Water Level Monitoring

GHG Emissions in Cities

A man on a bike looks up at a skyscraper that has greenery on its cladding

Municipal climate action

An industrial facility exhausting a cloud of smoke
Municipalities have a high level of influence over local industries in controlling GHG emissions.

Cities are directly impacted by the day-to-day realities of a changing climate, so they have a profound social and economic responsibility and incentive to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs). Municipalities therefore play a pivotal role in implementing tangible solutions for GHG emissions and are often the first to take action to fight climate change. As primary hubs where innovative ideas meet real-world challenges, cities are leading the charge towards carbon neutrality, even with constrained budgets and timeframes.

One of the first actions cities can take is to formulate and adopt a comprehensive climate action plan.

What is a climate action plan?

A climate action plan is a comprehensive framework designed to measure, track, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions while also incorporating climate adaptation measures. These plans serve as a guiding tool for municipalities to address the impacts of climate change within their communities. They set clear targets for greenhouse gas reductions and provide detailed steps to achieve and monitor these targets. Moreover, climate action plans emphasize cost-effective solutions to ensure the most efficient use of resources.

To enhance the clarity and effectiveness of a climate action plan, it should address the following key elements:

  • Emission Reduction Targets: Clear, measurable goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions with interim check-in dates to monitor compliance.
  • Energy Efficiency: Strategies to improve energy use in buildings, transportation, and industries. Plans should have a strong focus on reducing energy consumption through building upgrades on existing infrastructure, while encouraging investment in sustainable practices for new developments.
  • Renewable Energy Sources: Plans to increase the use of renewable energy like solar, wind, and hydro. Climate action plans should include detailed steps for how municipalities plan to encourage investments in renewable energy, carbon capture technology, and innovative energy solutions and reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
  • Transportation: Initiatives to promote public transit, carpooling, and the use of electric vehicles.
  • Resource and Waste Management: Methods to reduce, reuse, and recycle waste, minimizing its impact on the environment. The primary objective is to minimize waste generation, promote sustainable water usage, enhance recycling efforts, and ensure that all waste is disposed of in an environmentally responsible manner.
  • Public Engagement: Efforts to involve the community in decision-making and awareness campaigns.
  • Adaptation Measures: Strategies to address the impacts of climate change, such as rising sea levels and extreme weather events. Conduct a survey of previous greenhouse gas emissions and evaluate the climate impacts within the community.

By addressing these key areas, a Climate Action Plan ensures a holistic approach to tackling the challenges posed by climate change, fostering a sustainable and resilient future.

A man on a bike looks up at a skyscraper that has greenery on its cladding
Municipalities can make a difference with zoning, bylaws, and infrastructure.

Municipal Responsibility in Managing Major GHG Sources

Municipalities play a critical role in addressing GHG emissions. While the specific responsibilities of municipalities can vary widely depending on the country, state, or province, several key areas often fall under their purview.

Land development

Municipalities are typically responsible for land-use planning and zoning regulations. They can shape how communities are developed, including the density and mix of zones. By promoting sustainable urban planning practices such as mixed land-use developments, compact city designs, and green building standards, municipalities can reduce GHG emissions associated with urban sprawl and inefficient land use. Zoning neighborhoods for multiple uses brings amenities and employment opportunities closer to residents, reducing their dependence on cars—compare this to cities that are a series of freeways connecting residential areas to commercial ones.

City administrations also provide most street level infrastructure. This power gives cities tools to encourage citizens to change their transportation and movement habits. For example, by providing safe, attractive, and accessible pedestrian and bike paths, municipalities can encourage more cycling, which reduces the number of vehicles and can also cause visitors to spend more time shopping.

When these urban villages are enhanced with trees, parks, seating, art, and other amenities, the areas have walk appeal and therefore are more inviting. Such community villages are an incentive to encourage lower-carbon transport choices in citizens, while also enhancing the health and quality of life of people in the area.

A group of people wait at a subway station for the train
Affordable, reliable transit helps encourage people to spend less time in their cars.

Public transit

One of the fundamental strategies for reducing GHG emissions in the transportation sector is to create transit systems that are affordable, accessible, and punctual, thereby enticing commuters away from their private vehicles. Municipalities are uniquely positioned to influence this transformation as they hold jurisdiction over public transportation systems, road networks, and traffic management. Transit systems play a pivotal role in reducing a city’s GHG emissions, addressing a critical environmental issue. To put it into perspective, transportation accounts for a staggering 25% of all GHG emissions, with road vehicles alone contributing 3/4 of that total.

