In this project we worked to calculate carbon and other resource footprints for cities and local governments.
When this project began, the idea of a Scope 3 carbon or biodiversity footprint assessment for a city was a rare idea, one hardly used. Now, several years later, the term is commonplace at major institutes like the World Resource Institute and C40.
Initially this project aimed at preparing detailed Scope 3 inventories for cities. But what we, and others in the community working on this, have learned since the outset is that characterizing city footprints in detail is not enough. The thrust of the original approach had been to investigate the footprint of individual households and scale that up to the city level. Through our work in this project and by others in the field, we are learning that the focus on private households may not be the best place to focus. Instead, it is (a) the structure of urban form itself, i.e. the modes of transport, building codes, zoning, and behavioral nudges which can have a larger impact on an individual’s footprint then their private decisions, and (b) for most cities, practitioners are increasingly recommending that the city focus on the Scope 1,2, and 3 footprint of its own municipal operations since the government has much control over that and little control over private households.
Our original research question was: Are there patterns in the spatial and socioeconomic distribution of carbon footprints? It is easier to take action when it is focused on specific groups or areas of the economy. We are looking for such intervention options for cities and local governments. Actions should be tailored to the city demographics and region: in some places carbon-efficient transport, i.e. transit, bikes, and car-free areas should be prioritized, while in other areas building retrofits, energy efficiency measures, or green electricity standards may be more efficient. This project investigated that question through papers providing high-resolution city footprint results in Japan, India, Australia, and the EU (forthcoming).
Associated with this project we have also published an inventory estimating direct Scope 1 CO2 emisisons for 108,000 cities in Europe: https://openghgmap.net
This project had good foresight in identifying Scope 3 footprints at the city level as a topic of emerging interest. Where this topic was merely on the horizon at the start of this project, now Scope 3 assessments at the city level are part of the mainstream discussion.
Guidelines for cities to understand and calculate their Scope 3 emissions are now relatively mainstream as promulgated by the C40 and WRI .
The next step in this field is to step from academic knowledge about cities’ Scope 3 footprint to actionable policy. We see for example a recent C40 RFP looking for specific policy guidance for London and New York.
Most of the work conducted in this project was about characterizing the total footprint of cities. What became clearer through this research is that focusing on individual households may not be the best leverage point for cities to reduce their footprint. Instead, it is (1) policies which affect the entire environment (e.g. building codes, transit plans, zoning, and behavioral nudging.) and (2) actions to reduce the footprint of the city’s own municipal operations which are powerful and more practical areas to address.
The scientific papers resulting from this project covered a range of topics. Here we can summarize the topic areas covered:
- Contributions for the IPCCC process:
- Demographic analysis of Scope 3 footprints
- The footprint of food, which is a major component of household footprints:
- Footprint results in India, Japan, Australia, and Europe
- Continued advances on the work tracing embodied GHG in supply chains:
- Policy recommendations and implications of Scope 3 accounting:
- Exploring new methods for Scope 1 emissions inventories
Another outcome is the development of a museum exhibition which is now on fixed display at Vitenskapsmuseet in Trondheim. Originally developed for the FUTURUM “Big Challenge” science festival in Trondheim, this exhibit featured infographics and interactive wood cubes containing insights, provocations, and suggestions for action regarding urban footprints. The exhibit is now permanently housed in the Vitenskapsmuseet in Trondheim where it is visited by many school classes every week.
In addition to dissemination, training is also an important function of RCN funding. In this regard, it is healthy to see two postdocs working under the PI’s direction land tenured positions in academia. Johannes Többen has a joint position between the PIK research institute in Potsdam and GWS, a private environmental/economic consulting agency, and Heran Zheng after completing this project has secured a tenured position at the University College London.
Many towns in Norway have a city forest ("bymarka" in Norwegian) where city-dwellers can go to connect with nature. But not all cities have such a close connection to nature. Most cities drive large environmental footprints not just directly outside of the city limits, but globally. Increasingly, individuals, together with their governments and the companies that link them to primary producers, want to contribute to reducing their overall environmental footprint.
A disproportionately large share of global environmental pressure is driven by wealthy cities and suburbs. It is estimated that up to nearly half of the global carbon is footprint is driven by the 10% of top earners, those making more than $7500 per year. Individuals can take steps to reduce their environmental impact, but typically two-thirds of a household’s total carbon footprint is governed by institutional factors (e.g. transport modes, building stock, public infrastructure). While national-level policies are undoubtedly critical to GHG mitigation, it is often up to local communities to implement actions. Considering their total supply-chain footprint gives new opportunities for communities to contribute to reducing their GHG footprint.
However, most cities and states do not know anything about the carbon footprints within their jurisdiction. Undertaking studies on this is laborious and expensive. In this research project we will use advanced data-integration techniques to estimate the geodemographic distribution of carbon and other resource footprints at a neighborhood level globally, and provide these results to city and state-level governments.
This project integrates perspectives from consumer behavior psychology, economics, and engineering, and the outputs from this work will be useful both for practical applications, through consulting applications, and for research in the disciplines of economics, geography, political science, sociology, and urban planning, among others.