This month marks an important milestone – an agreed to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions protocol for cities was announced jointly by ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, C40, the big-cities climate change club, and the World Resources Institute (WRI). The protocol builds on early work by ICLEI, WRI and WBCSD’s corporate scopes model, a research paper presented by Professor Chris Kennedy et al at the June 2009 Marseille Urban Research Symposium, and a joint UNEP, UN-Habitat, World Bank guideline, supported by Cities Alliance, launched June 2010 at the World Urban Forum in Rio de Janeiro.
Up to now there were many different types of ways that cities were measuring their GHG emissions. A few cities were leading. Rio’s one of the first cities to complete the new inventory. New York City, Amman, Cape Town, Tokyo and Mexico City are front-runners as well. Xiaolan and Kunming are lined up to be the first cities in China to use the new protocol. Soon, most cities that complete a GHG inventory will follow a common ISO standardized approach. This will make analysis and learning across cities much easier. A common and verifiable metric is also one of the best ways to attract additional finance for cities.
Two common themes emerge from this effort. First, individuals count. Second, cities need a common language, urgently.
- Institutions are critical, but at the end of the day it is the individuals in these institutions that make things happen. Lots of people were involved in this work but a few deserve special recognition: Yunus Arikan of ICLEI, Rishi Desai at C40, Wee Kean Fong and Pankaj Bhatia at WRI. Yes, no one works alone, but all major journeys start with a single step. Catalytic city staff and agency employees are moving; others need to join.
- This common approach for cities to measure GHG emissions is far more important than just for GHG emissions. This critical precedent shows that agencies and cities can work together toward a common goal. It’s not easy, but doing it together is the only way it will get done. And the need to work together, and quickly, is evident. For example, when developing the Global City Indicators Facility (GCIF) a quick review of the eight pilot cities was completed. Together they were collecting more than 1100 city indicators every year. Only two indicators were common! Obviously, cities desperately need a common lexicon.
This new consolidated GHG protocol is an important example of cities and agencies working together – it is possible. When cities, individuals and agencies work together the results are truly impressive. Next steps on a lexicon for cities could include the following: a common approach to measure and model urban risk, how to measure “green buildings”, providing regular indicators to groups like GCIF, or on a city’s own website, a good compendium of useful examples to help cities learn from each other, developing ‘smart’ cities for all, and how to use and communicate with more ‘open data’.
A common GHG protocol for cities is an impressive accomplishment; A great first step. The people who helped, and most importantly the cities providing the measurements, all need to be congratulated. More details on the GHG emissions protocol are available here. Comments are encouraged.