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For the First Time, a Common Framework for Cities’ Greenhouse Gas Inventories

UPDATE: The deadline to apply to pilot test the Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GPC) has been extended to March 31, 2013. Download the Terms of Reference and Application Form for the pilot project, as well as other relevant documents about the GPC. Or, for more information, please contact Wee Kean Fong at wkfong@wri.org.

“You cannot manage what you cannot measure” is a well-known adage for business, and the phrase is increasingly relevant for cities. In the past decade, many cities have started measuring their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions data. GHG inventories are essential for building effective low-carbon strategies, tracking GHG reductions, responding to regulations and local GHG program requirements, and securing climate finance. Some cities also believe that tracking emissions can eventually conserve financial and other resources.

The challenge is that most cities conduct their inventories using different methodologies. Without an internationally consistent framework for GHG accounting and reporting, inventory results can be confusing and misleading to decision-makers, investors, and civil society stakeholders. This lack of consistency can even jeopardize the accountability and effectiveness of cities’ emission-reduction efforts.

The Global Protocol for Community-Scale GHG Emissions

But there is a solution: WRI partnered with C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40) and ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI) to develop the Global Protocol for Community-Scale GHG Emissions (GPC) Pilot Version 1.0. This guide—which is now beginning its pilot-testing phase—is set to become the first internationally accepted framework for city-level GHG inventories.

As the GPC begins its pilot-testing phase, city leaders may wonder about the specific benefits of using a standardized GHG accounting method. Let’s take a look at GHG reporting trends in cities and the risks of using inconsistent methods.

City GHG Measurement Is Now a Global Trend

Cities cover approximately 2 percent of global land area, but account for more than 70 percent of the world’s GHG emissions. Recognizing their role in curbing climate change, many cities regularly measure and disclose their GHG emissions data. For instance, 164 cities reported to the carbonn Cities Climate Registry (cCCR) in 2012, 73 cities reported to the Carbon Disclosure Project in the same year, and 2,450 cities submitted GHG data to the Covenant of Mayors. Many cities in China, including 36 national pilot low-carbon cities, have either completed or are in the process of conducting base-year GHG inventories. In France, all municipalities with a population greater than 50,000 are required to prepare local climate-energy plans that include GHG inventories. Many multilateral organizations are also supporting their partner cities in conducting GHG inventories.

The Problems with Varied GHG Accounting Metrics

A number of international initiatives have been developed over the last decade to standardize the methodology for conducting a city GHG inventory. The most widely referenced programs include: the International Local Government GHG Emissions Analysis Protocol (IEAP), developed by ICLEI in 2009; the International Standard for Determining GHG Emissions for Cities, jointly developed by the World Bank, UNEP, and UN-HABITAT in 2010; and the Covenant of Mayors’ guidebook for its signatory cities to prepare baseline emission inventories.

In addition, many organizations have developed software to help cities conduct GHG inventories, such as the GRIP tool in Europe, CO2 Grobbilanz in Austria, Bilan Carbone in France, CO2 Calculator in Denmark, and the HEAT tool for international application.

While each of these metrics and tools offer certain benefits, collectively they differ in ways that can create problems, including:

  1. Inconsistency: These methods vary in types of gases measured, emissions sources required to be included, and categorization of emissions (e.g., there are different definitions for industries, buildings, transportation, and others). These differences may confuse or mislead decision-makers, users, and practitioners.

  2. Incompleteness: Many of these methods focus only on carbon dioxide emissions, excluding other GHGs covered under the Kyoto Protocol. Most methodologies also fail to comprehensively cover indirect emissions – those that occur outside the city as a result of city activities. Cities engage in a host of complex, cross-boundary transportation and exchanges of goods and services like electricity, wastes, construction materials, and raw materials. Excluding these indirect emissions provides an incomplete picture of a city’s climate change impact.

  3. Double-counting: Due to unclear categorization and division of direct and indirect emissions, double-counting between inventories can occur. For example, emissions from a truck moving between two cities may be accounted for by both cities, or in some cases, omitted by both cities.

Test the New Global Protocol for Community-Scale GHG Emissions

Led by WRI, C40, and ICLEI through a global multi-stakeholder collaboration, the GPC addresses these issues by providing an internationally accepted, consistent, and comprehensive framework for city inventories. Armed with a uniform and complete GHG accounting method, cities will be accountable for their environmental impacts and can accurately identify reduction opportunities to curb climate change.

  • GET INVOLVED: Cities are invited to test the GPC and provide feedback, which will be used to finalize the framework. For more information, see the box above. The deadline for application is March 31, 2013.

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