target agreed by 190 countries, therefore additional efforts are needed.

If a city instead chooses to foster low carbon construction materials this can drastically reduce its indirect CO2 emissions. Even things that cities are already doing can affect far-away emissions. Raising insulation standards for buildings for example certainly slashes local emissions by reducing heating fuel demand. Yet it can also turn down the need for electric cooling in summer which reduces power generation and hence greenhouse gas emissions in some power plant beyond city borders.

By choosing energy from solar or wind, city governments could in fact close down far-away coal-fired power plants….

Peter-Paul Pichler, Timm Zwickel, Abel Chavez, Tino Kretschmer, Jessica Seddon, Helga Weisz. Reducing Urban Greenhouse Gas Footprints. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-15303-x

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