How do greenhouse gas emissions compare in cities around the world?. Image 1.

Dena Levitz

Author

In Paris this week heads of state and delegates from 196 countries are converging for the COP21 climate summit. The aim is to reach a binding agreement limiting carbon dioxide emissions, ultimately limiting global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels by the end of this century. As one expert, Smita Nakhooda, of the Overseas Development Institute, put it, “without that, we will begin to feel extremely severe impacts of climate change, such as extreme weather events, droughts, flooding and other disruptions to our way of life.” 

Cities, as population epicenters, account for three-quarters of the world’s energy use and 70% of the world’s carbon emissions. So their carbon footprints matter a great deal. Just yesterday, Beijing's air pollution jumped dramatically to 35 times the accepted safety levels, forcing people inside.

To get a sense of the scope of this problem, Hopes&Fears ranked 13 urban metropolises from highest to lowest with regard to their carbon footprints to gauge who’s doing their part in the climate change battle.

NOTE: Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions per capita are considered the city’s carbon footprint. The World Bank, in 2011, compiled numbers for 32 countries and for the per capita emissions pertaining to major cities within those countries. The population figures used to calculate the figures come from the World Bank’s own statistics while the greenhouse gas emissions are largely self-reported between 2005 and 2010 and are considered comparable.

 

Sydney

Australia

How do greenhouse gas emissions compare in cities around the world?. Image 2.

20.3

GHG per capita

Electricity production is a major culprit in Sydney, accounting for 80% of the city down under’s total greenhouse emissions. Coal-fired power stations are particularly widespread and problematic, as two-thirds of coal energy is reportedly wasted. As a result, Sydney leaders have committed to reducing carbon emissions by 3% each year leading up to 2030. A trigeneration plant that’s set to be added to town hall will go a long way toward creating energy closer to where it’s being used and, at last, doing away with coal power.

 

 

Los Angelos

USA

How do greenhouse gas emissions compare in cities around the world?. Image 3.

13

GHG per capita

California, as a state, is trying to keep pace with the European Union on greenhouse gas emissions. Previously Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had set a target for lowering emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. And earlier this year, current Gov. Jerry Brown, in an executive order, filled in an in-between goal to get to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.

But Los Angeles, specifically, isn’t doing as badly as it would seem. Compared to other major U.S. cities, its carbon footprint is nowhere near the top. Nancy Sutley, L.A.'s former deputy mayor for energy and environment, cites its moderate climate, which makes for fewer heating and air-conditioning days and southern California’s newer, more energy efficient housing stock than in many parts of the U.S.

 

 

Toronto

Canada

How do greenhouse gas emissions compare in cities around the world?. Image 4.

11.6

GHG per capita

Toronto was early to recognize the need to cut back on carbon emissions—officials first set official targets way back in the 1990s. Recently, Ontario, the Canadian province in which Toronto resides, stepped up its carbon footprint efforts. The province already has a goal to reduce greenhouse gas pollution by 15% below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. Now, the midway target is to a 37% reduction come 2030. At the same time, plans are in the works to electrify Ontario’s commuter rail network and to put an end to coal-fired electricity altogether.

 

 

Beijing

China

How do greenhouse gas emissions compare in cities around the world?. Image 5.

10.8

GHG per capita

China holds the distinction of being the most substantial emitter of greenhouse gases globally. The United States is a distant second. However, it's good to keep in mind that China’s population is four times that of the U.S.’s, yet its carbon footprint is only twice as high. In anticipation of the summit, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said China would decrease its carbon intensity, the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per unit of GDP, by 60% to 65% of 2005 levels by 2030 and that renewable energy would make up 20% of China’s primary energy supply by that same year.

Industrial activity has been a major source of the emissions. In 1999, for example, it represented 65% of Beijing’s total emissions. Western countries have long exported manufacturing operations to China, which helps their carbon footprint while not doing China’s any favors.

 

 

Bangkok

Thailand

How do greenhouse gas emissions compare in cities around the world?. Image 6.

