Apr 6, 2016

Global cities need to go eco-friendly on emissions

5 min
Greenhouse gases, global warming, climate change and carbon footprints: these terms coexist as a result of carbon dioxide emissions. The main source...

Greenhouse gases, global warming, climate change and carbon footprints: these terms coexist as a result of carbon dioxide emissions. The main source of carbon dioxide? The combustion of fossil fuels, primarily through electricity, transportation and industry according to the EPA. Cut back on these three man-made areas of activity, and rates of those terms all decline. Cities are the best starting place to do so, and some of the world’s largest cities have determined measures they are taking, or should be taking, in the battle to bat down carbon emissions.

Carbon Emissions Trading

Emissions trading, or cap-and-trade, has been around since the 1980s. As discussed in the Smithsonian, this outlandish concept of trading pollution rights originated from Reagan administration attorney C. Boyden Gray. Today, emissions trading is a global phenomenon under the guise of the Kyoto Protocol. It is also the main way that major urban centers manage to offset advancing levels of pollution.

By trading emissions credits, the cities with the biggest carbon footprints are able to sell off their pollution to other not-so-polluted cities. The European Commission and Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency released a report showing results from the EDGAR (Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis and Retrieval) database regarding carbon footprints of the planet. In 2014, the top 10 countries with the biggest carbon footprints accounted for 68.2 percent of the total carbon emissions. The total amount of carbon dioxide emissions for the world was 35.6 million. These 10 countries include:

China: 10.5 million CO2 emissions (kt)

USA: 5.3 million kt

European Union: 3.4 million kt

India: 2.3 million kt

Russia: 1.7 million kt

Japan: 1.2 kt

Germany: 767,000 kt

Iran: 618,000 kt

South Korea: 610,000 kt

Canada: 565,000 kt

Making a market of pollution sounds out of touch, but in truth this economical solution is holding massive metropolitan spaces in check. If a city doesn’t have enough emissions credits to be within its emissions allowances, and they exceed their limits, they can buy credits from another city. Some cities have figured out other means for meeting their limits. Cities, such as San Francisco, Copenhagen, Portland, Vaxjo and Bristol, are exceeding expectations for emission reduction.

Cleaner Flower Power of San Francisco

California leads the the emissions conversation in the U.S. There, truck drivers are banned from idling, and the state has the most progressive emissions controls standards in the country. San Francisco, the most densely populated city in California with more than 18,187 people per square mile, is equally as passionate about climate control. In order to stymie the steadily increasing release of carbon dioxide emissions in San Francisco, serious steps are being taken.

By focusing on three main areas—waste, transportation and buildings—San Francisco is striving for the greenest streets in the state. San Francisco Department of the Environment (SFE) director Melanie Nutter notes, “Our citywide carbon reductions—the equivalent of taking 128,000 cars off the road, or avoiding the burning of 1.5 million barrels of oil every year—are the result of the hard work and collaboration of many city departments, private sector partnerships and San Francisco residents. This shows us how far we have come and will be critical in developing plans to continue on our clean and green path.”

Exactly how far has San Francisco come? A 2010 analysis of the city’s carbon footprint equaled 5.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, a decrease from 6.2 million 20 years prior. In that same time, the city population has increased by nearly 100,000 residents. Two main changes were enacted. The city closed two natural gas power plants, which were the source of dirty and inefficient power, replacing them with clean power via a hydroelectric system. To reduce transportation emissions, an improved infrastructure for biking, electric vehicles and walking was established. To cut out waste emissions, the city passed a mandatory waste recycling and composting law. San Francisco residents now have a 78 percent recycling and diversion rate.

Coping with Climate Change in Copenhagen

In the European Union, one city is setting the pace for a reduced carbon footprint, Copenhagen, Denmark. Home to more than half a million residents, Copenhagen produced a scant 2.8 tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2014, compared to 7.3 tonnes produced on average by other EU countries. As a result, Copenhagen is expected to be the first city on the planet to be carbon emissions neutral by 2025. How do they do it? To start, Copenhagen cuts down on heating emissions, which is the greatest source of all carbon emissions in the EU, by using heat and power plants, along with waste incineration. By this method, more than half of the city’s heating fuel comes from a form of biomass.

As for the city’s electricity, currently four percent are powered up from a large wind park located in Copenhagen’s harbor; however, an investment of 100 wind turbines, on and off shore, along with 700 million Euros, will increase this capacity to half of the city’s electrical production by 2020. The next move is to increase legislation on the national level. While Copenhagen is pushing toward carbon neutral, its founding nation of Denmark continues to lag behind in the emissions conversation. According to C40 executive director Mark Watts, Denmark still more progress to make. “There have been no incentives for geothermal,” Watts said, “which we could use in the district heating system instead of fossil fuels, and there has been no investment in solar since the government cut [feeding] tariffs.” Copenhagen may be the forerunner in the world's race to cut down emissions, but they are far from reaching the end of their mission.

