How Cities Undercount Greenhouse Gas Emissions

By the usual measures, wealthy "consumer cities" have largely put a check on their carbon emissions. But that doesn't account for the emissions that their consumption habits fuel in other places.
March 24, 2018, 11am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Paul Latham

Citing the hefty figure of 60 percent, Stephen Leahy writes that "The world's cities emit 70 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide—and that's likely higher when consumption emissions are included."

The finding comes from a report released at the IPCC Cities and Climate Change Science Conference. The "vitality" of wealthy cities, the report says, gives rise to significant greenhouse gas emissions outside their boundaries. Leahy writes, "when the emissions associated with their consumption of goods and services are included, these cities' emissions have grown substantially and are among the highest in the world on a per person basis, the report says."

Measuring emissions only by what originates within city limits paints a rosy picture of "consumer cities" and may unfairly vilify the places that produce those goods. As Cleveland sustainability chief Matt Gray argued to The National Geographic, "Resource consumption was not a factor in last year's U.S. Cities Sustainable Development Goals Index, which put Cleveland at the bottom. Yet the fact that Cleveland is widely considered a national leader in local food production wasn't a factor in the index [...]"

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Published on Tuesday, March 6, 2018 in National Geographic
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