Conclusions of the “C40 Report” Questioned

By Rick Barnett

Editor’s Note: On October 22, The PeaceWorker published an article entitled “Carbon Emissions from 30 of the World’s Largest Cities Are Already Dropping Since Signing Climate Pact.” Reader Rick Barnett holds that this article was insupportably optimistic.  Here are his reasons:

·       Any time you see a cheery climate story, it’s about a subset of the subject-of-story’s emissions. When a city does this, the headline always associates the cheery news with the city’s name, rather than noting that it’s only about a portion of city operations, which represent a miniscule percentage of emissions from the entire city.

·       The “C40 report” was re-posted by the Good News Network, which openly admits to only presenting positive spins.

·       The key to a claim about “peaked” emissions is picking the correct subset of emission sources from total emissions, which are causing this:

Atmospheric CO2

·       From the report, it certainly looks like Copenhagen is doing the best, because they went after heating energy a long time ago.  Although emissions attributed to their buildings are down, they don’t mention the emissions from getting their staff to and from the buildings, the emissions from delivering all the supplies to the buildings, and so on.

·       The text about San Francisco is quite typical:  it starts with phrases like “emissions in San Francisco” and “total energy use in the city” (clearly implying that the data relates to the 900,000 people living there).  Next they claim:  “Today, 77% of all electricity supplying the city already comes from GHG-free sources, covering all city-owned buildings.”  Questionable grammar to the side, no one really knows where grid-supplied electricity comes from.  At best, this sentence means that the city has dumped a lot of money into a “BlueSky” type of program that supposedly finances renewable energy somewhere.  But, when they calculate their emissions, that investment allows them to claim that their own emissions are lower.  Along the same lines, the comment about closing down fossil fuel plants has nothing to do with emissions that result from city operations.

·       Regarding Paris, they claim a 39% drop in transportation emissions because they’ve eliminated diesel (without noting what replaced the diesel) and promoted bike lanes and public transportation.  I can’t imagine the data subset used to support the claim, but a picture of Paris at rush hour would probably make you wonder what it was like before the claimed 39% reduction.

·       Regarding Sydney, this looks like emission reduction is being credited for “efficiency measures taken.”  The impact of “efficiency measures taken” (new light bulbs, higher efficiency appliances, etc.) is not able to be measured, and is typically calculated without any consideration of how the higher efficiency product is used.  The defect of this conventional calculating method is embodied in the notion that a light bulb can “save” energy (and be a source of claimed emission reduction), although a light bulb does NOTHING but consume energy.  Only a battery can save energy for use in the future.  The convention assumes that the bulb will be installed, but credits the “savings” at point of purchase.

·       I’m not familiar with the situation in Tokyo, but if anything is going down, it’s because consumption had been so high that any effort would make the data look good.  The low hanging fruit. 

·       Emission data is generated through voluntary reporting:  not too many stacks or tailpipes with measuring devices.  Despite long-standing and increasingly successful efforts to have emissions disclosed, no one suggests that reported data is thorough.  Nonetheless, a popular way to describe how to fight climate is “cutting emissions.”   The notion that an entity’s emissions have “peaked” implies that total emissions are accurately measured, which is false.

·       Data sources and hierarchy (page 4).  “The preferred data source for this analysis are GHG emission inventories developed in line with the Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories (GPC) standard. In the case where there are insufficient data points from GPC-compliant inventories, GHG emissions from published city climate action plans are used, followed by other data that cities have reported to the CDP or directly to C40.” 

·       A recent story from Utility Dive (  ) is quite informative about emission goals, and suggests that the only reason California is able to claim that they met their 2020 goals is that the goals were not adequately significant.

·       Atmospheric pollution is rising without abatement:  ppm went from 400 to 410 in 3 years, and will likely go from 410 to 420 in less than 3 years.  Nothing of significance has peaked.

·       The World Meteorological Organization’s provisional Statement on the State of the Climate says the average global temperature from January to September 2017 was approximately 1.1°C above the pre-industrial era.  The notion of holding this at 1.5*, or even 2.0*, given population and energy trends, is impossible with the current emission reduction measures.

·       If 1.1* of warming scares many, imagine the 1.5* future that politicians are promoting.  Then think about the over-3* future that is projected from real-world trends.  Something needs to be ramped up very soon.

·       If you were a politician, would you emphasize these realities, or would you base your climate commitment on a trend that’s going down?

·       Communicating the climate crisis should only use CO2e, expressed in ppm.  This is what drives increasingly extreme weather, and the enormous “third leg” of climate cost:  mitigation, adaptation, and emergency response.  If those budgets were financed by the price of natural gas, electricity and gasoline, you would indeed start to see “peak emissions.”

Rick Barnett has a B.A. in psychology (UCSB) and an Interdisciplinary Master’s in Environmental Management (Oregon State University, 1981). Before becoming a builder, Rick was involved with recycling. He introduced Oregon waste haulers to recycling in 1976, and over the next few years convinced many to offer recycling as a service. Oregon has been a national leader in recycling ever since. Rick started Green Builder in 1996, and was recognized in 1998 by Sustainable Northwest as a “Founder of a new NW.” He fostered numerous green building and sustainability initiatives. As a General Contractor, his experience included numerous residential and commercial retrofits, and two new high thermal performance homes. His current focus is promoting better thermal performance for existing homes.

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