The Carbon Footprint of Municipalities

//The Carbon Footprint of Municipalities

A consumption-based account of greenhouse gas emissions reveals true climate impacts of public services.

Analysis based on the environmental impacts of consumption often focuses on household consumption. Some consumption, however, is provided by public authorities and paid for through taxes, not prices. Education, health care, elderly care, street cleaning and – important for Norway! – snow plowing are examples for that. What are the environmental impacts of these activities. In a series of papers, my PhD student Hogne Nersund Larsen takes up the issue and illustrates the usefulness of a carbon footprint account for municipalities. InIdentifying important characteristics of municipal carbon footprints, we present a calculation of the carbon footprint of public services provided by all municipalities in Norway. The figure shows the per-capita carbon footprint for each municipality in a map produced with help of Statens Kartverk. The carbon footprint of municipalities varies substantially, from 0.3 to 3 tons per-capita, with small, rich municipalities having the highest per-capita carbon footprints. The optimal size in terms of the lowest CF is somewhere around 50’000 inhabitants. We investigate the contribution of different purchases to the municipal CF. This paper demonstrates the usefulness of the underlying model which combines the standard financial accounting system of public entities in Norway with the input-output table. It allowed for a rapid calculations of CF for all the municipalities.

The second paper Implementing Carbon-Footprint-Based Calculation Tools in Municipal Greenhouse Gas Inventories investigates the use of CF calculations by two municipalities in their climate decision making.Following a detailed analysis of the Carbon footprint of Tromsø, the paper discusses a case study focusing on primary schools. It presents the activities that really produce the CF – such as the conveyance of pupils and purchase of food. It also compares different schools to each other, identifying a large variation in CF per pupil. The analysis tool developed by Hogne allows for an easy disaggregation of results to the unit level. It is here, in discussion with the responsible unit leaders, that the ultimate usefulness of the calculations becomes apparent. The tool identifies problem areas. It is less suited to evaluate improvement options, as the measurement offered by input-output analysis is too crude to distinguish different options of delivering the same service. Still, we see in both Tromsø and Trondheim that the results are utilized in municipal climate action plans.

The case of Tromsø points to the importants of green purchasing strategies in reducing the carbon footprint of public services: direct emissions through fuel combustion by the municipality account for only 10% of the total emissions. We see similar results for other municiplities. What the Greenhouse Gas Protocollabels “Scope 3” emissions, those resulting from the purchases of goods and services other than energy, are clearly the most important. These are the big issues we need to focus on.

By | 2017-11-08T21:16:08+00:00 December 13th, 2010|New Research|0 Comments

About the Author:

Edgar Hertwich
I am a professor at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and currently serve as president of the International Society for Industrial Ecology. I grew up in Braunau, Austria, studied physics at Princeton and Energy & Resources at the University of California, Berkeley. From 2003-2015, I directed the Industrial Ecology Programme of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. My research interests cover life cycle assessment, sustainable consumption and production, trade and environment, risk analysis, and climate mitigation. I am interested in understanding how activities in our society require resources and produce environmental pressures. I would like to better understand the dynamics in our development that affect these driving forces and their resulting environmental pressures, and alternative courses of action that can reduce these pressures. What is the connection between human activities on the one hand and emissions and resource use on the other hand? What are the implications of our current development path? What do we need to change, both in terms of individual actions and policy frameworks, to achieve a more sustainable development.

Publications: See full list here (in Google Scholar)

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