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Finding a Yardstick that Works

By Brett Rosenberg
November 19, 2007

In the emerging greenhouse gas audit and inventory industry, one often hears the phrase, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” Michael Lazarus, the Director of the Seattle Office of the Stockholm Environmental Institute, moderated this special Summit breakout session devoted to the means of measuring local greenhouse gas emissions so that local governments will be better equipped to manage emissions sources as the strive to meet the goals of The U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. Lazarus, whose research focuses on energy and international climate change policy, and on state and local energy and climate change initiatives within the U.S., began by citing the City of Seattle’s recent milestone of achieving an eight percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels. The process began with an overall inventory of the city’s emissions.

While cities like Seattle are moving ahead, the overarching challenge, according to Lazarus, is to “measure in a common way what your greenhouse gas emissions are.” To address this challenge, experts in the field of software and climate modeling gathered to discuss existing tools and the future of assessing cities’ greenhouse gas emissions.

Currently, the state of California leads the way on several fronts related to combating global warming. Gary Gero, Vice President of the California Climate Action Registry (the Registry), provided a few insights as to how emissions inventories work at the state level and how they may be applied at the local level. The Registry was established by California statute as a non-profit voluntary registry for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The purpose of the Registry is to help companies and organizations with operations in the state to establish GHG emissions baselines against which any future GHG emission reduction requirements may be applied. Gero said that Registry organizers recognize that local governments, which emit over 27 million tons of greenhouse gases annually, have a major role to play, especially through land use decisions. In California, Gero mentioned that he anticipates a mandatory greenhouse gas quantification program for local governments.

Such a program, Gero noted, will require a verification protocol in which an independent, objective third party audits any emissions inventory. This, he said will add another layer to the challenge of establishing a common measurement method.

Garrett Fitzgerald, Director of Programs at ICLEI — Local Governments for Sustainability and Rob Bernard, General Manager at Microsoft then carried the session into a discussion regarding some of the tools available for measuring emissions. Fitzgerald discussed the Clean Air and Climate Protection (CACP) software, which ICLEI has developed. It contains thousands of factors used to calculate emissions based on simple fuel and energy use data, or by using information on waste disposal. The ICLEI emissions inventory software is often used as a first step for its members to develop and overall emissions reduction strategy. While it has been recognized as especially useful, the complexity of the sources of greenhouse gas emissions is leading to further development in emissions inventory software applications.

Bernard said “It’s really hard to do this stuff” and noted that his company and the Clinton Foundation are working with ICLEI and others to expand and standardize existing emissions inventory software applications. Bernard implied that understanding emissions sources often requires a strong sense of the abstract, but offered that the software under development will allow users to “visualize” greenhouse gases and their sources with in the community, thus allowing a better understanding of their quantity and how to address their reduction.

Among the challenges that all the panelists readily recognized are the difficulties associated with determining geographic boundaries within which emissions inventories are applicable; the impact that regional sources such as cement plants, airports and seaports; and secondary emissions, such as those derived from the use of electricity generated elsewhere.

In concluding the session, Gary Cook, ICLEI’s Deputy Director said, “Getting the yardstick in place at the local level is really critical to drive good policy.” A major challenge, he said, is harmonizing all of the evolving efforts. From the tone of panel, it’s clear that things are progressing.