Cities like San Francisco and Copenhagen lead the way toward carbon neutral neighborhoods, but eventually the move to make cities more eco-friendly will require the collaboration of entire states, countries and continents. If the world’s largest cities want to push for the most progressive reform on greenhouse gases, global warming, climate change and carbon footprints, then they need the global support of their nation's legislation and infrastructures.

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Jul 29, 2021

Carbon dioxide removal revenues worth £2bn a year by 2030

Dominic Ellis
4 min
Engineered greenhouse gas removals will become "a major new infrastructure sector" in the coming decades says the UK's National Infrastructure Commission

Carbon dioxide removal revenues could reach £2bn a year by 2030 in the UK with costs per megatonne totalling up to £400 million, according to the National Infrastructure Commission

Engineered greenhouse gas removals will become "a major new infrastructure sector" in the coming decades - although costs are uncertain given removal technologies are in their infancy - and revenues could match that of the UK’s water sector by 2050. The Commission’s analysis suggests engineered removals technologies need to have capacity to remove five to ten megatonnes of carbon dioxide no later than 2030, and between 40 and 100 megatonnes by 2050.

The Commission states technologies fit into two categories: extracting carbon dioxide directly out of the air; and bioenergy with carbon capture technology – processing biomass to recapture carbon dioxide absorbed as the fuel grew. In both cases, the captured CO2 is then stored permanently out of the atmosphere, typically under the seabed.

The report sets out how the engineered removal and storage of carbon dioxide offers the most realistic way to mitigate the final slice of emissions expected to remain by the 2040s from sources that don’t currently have a decarbonisation solution, like aviation and agriculture. 

It stresses that the potential of these technologies is “not an excuse to delay necessary action elsewhere” and cannot replace efforts to reduce emissions from sectors like road transport or power, where removals would be a more expensive alternative.  

The critical role these technologies will play in meeting climate targets means government must rapidly kick start the sector so that it becomes viable by the 2030s, according to the report, which was commissioned by government in November 2020. 

Early movement by the UK to develop the expertise and capacity in greenhouse gas removal technologies could create a comparative advantage, with the prospect of other countries needing to procure the knowledge and skills the UK develops.

The Commission recommends that government should support the development of this new sector in the short term with policies that drive delivery of these technologies and create demand through obligations on polluting industries, which will over time enable a competitive market to develop. Robust independent regulation must also be put in place from the start to help build public and investor confidence.

While the burden of these costs could be shared by different parts of industries required to pay for removals or in part shared with government, the report acknowledges that, over the longer term, the aim should be to have polluting sectors pay for removals they need to reach carbon targets.

Polluting industries are likely to pass a proportion of the costs onto consumers. While those with bigger household expenditures will pay more than those on lower incomes, the report underlines that government will need to identify ways of protecting vulnerable consumers and to decide where in relevant industry supply chains the costs should fall.

Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, Sir John Armitt, said taking steps to clean our air is something we’re going to have to get used to, just as we already manage our wastewater and household refuse. 

"While engineered removals will not be everyone’s favourite device in the toolkit, they are there for the hardest jobs. And in the overall project of mitigating our impact on the planet for the sake of generations to come, we need every tool we can find," he said.

“But to get close to having the sector operating where and when we need it to, the government needs to get ahead of the game now. The adaptive approach to market building we recommend will create the best environment for emerging technologies to develop quickly and show their worth, avoiding the need for government to pick winners. We know from the dramatic fall in the cost of renewables that this approach works and we must apply the lessons learned to this novel, but necessary, technology.” 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and International Energy Agency estimate a global capacity for engineered removals of 2,000 to 16,000 megatonnes of carbon dioxide each year by 2050 will be needed in order to meet global reduction targets. 

Yesterday Summit Carbon Solutions received "a strategic investment" from John Deere to advance a major CCUS project (click here). The project will accelerate decarbonisation efforts across the agriculture industry by enabling the production of low carbon ethanol, resulting in the production of more sustainable food, feed, and fuel. Summit Carbon Solutions has partnered with 31 biorefineries across the Midwest United States to capture and permanently sequester their CO2 emissions.  

Cory Reed, President, Agriculture & Turf Division of John Deere, said: "Carbon neutral ethanol would have a positive impact on the environment and bolster the long-term sustainability of the agriculture industry. The work Summit Carbon Solutions is doing will be critical in delivering on these goals."

McKinsey highlights a number of CCUS methods which can drive CO2 to net zero:

  • Today’s leader: Enhanced oil recovery Among CO2 uses by industry, enhanced oil recovery leads the field. It accounts for around 90 percent of all CO2 usage today
  • Cementing in CO2 for the ages New processes could lock up CO2 permanently in concrete, “storing” CO2 in buildings, sidewalks, or anywhere else concrete is used
  • Carbon neutral fuel for jets Technically, CO2 could be used to create virtually any type of fuel. Through a chemical reaction, CO2 captured from industry can be combined with hydrogen to create synthetic gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel
  • Capturing CO2 from ambient air - anywhere Direct air capture (DAC) could push CO2 emissions into negative territory in a big way
  • The biomass-energy cycle: CO2 neutral or even negative Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage relies on nature to remove CO2 from the atmosphere for use elsewhere

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