It’s More Difficult Than You Might Think to Make a City Carbon Neutral!
Editor’s Note It’s interesting. You hear politicians say “We’re going to be Carbon Neutral by XXXX” (choose your year). But I wonder if they realize what they are committing themselves to? It’s not easy. It’s definitely not cheap. But climate change (and the Corona Virus) have shown us that we must. This interesting Guest Post from BoxxDirect shows us how it’s done.
Dozens of countries and cities have announced plans to become carbon neutral. It’s a lofty goal – but it’s very complex too. However, there’s great public appetite for it, so it’s up to governments and city officials to play their part.
Becoming carbon neutral is a big challenge. There are a lot of elements that make a city work – and many of them depend on fossil fuels or some level of pollution.
Change won’t happen overnight – but it will happen. The demand for more environmentally friendly practices is gaining pace and governments, cities and businesses are expected to fall into line.
Some cities are ahead of the curve:
- Hawaii and California have committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2045.
- Oslo has committed to reduce CO2 emissions 50% by 2020 and 95% by 2030.
- Copenhagen has committed to becoming the world’s first carbon neutral city by 2025.
- Nottingham in England has committed to becoming the UK’s first carbon neutral city by 2028.
- Boulder, Colorado has committed to being carbon neutral by 2030.
- Milan, Italy wants to be carbon neutral by 2030.
In fact, 21 cities have committed to becoming carbon neutral by becoming members of CNCA, the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance. Cities include London, Melbourne, Minneapolis, New York City, Portland, San Francisco, Rio de Janeiro, Seattle, Toronto and Washington D.C. These are some of the largest cities in the world.
But how do you create a carbon neutral city?
First, a quick outline of what carbon neutral actually means – there is a lot of confusion around the subject. Carbon itself is not harmful. The human body is made up of 18.5% carbon and almost everything we see, touch, use or eat has carbon in it.
When we refer to carbon neutral, we mean carbon emissions, the chemicals produced as a result of using fossil fuels. We use fossil fuels for power generation, transportation, waste disposal, heating, cooling and more.
Carbon neutral means not producing carbon emissions, or removing the emissions safely from the atmosphere.
What It Takes
We won’t get into buildings, products or services as that would involve a lot more page space than we have available here! So here are the big things we’re going to look at.
- Power generation using fossil fuels produces the electricity we now depend on.
- Transportation is vital to any city – both private and public transport.
- Waste disposal is a particular problem for cities thanks to the population density.
- Heating and cooling when derived from fossil fuels is also a significant factor.
So how do cities hope to provide essential services, while reducing carbon emissions?
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We now depend on electricity for everything – and most of it is generated with fossil fuels (coal and gas).
But now, solar panels are cheaper and more efficient, and wind power is now more viable. This has encouraged a gradual switch from fossil fuels to renewables.
The UK has reduced its reliance on carbon for power generation by 7.7%. In 2019, renewable energy generation overtook that of fossil fuels for the first time. Other cities are making similar strides.
Some are going even further. Babcock Ranch in Florida is a model of not only renewable generation but of how cities could genuinely look in a couple of decades’ time.
The current urban transport model doesn’t work, so how does a city transform to a more sustainable form of transport? We can look to Copenhagen for that.
Copenhagen has committed to huge change. It wants 75% of city journeys to be by bicycle or public transport, and has invested massively in making that happen. Good cycling infrastructure, bike parking and dedicated cycle lanes help make people feel safe and encourage cycling. Reasonably-priced public transport also encourages people to leave the car at home.
The increased viability of electric vehicles will only accelerate this change. London has invested heavily in electric buses with more to come.
Many cities are banning non-essential traffic from cities or introducing a charge to enter cities. The London Congestion Charge was controversial when it was first introduced – but it has been credited with lowering congestion by 30%. Other cities are considering a similar move.
Urban Waste Disposal
Cities are crowded, and economies are built around consumption. So waste is a big issue. Waste-to-energy plants, more recycling and re-using waste can all contribute.
Two examples of how cities can lower the impact of waste:-
- San Francisco, California has banned plastic bags and water bottles and aims to stop sending any waste to landfill.
- Curitiba, Brazil offers incentives to residents to recycle – and now boasts a massive 70% recycling rate.
Initiatives for waste disposal for carbon neutral cities include electric vehicles to collect the waste, increases in waste-to-energy plants, improvements in recycling and the quality of resulting recycled products.
Companies are leading the way with reducing waste.
- Disney is committed to net zero emissions
- Starbucks is stopping plastic straws and plastic lids.
- McDonald’s is switching to more efficient appliances and to recycled materials entirely by 2025.
Where leading companies go, cities and individuals will follow.
Heating and Cooling
Heating or cooling even a small city is quite an undertaking. Many cities leave it to individuals to heat or cool their own properties – but some cities are taking a different approach.
Helsinki in Finland has launched a competition to find sustainable ways of heating the city. The Budapest Heat Ring Programme provides heating for residents generated from renewable sources, so that households don’t have to use fossil fuels.
Boise in Idaho, Reno in Nevada, Reykjavik in Iceland, Masdar City in the United Arab Emirates and Perth in Australia all generate heat from geothermal sources. Clean, sustainable heating city-wide.
Nobody is pretending that the future is assured or that these changes will be easy. They won’t be. Equally, people are no longer pretending that climate change isn’t happening or that society is not gradually destroying the world we depend on for life.
With buy-in from individuals, the public at large, city officials, governments and big business, momentum is gaining speed. At some point that momentum will become unstoppable and change the way we live and where we live – for the better.
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