An introduction to community carbon footprints – Part 1

Many local governments have had great success in monitoring, tracking and reducing emissions in their own operations. Now, more and more councils are starting to look outside their operations to help reduce emissions in their communities.

Local action across communities is needed to help reduce emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, which calls on countries to keep global warming to under 1.5° C above pre-industrial levels (please refer to an earlier article on science-based targets).

In this blog post, we introduce the basics about community emissions carbon footprints, including emissions sources, examples and methods.

Why is it important to develop greenhouse gas inventories for communities?

Tracking emissions on a national level helps with tracking our performance against the Paris Agreement as a country. However this information tends not to be tangible to many people and communities. Developing greenhouse gas emission inventories at a local level has many benefits, and can help you:

  • Understand how many tonnes your community is emitting – to have a starting point from which you can plan what you can do as a community to reduce emissions
  • Project your community’s emissions into the future – if your population is growing then new housing and business may see your emissions grow as well
  • Compare your community’s emissions to other similar communities, so there is a basis for collaboration (and competition) to reduce emissions
  • Know where the biggest sources of emissions are and which sectors contribute the most, so that plans and support measures you develop with your community are relevant and have the best chance of success
  • Set targets – to know what you are working towards. These may be overall aspirational goals, or they may be more targeted
  • Track and communicate emissions levels and the success of reduction measures to your community

What is the Global Protocol for community emissions (GPC)?

To enable communities and cities to report under one globally acceptable standard, the Global Protocol for Community-scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories (GPC) was developed. It was launched in December 2014 by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability and is the most widely used framework to account for carbon emissions in a community.

The GPC outlines requirements and provides guidance to account for and report emissions, but it is up to you to choose a suitable methodology to calculate emissions for your community.

Developing a community carbon footprint aligned to GPC

Local governments are typically experienced in developing carbon footprints for their own operations, but may be new to developing footprints for their communities.

The GPC provides two approaches to developing community carbon inventories, a “territorial” approach and a “city-induced” approach. Within the city-induced approach two reporting levels are available, called “BASIC” and “BASIC+”. The differences between approaches and reporting levels, and the pros and cons of these will be the subject of a future blog post.

Whatever approach you use to develop a greenhouse gas emissions inventory for a community, it is important to set a geographic boundary first. In most cases, the geographical boundary of a Local Government Area (LGA) will be suitable, though in some cases developing estimates of emissions at a suburb level may be desirable – for example where the mix of land use, single houses, flats and business changes across a locality.

The next step is to pick a baseline year for which you want to develop an inventory. A recent calendar or financial year is typically selected, and provides a period of time against which you intend to monitor your community’s emissions going forward.

The main emission sources reported in your community GHG inventory will include:

  • Electricity consumption in the LGA (stationary energy)
  • Natural gas consumption in the LGA (stationary energy)
  • Private and public transportation
  • Waste
  • Wastewater

Other emissions that you can consider for a city-wide carbon footprint include:

  • Refrigerant losses
  • Fugitive emissions from industrial activities (production and use of mineral products and chemicals, production of metals)
  • Lubricants, paraffin waxes, bitumen, etc. used in non-energy products
  • Fluorinated compounds used in the electronics industry
  • Emissions from agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU)
  • Other Scope 3 emissions

 

Example of a community inventory – Adelaide

The City of Adelaide emitted 951,000 tonnes of CO2-e in 2015. The graph below is reproduced from https://www.carbonneutraladelaide.com.au/about/how and shows the breakup of the city’s carbon footprint by sector. The biggest emissions come from stationary energy consumption, followed by transport, followed by waste.

Figure 1: The City of Adelaide’s carbon footprint

Example of a community inventory – Melbourne

The City of Melbourne reported emissions of 4,678,194 tonnes of CO2-e in 2017. The graph below is reproduced from https://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/sitecollectiondocuments/climate-change-mitigation-strategy-2050.pdf  and shows the breakup of the city’s carbon footprint by sector. Like the City of Adelaide, the biggest emissions come from stationary energy consumption, followed by transport, and then waste.

Figure 2: The City of Melbourne’s carbon footprint

Can an inventory ever be perfect?

It is unlikely that your inventory will be perfect. When you develop a carbon footprint, there will be trade-offs between accuracy and completeness. The more emission sources you include, the more complete your inventory will be. However, it is not always easy to have accurate data at a local level for some emission sources, particularly transport and waste.

It’s safe to say that there will probably be gaps in your data, and you may have to make assumptions or use appropriate analytic methods to fill these gaps, which we described in this blog post. Just make sure you document your assumptions and aim to improve your inventory quality over time.

Can you set targets for community-wide emissions?

Over the last decades, many local governments have set emission reduction targets for their own operations.

It is also possible to set emission reduction targets for community-wide emissions and having a robust GHG inventory at the community level can help you to do this.

Both top-down and bottom-up approaches to target setting can be effective. A top-down target can set out an overall goal to aim for and signals your community’s intent to act to mitigate climate change – for example “net zero emissions by 2030”.

However, bottom-up targets can complement this and provide your community with some tangible metrics that are aligned with achieving the overall goal. For example, “doubling solar PV in the community by 2022”, or “installing 50 electric vehicle charging points in public spaces by 2025”.

Part 5 of this blog post series examines targets that local councils can develop to help their communities reduce their carbon footprint.

Considerations for councils developing community GHG inventories

Based on our experience working with local councils, we have identified some key factors that councils should consider when looking to develop an emissions profile of their community. These include:

  • Repeatability and cost – are the data inputs to your community inventory readily accessible or able to be estimated using a repeatable method or data set, or will you have to pay to access some or all of your data?
  • Comparability – if you are comparing your inventory with that of other cities and communities, be sure that you understand the boundaries and approaches used by others, so you are comparing ‘apples with apples’. We find this to be particularly important when looking at emissions estimates for transport and waste.
  • Alignment & frequency – local councils report on sustainability issues and efforts in a variety of ways, such as annual sustainability reports and periodic State of the Environment reporting. When planning when and how often to measure and report on community emissions within other reports, you should try to ensure that you can develop an inventory in a timely manner aligned with the timing of these.
  • Effort v impact – the overarching purpose of a community inventory is to help the community reduce their GHG emissions, so some consideration should be given to the level of effort required to estimate emissions sources based on their significance, data accessibility and abatement potential.


Need help with developing the carbon footprint of your community?

It is challenging to develop carbon footprints that are in alignment with the GPC. Sometimes, it is easier to get the help of an expert who can guide you through the process. Here at 100% Renewables, we are certified City Climate Planners, proving our experience in community-level GHG emissions inventory accounting.

If you need help with developing community emissions inventories or pathways for emission reduction, please contact  Barbara or Patrick.

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