The software company Autodesk made a big splash last year with its new open source 3D printing system. However, the company also introduced an online greenhouse gas reducing tool for cities which somehow sailed under the radar. Fortunately CleanTechnica had a chance to catch up on that greenhouse gas thing with Autodesk Head of Sustainability Solutions Emma Stewart over the phone, and she underscored some critical points about cities and the potential for fast action on greenhouse gas emissions.
The timing was perfect because, while there’s been a lot of pushback against President Obama’s new Clean Power Plan for electricity generation in the US, the Obama Administration has also quietly let it be known that cities can make a major impact on national greenhouse gas emissions just by acting within their own jurisdictions.
Cities And Greenhouse Gas Emissions
The reason why cities can have an outsized impact on greenhouse gas emissions is simple; that’s where greenhouse gas emissions are currently concentrated, and the future will bring more concentration as global urbanization accelerates.
The US Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) puts the urbanization figure at 60% of the world’s population by 2030, accounting for 70% of global energy consumption. According to Stewart’s figures the US is running ahead of the average, with 70% already living in cities.
In a recent study of 20 US cities, NREL noted that cities have been a major force driving greenhouse gas policy, partly due to their jurisdiction over critical sectors including transportation, land use, and building codes.
Stewart confirms that view:
“Humankind is now urban and there’s no sign of us going back…that’s where the interesting things are happening. Cities do realize that they are on the vanguard, and they have sufficient jurisdiction for action.”
Stewart notes, however, that there is one important factor that can limit the ability of cities to carry greenhouse gas policy over the long run:
“Mayors struggle with the short-term nature of their time in office…they have to get things done quickly.”
The NREL study illuminated a corollary to that problem. NREL concluded that while cities are “dynamic” decision-makers when it comes to reducing greenhouse gasses, very few possess the resources and analytic tools to develop the most effective priorities and plan strategically.
C-FACT For Cities
That’s where C-FACT for Cities comes in. C-FACT stands for City Finance Approach to Climate — Stabilizing Targets. It’s an open source, online tool based entirely on public data, and designed to help cities plan the most effective greenhouse gas strategies.
C-FACT for Cities is based on Autodesk’s Corporate Finance Approach to Climate — Stabilizing Targets system which the company developed for its own operations in 2010 before unleashing it on the world. The corporate version garnered Autodesk the #1 spot in the 2013 Climate Counts/Center for Sustainable Organizations ranking of public companies, which is billed as the first science-based greenhouse gas ranking of its kind. The chart at the top of this article illustrates the long term approach of the corporate version, which Autodesk expects to beat US, Japan, and European Union goals through to 2050.
C-FACT for Cities also has its roots in another urban greenhouse gas initiative from 2009, which paired the company with the Clinton Climate Initiative and Microsoft. As with the corporate version, a key focus of C-FACT for Cities, and one that makes it unique, is that it enables urban planners to frame their policies in the context of fairness compared to other greenhouse gas emitters. Stewart said:
“C-FACT for Cities … helps to develop city climate action plans based on climate science. There is broad consensus on what is needed, and C-FACT for Cities allows cities to calculate what their greenhouse gas emissions should be, to contribute their fair share.”
Stewart expanded on this thought in a recent C-FACT for Cities white paper:
[This] methodology offers a way for cities to set science – based targets in a way that emphasizes the principles of fairness , verifiability , and flexibility. It helps cities to align their targets with the reduction pathways recommended by the scientific community for stabilizing the climate, but also in proportion to their cities’ relative contribution to the economy. In other words, it is aggressive only to the degree needed to attain climate stabilization, not more, not less.
Another interesting thing that came up in our conversation is the impact of workforce costs on urban greenhouse gas strategy. Improving building efficiency is a big, juicy, low-hanging fruit for US cities, but building-by-building efficiency audits are time consuming and expensive. Autodesk’s solution is an online estimator called REM, Rapid Energy Modelling, and the company also has a more granular approach in the works called Project Aquila.
While we’re on the topic, let’s also note that in addition to the aforementioned transportation, building codes, and land use jurisdictions, many cities also have jurisdiction over their water and wastewater systems. Outside of power plants, these systems have also been identified by the US EPA as a priority sector for national greenhouse gas efforts.
Making The Case For Greenhouse Gas Action
In our conversation, Stewart emphasized the fact that planning is one thing, and gaining political support for a plan is another thing entirely. To that end Autodesk has developed a companion online tool called AutoCASE which provides a glimpse into the impact of decisions at every stage of the planning process. The aim is to help all stakeholders see how they fit into the big picture, explains Stewart;
“AutoCASE acknowledges the costs and benefits for each stakeholder…you chip away at the resistance in local communities experiencing NIMBY when they can see that they’re actually getting a lot out of it.”
We can think of a few folks who could benefit from a round or two with AutoCASE. If you have some ideas of your own, drop us a note in the comment thread.
Image (screenshot): via Autodesk.
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