Cities to count emissions with Carbon Disclosure Project

More than 21 cities are joining what may be the largest effort to understand how urban centers contribute to climate change.

Elsa Wenzel
3 min read

How can cities reduce the role they may play in global warming? Could fire departments, garbage collection services, residential building codes, and industrial regulations be greener?

Attempting to help address those questions, 21 U.S. cities, including New York, Las Vegas, and New Orleans will describe their major sources of greenhouse gas emissions to the Carbon Disclosure Project, one of the world's largest repositories linking such data to climate change.

The nonprofit Carbon Disclosure Project comprises 385 institutional investors with assets of $57 trillion, from ABN Amro to the RBS Group. It has been collecting data on corporate greenhouse gas emissions since 2003.

"Over 70 percent of total global emissions are generated from cities, and if you don't measure these emissions, you cannot manage them," CEO Paul Dickinson said in a statement.

By Halloween, the participating cities are due to file online reports. Some may draw from details they've already pooled using software from ICLEI, an association of governments of 1,000 cities, 400 of them in the United States.

ICLEI stands for International Council on Local Environmental Initiatives. Its Clean Air and Climate Protection software is among the applications that cities have been using since 1995 to measure emissions from homes, transportation, government, and industries.

Cities have been using software from ICLEI like this for 17 years. Now some will share similar details for Web-based reporting to the Carbon Disclosure Project. Click screenshot for a larger version. International Council on Local Environmental Initiatives

What makes the partnership with the Carbon Disclosure Project unique is that the voluntary reporting by local governments isn't tied to punitive regulations, hopefully encouraging a clear picture of cities' emissions, said Michelle Wyman, executive director of ICLEI. Interest in understanding and reducing emissions has been growing among small and medium-size communities, she added.

The results of the city reports will be published in January.

"This partnership between the world's major corporations and, increasingly, its cities, highlights the importance of the cooperative action needed to successfully counter climate change," Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City said in a statement.

Cities participating in Carbon Disclosure Project
Mayors of cities marked here signed onto an agreement to bring their communities in line with the Kyoto Protocol, which the federal government has rejected. Click the map for a larger version. U.S. Conference of Mayors

More attention is being paid to the ways cities contribute to and can fight global warming. The 500 signatories to the U.S. Conference of Mayors climate protection agreement, for instance, pledge to exceed the goals of the Kyoto Protocol by promoting policies to reduce sprawl and increase energy efficiency.

Among the cities with ambitious goals to become greener are Austin, Tex., San Jose, and San Francisco, which last week reported an 8 percent drop in greenhouse emissions since 2000. (They are not participating in this pilot round of reporting with the Carbon Disclosure Project.)

The Clinton Climate Foundation-backed C40 partnership of some of the world's 40 largest cities also aims to tackle climate change.

One of the broadest, recent pictures of the carbon footprints of U.S. city centers comes from an April map from the Vulcan Project, backed by NASA and the Department of Energy.

The other cities participating in the Carbon Disclosure Project are Albany, N. Y.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Anchorage, Ark.; Arlington, Va.; Burlington, Vt.; Denver, Colo.; Dubuque, Iowa; Edina and St. Paul, Minn.; Fairfield, Ia.; Haverford, Penn.; North Little Rock, Ark.; Pacific Grove and Rohnert Park, Calif.; Park City, Utah; Portland, Ore.; Washougal, Wash.; and West Palm Beach, Fla. Another nine cities are expected to join the effort soon.