Carbon Footprinting for U.S. Cities

This week ICLEI (International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives) released the U.S. Community Protocol for Accounting and Reporting of Greenhouse Gas Emissions. The Community Protocol is the first of its kind, and, according to ICLEI, “allows local governments to gain a clearer understanding of which sources and activities within their communities—from power generation and passenger vehicles to livestock and solid waste treatment—are most responsible for the greenhouse gases driving climate change.” The idea that if it is easier for cities and communities to complete an greenhouse gas inventory, it will also be easier for them to take steps to reduce emissions. In addition to the protocol, ICLEI includes an Excel-based “Scoping and Reporting Tool.”

The Community Protocol basically has three steps: Scoping for relevant emissions sources and activities; Calculating emissions based on these sources and activities; and Reporting the results. There are five “Basic Emissions Generating Activities” every community should account for: (1) Use of Electricity, (2) Use of Fuel in Stationary Equipment (e.g., furnaces), (3) Motor Vehicle Travel, (4) Energy Used for Water Treatment and Distribution, and (5) Generation of Solid Waste. This seems like a useful list for anyone interested in local emissions sources (including individuals…). And I am very glad to see water treatment and distribution as a major source of emissions! I have several friends and colleagues working hard on the water/energy nexus and it seems to be getting some traction in the policy world.

An interesting thread throughout the Community Protocol is a focus on helping communities “tell a story” with their greenhouse gas reporting. For example, after listing various ways of reporting emissions (e.g., a consumption-based inventory, sector-by-sector, or for community businesses) a final option is to “Create Your Own Story: In addition to any of these reporting frameworks, local governments may identify other, additional stories they would like to tell.” It seems like ICLEI is also trying to help communities find the best ways to communicate the results of the inventories to the public, and to think critically about the “story” they want the community to hear. It seems like a useful strategy…

It will be interesting to see how much traction this Community Protocol gets with local governments. Standards are always useful for busy bureaucrats, and one produced by ICLEI is likely to have some legitimacy.

Beach in Adelaide



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2 Responses to Carbon Footprinting for U.S. Cities

  1. Dan Fraikin says:

    How does this instrument becomes known, and who in a city government would consider using it?

    • urbanability says:

      That is a great question! If cities are already members of ICLEI they will know about it, but they can also use it without being members. This would usually be used by a city manager, or someone from the Environmental Department in a city government. Some really forward-thinking cities have climate change departments, but not many. In theory, a neighborhood council or community group could also follow the protocol. It looks like Victoria is not a member of ICLEI, but it does have a Climate Action Program and a Sustainability Department!

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