Low-carbon development has become the core theme of China’s urbanization. In fact, it’s one of the country’s key strategies to achieve its target of reducing carbon intensity by 40-45 percent by 2020.

China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) has identified 36 pilot cities and assigned them several tasks, including developing city-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions inventories, setting measurable emissions-reduction targets, developing low-carbon action plans, and establishing performance tracking mechanisms. To help Chinese cities measure and manage their GHG emissions, last week in Beijing WRI, Institute for Urban and Environmental Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), WWF China, and Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC) jointly launched a new GHG Protocol tool, called the Greenhouse Gas Accounting Tool for Chinese Cities (Pilot Version 1.0). The tool is the first-ever comprehensive methodology to help China evaluate its GHG emissions at the city-level.

Measuring to Manage Greenhouse Gases

GHG inventories form the foundation for effective low-carbon city planning. They can help cities benchmark their emission levels, identify key emissions sources and reduction opportunities, and track their GHG performance over time. However, while many Chinese pilot cities have prioritized efforts to develop and update their GHG inventories, until now, there hasn’t been a standardized tool to help them do so. This lack of guidance creates a number of challenges. Common ones include: * Methodology: China does not yet have a common standard for city-level GHG inventories, so the current inventories are often inconsistent, incomplete, and incompatible with the international standard. This makes it difficult for decision-makers and investors to evaluate the GHG performance of these cities.

  • Technical Capacity: Many cities do not have the technical capacity needed to undertake credible GHG inventories. They often rely on local research institutes and prmmjivate consultants who also may not have in-depth knowledge on GHG inventories. Because there is no national standard, they create their own methodologies—which eventually result in inconsistent inventories.

  • Data Availability: Most cities do not have sufficient data to calculate their GHG emissions, as most of the published data only covers the national and provincial levels. They need guidance on where to source city-level data and how to conduct surveys for primary data.

Measuring and Managing Emissions in China’s Cities

Recognizing the above issues and needs, WRI and partners developed a city-level GHG accounting tool specifically designed for China. The GHG Accounting Tool for Chinese Cities is in line with WRI’s international initiative (in partnership with C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability) to develop an international standard for city-level GHG accounting and reporting, known as the Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GPC).

The following unique features of the tool provide solutions to the challenges mentioned above:

  • It fulfills both domestic and international requirements. The tool helps users prepare GHG inventories that are compatible with both China’s provincial inventories and the GPC. This will enable provincial governments to more easily track cities’ GHG performance, and cities can compare their emissions levels with other cities around the world.

  • It comprehensively measures all emissions sources in cities, which include buildings, industries, transportation, solid waste, wastewater treatment and disposal, industrial processes, agricultural activities, and forest and land use changes. This addresses one of the common issues in China’s city GHG inventories – that many of them do not include all emissions sources.

  • It provides solutions to data gaps. The tool provides various solutions to insufficient city-level data, including guidance for extracting and interpreting data from existing statistics, templates for collecting primary data when there are data gaps in existing statistics, and China-specific emissions factors.

  • It helps cities more easily measure their emissions. The tool includes user-friendly Excel-based software and detailed user guidance. It also provides built-in calculation formulas, default emissions factors, and automated calculations for ease of use.

  • It allows cities to analyze inventory results for different purposes. Besides providing basic inventory data, users can granulate the data for different analyses in order to develop more specific carbon-reduction measures. For instance, emissions from building and transportation can be subdivided into different types of buildings and different modes of transportation.

At the launch event last week, Mr. Zhaoli Jiang, Domestic Policy and Compliance Division Chief of NDRC’s Climate Change Department, stressed that the tool has many robust and user-friendly functions. These features can help cities interpret and analyze their inventory data to design more specific and effective low-carbon actions.

Over the next year, WRI will work with the Chinese government and cities to implement the tool and organize training programs for city officials and practitioners. Based on feedback from practical applications, the final version of this tool is planned to be published in 2014.