As some of the biggest sources of carbon emissions on the planet, our cities must lead the way in reducing emissions to fight climate change. The scale and speed of transformation needed is huge - and time is running out.
The good news: over 1100 cities across the world have joined the Cities Race to Zero and committed to halve their emissions by 2030.
Every city on the path to Net Zero will need to build a strong plan, attract funding and track their progress over time. But before they can do that, they will need much more accurate and up-to-date emissions data than what they are currently working with.
The limits of traditional emissions calculation for cities
The inaccuracy of estimated emissions
Most cities’ greenhouse gas inventories are based on estimates, using activity data and carbon emission factors. But there are two key challenges with this approach:
The process is fairly manual, time-consuming and expensive. Most cities publish their greenhouse gas inventory every two years at most (more commonly every five to ten years), a frequency that makes tracking progress much harder.
The estimates are only as good as the inputs into the model. For example, if we look at ground transportation emissions, they are often calculated using models that rely on statistics related to vehicles and journeys combined with carbon emission factors. Both variables are often out of date or not available at local level, which means it’s not a proper assessment of a city’s actual traffic emissions.
Using estimates makes it very difficult for cities to understand where they’re starting from, let alone being able to assess the real impact of the policies that they implement.
What they actually need is a real-time, area-based emissions monitoring solution, which can help cities measure emissions over time, by sector and help assess the impact of decarbonization policies.
“Assessing city progress on emissions reductions has been hindered by the near-total absence of directly measured CO2 emissions data. (…). Most estimates rely on parameters from engineering studies that are applied to survey-based activity measures for transport, energy production, and manufacturing. ” Source: Worldbank
Accounting for third-party emissions
Cities’ carbon managers have a pretty clear view of the CO2 emissions caused by the city’s operations (transport, buildings, green space, waste…), even if they are calculating rather than measuring. But these activities represent only a fraction of the city’s overall emissions.
In fact, up to 90% of a city’s greenhouse gas emissions are caused by third parties--such as residents, businesses and industries--and these third-party emissions are often estimated by external consultants using inaccurate models.
That means cities’ carbon managers aren’t getting the complete picture on their emissions, and can only estimate the progress of any reduction efforts.
At Everimpact, we believe that cities’ journey to Net Zero will be powered by data. Let’s look at what that means for three key aspects:
Knowing your baseline
A city’s pledge to reach Net Zero is a bold and inspiring statement, but it is only the beginning of a demanding journey. The first step: establishing a city’s baseline emissions.
Everimpact’s measurement-led approach enables cities to measure and analyze their actual carbon emissions in real time, using ground sensors, carbon pluming (a technology that can trace the sources of carbon emissions) and satellite data. It’s hard data, and it’s essential to establishing a good baseline from which to measure progress.
The Everimpact platform also enables cities to analyze emissions sources by geographical area or by land use (green spaces, residential buildings, industrial buildings, roads etc). This granular level of detail about each emission-causing activity means cities can establish the roles and responsibilities of emitters, and create credible and measurable reduction trajectories for each of their carbon reduction projects.
Photo - Dijon CO2 monitoring dashboard by Everimpact
As a member of the NetZeroCities initiative, Dijon is the first city to monitor their live carbon emissions with the Everimpact platform
Monitoring progress over time -- even for hard to estimate sectors
With double-digit emissions reductions to achieve in some areas every year, cities must track and assess their carbon reduction progress with an eagle eye in order to stay on track.
That’s easier said than done. Here’s why:
Decarbonization projects are often interrelated and synergistic. For example, when cities plan to redesign an area to increase its living density, they’re combining several initiatives: investments in new public transport, in cycling infrastructure and demand management policies such as low emission zones. The combined impact of these actions is hard to assess using estimates alone--it’s much too complex. So having real-time data from sources like ground sensors and satellites, with reductions measured over time, is absolutely key to tracking progress.
Measurement makes it much easier to see the real-time impact of policies, because it’s all there in the numbers. Cities’ carbon managers can easily monitor the impact of their projects and take corrective action if needed in order to stay on the right path. That’s the power of data.
Closing the financing gap
For cities, unlocking the funding they need to finance carbon reduction projects is a considerable challenge. According to research from the World Bank Group and Climate Policy Initiatives, cities across the world need US$4500-5500 billion every year to finance their climate mitigation plans. Currently, less than a tenth of that is available (US$384 billion on average in 2017/2018).
Cities will have to create strong investment plans for their decarbonization projects--such as the Climate City Contracts initiated by NetZeroCities.
But so far, too few cities have been able to do so successfully.
Carbon markets and green finance opportunities expect quality data and methodology if they are to invest in decarbonization projects. But cities often don’t have the relevant skills or resources to meet these expectations.
Everimpact's carbon measuring solution, and our methodology for certifying carbon emission reductions, give investors an unprecedented level and quality of data, making it much easier to attract funding for initiatives like low carbon mobility policies or forestry projects.
Our certified emissions and reductions data can help cities unlock access to climate finance through carbon markets or green loans. We believe we can channel significant funding into city climate projects, such as road transport planning, EV infrastructure or nature-based solutions.
This is the approach used to successfully enable the financing of the Seoul Subway project from 2019 to 2029, which has created 111 ktCO2 of carbon credits per year, as approved by Verra.
Timely and accurate emissions measurement can be a game-changer for cities. It helps sustainability and carbon managers get a complete picture of their carbon emissions in real time, and gives them a way to certify their reduction progress and unlock financing.
With the right data, cities’ journey to Net Zero becomes much more possible.