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Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

The Role Cities Can Play In Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions


Power generation produces the most carbon emissions in the energy market around the globe. Currently, power generation emits enough greenhouse gas emissions to equal the emissions from all of the world’s cars. Cities use 78 percent of energy globally, according to a United Nations report, and produce over 60 percent of carbon emissions. So, they can play a big role in reducing emissions by adopting clean energy.

This year, 308 cities are participating in CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project), and 162 responded to a survey about their energy use. Cities overall are making “significant strides” to shift to low-carbon energy, CDP found. Thirty-five percent of cities reported they get three-quarters of their electricity from non-fossil fuel sources. Over a third of the cities who disclosed to CDP this year reported having some kind of renewable energy target.

What CDP found is that, among participating cities, regions vary. For example, Latin American cities get about 76 percent of their electricity from clean sources on average, while European cities get 59 percent of their energy from clean power. Cities in the Asia Pacific region get 15 percent of their electricity from non-fossil fuel sources.

Some cities really stand out, and two of those outstanding ones are in California. Santa Monica and San Francisco have a 100 renewable electricity target in place. The Texas city of Austin committed to sourcing 55 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025. It’s a goal the city reports it is on track to meet four years ahead of schedule through renewable power purchase agreements and energy-efficiency programs. Aspen has already achieved its 100 percent renewable electricity target. Clearly, western U.S. cities are leading the way.

But how do cities fare in other regions? One European city, Stockholm, Sweden, has the goal to be fossil fuel free by 2040. The Australian city of Canberra has a goal of getting 90 percent of its electricity from large-scale renewables by 2020. That goal will achieve a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

There is a financial incentive for cities to transition to cleaner power sources. Eighty-six percent of the cities who reported to CDP said they see economic opportunities from efforts to deal with climate change. A Citi report predicts that over the next 25 years about $200 trillion will be spent on energy. The cumulative lost GDP from climate change impacts, according to the report, could equate to $44 trillion on an undiscounted basis. So, investing in cleaner energy will pay off for cities. As McKinsey predicted, $1 of every $8,000 spent is required to support achieving renewable energy goals that have a clean electricity target.

That’s a small payoff to help the planet and achieve financial savings.

Image credit: Flickr/Lawrence Murray

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshotGina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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