10.7

GHG per capita

Thailand’s leaders have committed—and reconfirmed their commitment—to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% to 25% by the 2030 desired timeframe. The country’s climate manager has said 20% of the target will be achieved through resource cutbacks across Thailand; the additional 5% will take international support in the form of finance, technology, and knowledge.

 

 

London

UK

How do greenhouse gas emissions compare in cities around the world?. Image 7.

9.6

GHG per capita

Quite in contrast with Beijing, industrial activity, once a hallmark of Great Britain’s most populous city, has relocated overseas or just gone away completely. It’s the main reason why the International Institute for Environment and Development praises London for possessing the lowest per capita emissions in the UK region.

 

 

New York City

USA

How do greenhouse gas emissions compare in cities around the world?. Image 8.

7.9

GHG per capita

New York’s mayor has committed to reducing emissions in the Big Apple by 80% below 2005 levels by 2050. Already, progress is occurring: according to the city’s numbers, between just 2005 and 2013 there’s been a 19% reduction in emissions. Why? Total energy consumption is down, and cleaner fuels are being used to heat the large buildings that house so many residents. What’s always worked in New York’s favor when it comes to keeping a relatively low carbon footprint, is its high population density and vast public transport network.

 

 

Cape Town

South Africa

How do greenhouse gas emissions compare in cities around the world?. Image 9.

7.6

GHG per capita

By the end of June, about 5% of South Africa’s electricity requirements were being provided by renewables. Fast forward to 2030, and the plan is to have 21% of the nation’s total capacity derived from renewables. The push toward renewable energy in all parts of South Africa isn’t just for environmental reasons—the hope is to spur economic growth along the way, too.

 

 

Madrid

Spain

How do greenhouse gas emissions compare in cities around the world?. Image 10.

6.9

GHG per capita

Madrid is one of 19 cities which have already reduced carbon emissions out of the 200 which have promised to do so. Emissions in the city are down 19%. The Spanish government has allocated funds, introduced changes to their own building and rolling stock and committed to reducing wasteful energy. These campaigns are raising awareness among citizens and businesses about the importance of changing energy consumption behaviors.

 

 

Tokyo

Japan

How do greenhouse gas emissions compare in cities around the world?. Image 11.

4.89

GHG per capita

The disaster four years ago at Tokyo’s Fukushima power plant was a wake-up call for the country. Leaders have since called for a decreased reliance on nuclear power and, overall, a 26% reduction in greenhouse emissions from 2013 levels by 2030. But, because Japan is the world’s fifth-largest greenhouse gas emitter, activists are questioning whether the goals should be even more stringent.

 

 

Buenos Aires

Argentina

How do greenhouse gas emissions compare in cities around the world?. Image 12.

3.83

GHG per capita

Buenos Aires now has its first treatment plant devoted solely to diverting construction waste. The plant’s impact is to the tune of 2,000 tons a day. The city claims to have reduced the amount of waste sent to landfills by 44% in a mere year, and its recycling efforts won a City Climate Leadership Award.

 

 

Oslo

Norway

How do greenhouse gas emissions compare in cities around the world?. Image 13.

3.5

GHG per capita

Slashing greenhouse gases is serious business in Oslo. There, the Norwegian capital’s new leftist government, which just came into power following municipal elections in September, have announced plans to ban private cars completely from the city's central core. Even though just 1,000 people live in that part of Oslo, a whopping 80,000 people work there. The drastic measure is part of a bigger plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2020 compared to 1990 levels, and to reduce automobile traffic across the city 30% by 2030.

 

 

Kathmandu

Nepal

How do greenhouse gas emissions compare in cities around the world?. Image 14.

0.12

GHG per capita

Nepal’s long been an overachiever compared to its fellow nations and it’s still aiming to do better. Its Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment, under the auspices of its dedicated climate change program, has pledged to make the country entirely reliant on clean energy by 2022, and to “achieve high economic development through green technologies” by the year 2030.

 

 

COVER PHOTO: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images