Addressing Climate Change: Focus On The Country Level, Or The City Level?

Recent studies and data gives us a better idea of carbon footprints from cities.

This is in comparison to emission stats from the past that have centred around global emissions, and emissions from countries as a whole.

This begs the questions – should we be focussing on cities over entire countries if we want to address climate change more effectively?

We delve into some discussion about this climate change related issue below


Summary – Should We Focus On The City, Or The Country Level When Addressing Climate Change?

When comparing emission data and trends between cities and countries, there’s some overlap in results, but there’s also some differences

Both sets of data appear to be valuable in terms of reducing emissions and addressing climate change

Country wide data is still important because national policy and national government exists, and their strategies and actions can impact national emissions 

City data is important as well, as it narrows emissions and strategies down to the exact geographic locations where human populations are most dense.

State and local policy and government may also have more of a role in cities compared to national policy and government

Splitting up cities from whole countries also allows us to differentiate between rural, urban (suburbs), and inner city and CBD living within countries.

Each area might require a slightly different approach in regards to coming up with climate change strategies involving mitigation, adaptation and sequestering.

There’s also the fact that some countries are represented in top emitting city lists, but not top emitting country lists – so, looking at things on a city level allows us to ‘catch all’ of the top emitting geographic locations.

In summary, city based data on emissions is very helpful, but country based data is too – both have a role.

Focussing on both is beneficial when coming up with climate change solutions 

In regards to cities, there is some data that some major cities around the world have already had some success with peaking and decreasing emissions, so, this is worth consideration


What Have We Found Out About Emissions From Countries?

When we break down emissions by country, there’s several measurements that identify countries with the largest emissions footprints.

China is the leader in terms of total annual emissions by almost double what the second place US emits.

Right now though, the US is the cumulative leader.

We can also get an idea of which countries might need to do more to reduce their emissions by looking at cumulative emissions, per capita emissions and how countries are tracking according to ‘fair effort’ and how they are progressing with their emission targets.

We see that Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the Ukraine and Qatar appear among these measurements.

If we use the US and China as examples for a moment when looking at where their emissions come from:

China – mostly from coal, and mostly from the power generation and industrial sectors are responsible for carbon emissions in China

The US – the US has more mixed emission sources, and most of their greenhouse gas emissions came from transportation, electricity generation and the industrial sector in 2010


With China in particular, on a country wide/national level, we know China are going to continue their coal consumption for the short term future, and will face some challenges in transitioning to cleaner energy in the future.

These are just some starting points on the emissions picture with countries.


What Have We Found Out About Emissions From Cities?

When we look at the top emitting cities list, we see a number of countries represented even in the top 30 cities, that aren’t on the top emitting countries list.

South Korea, the Country Of Singapore and Japan are just a few examples of cities .

Also, what we know about the most developed cities in the world, is that on a more granular level, we can see that a large portion of their carbon footprint comes from goods and services that are imported from outside the city limits, but consumed within the city (so, other countries and cities are exporting goods and materials to them).

We can also see that consumption happens in several more granular and specific activities than what we can see on the country level.

Capital (commercial buildings and other buildings), utilities (electricity for example) and housing, food, beverage and tobacco, public transport, private transport and government are some of those activities.

Some of these activities line up with national sectors such as power generation and transport.

With cities, what we know for sure is that the most developed cities are highly concentrated places for greenhouse gas emissions:

Residents of just 100 cities (out of 13,000 studied) account for 20 percent of humanity’s overall carbon footprint (











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