There are various ways in which municipalities can make a meaningful impact on transportation-related emissions:

  • Expansion of Public Transit: Municipalities can allocate resources towards the improvement and expansion of public transit systems. This includes increasing the coverage area, frequency of service, and accessibility of transit options. Investing in modern and efficient transit infrastructure, such as bus rapid transit (BRT) or light rail, can make public transit a more attractive alternative to driving.
  • Support for Low-Emission Vehicles: Municipalities can incentivize the adoption of low-emission vehicles, including electric cars and plug-in hybrids. This can be achieved through financial incentives like tax credits, rebates, or reduced parking fees for eco-friendly vehicles. Some cities also allow electric vehicles to use high-occupancy vehicle lanes. Additionally, municipalities can invest in charging infrastructure to facilitate the use of electric vehicles.
  • Traffic Management: Implementing intelligent traffic management systems can reduce congestion and improve traffic flow, resulting in fewer emissions from idling vehicles.
  • Public Awareness and Education: Municipalities can engage in public awareness campaigns to educate residents about the environmental impact of their transportation choices. Promoting ridesharing, carpooling, and the use of public transit through educational initiatives can lead to more sustainable commuting habits.

Waste management

Methane created during landfilling, including the decomposition of organic materials in low-oxygen environments like landfills, creates 3.2% of the world’s GHG emissions. Municipalities can have a significant impact by implementing recycling and composting programs, encouraging waste reduction, and investing in waste-to-energy technologies to reduce landfill emissions. Additionally, municipalities can regulate and promote responsible disposal practices and using gas capture in landfill and composting facilities.

The energy sector—covering electricity, heat, and transportation—contributes a significant 73% of all emissions. Managing municipal fleet vehicles, like those used to transport waste to various facilities, poses a challenge for cities, especially when most of these fleets rely on diesel fuel. Even in cases where cities have transitioned to electric vehicles, it’s important to note that electricity generation often remains dependent on fossil fuels. An effective approach for cities to reduce their GHG emissions involves optimizing the operation of fleet vehicles, where every gallon of fuel saved translates to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. By implementing advanced monitoring solutions to track waste as municipal bins are filled, such Citysage’s Levaware, municipalities can optimize garbage truck routes, only emptying bins when they have reached a specific threshold. They can also plan optimal routes for further fuel savings.

Two workers are looking at a diagram while standing in front of a controlled waterway
Wastewater processing produces carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide.

Water management

Municipalities are entrusted with the management of water resources, including wastewater treatment. While this process accelerates the natural processes that clean the water in the Earth’s natural cycle, it can inadvertently give rise to carbon dioxide emissions, primarily due to energy consumption. Moreover, methane and nitrous oxide emissions arise from the organic matter’s natural decomposition. Consequently, wastewater processing finds itself squarely within the crosshairs of emissions reduction efforts.

Curbing energy use at treatment plants can provide a significant reduction in carbon emissions. Simultaneously, exploring new treatment techniques and harnessing gas capture mechanisms within these facilities has the potential to mitigate nitrogen and methane emissions.

Stormwater management, too, presents an avenue to lower GHG emissions. Low oxygen ponds, often deployed to capture stormwater, can, in some instances, contribute to the emission of carbon dioxide and methane. While these ponds can play a vital role in fostering local ecosystems by providing a habitat for plants and wildlife, they may also serve as practical flood management tools in certain jurisdictions. In these cases, implementing a water recapture strategy can drastically slash GHG emissions. Under this approach, the emphasis is on encouraging rainwater and runoff to return to the water table or groundwater through the adoption of bioswales and rain gardens. The effectiveness of these bioswales can be fine-tuned by considering the unique characteristics of local ecosystems, and even monitored by using technology such as Citysage’s Levaware, enabling proactive management of groundwater.

Heavy traffic in LA covers 8 lanes of highway in two directions
In order to plan and reduce GHG emissions cities must measure current levels.

Measuring GHG emissions

The measurement of greenhouse gas emissions primarily relies on meticulous calculations. For instance, regions often possess a known average GHG output per kilowatt-hour generated for energy production. By aggregating the energy consumption across all structures connected to that grid, municipalities can approximate the total GHG emissions attributable to energy consumption. Municipalities initiate a gradual process of optimization, trimming energy inefficiencies by fine-tuning factors such as temperature control, transitioning to energy-efficient lighting, and adopting more sustainable building practices. This process purges inefficiencies from the system, inching toward greater sustainability.

For waste management, readily available emissions calculators offer estimations based on recycling, composting, and landfill data. Similarly, when considering fleet vehicles, total fuel consumption across the municipal fleet offers a good estimation of emissions.

A picture from a drone of the city of Aspen in winter, rows of houses in front and the snow covered mountain rising behind
Some municipalities are already succeeding at innovative GHG reduction plans.

Why should municipalities take the lead?

Amidst the backdrop of pressing everyday concerns and limited budgets, municipalities may initially perceive climate change as an overwhelming issue to tackle. Yet, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities underscores the profound influence municipal governments have over a staggering 50% of all GHG emissions. Notably, cities like Boston have taken bold strides, employing a multifaceted approach that includes both investment in superior transit systems and escalated taxes on carbon-based fuels.

Signs of success have already sprouted. Consider Aspen, Colorado, which achieved its 2015 goal of sourcing all electricity from renewable sources. In San Luis Obispo, California, a grassroots initiative collaboratively produced a climate action plan alongside the municipal government, steering the region towards a commendable net-zero emissions target by 2035.