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Scenario shows how Seattle could achieve deep emission reductions by 2050

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Written by Marion Davis

Tuesday, 09 August 2011 04:31

The carbon-neutral scenario envisions a substantial increase in biking – a goal shared by participants in Seattle Bike to Work days. FLICKR/Don Brubeck

Cities are home to half the world’s population, consume over two-thirds of the world’s energy, and account for more than 70 percent of global CO2 emissions.

Recognising their critical role, several cities are now seeking to become leaders in mitigating climate change. In February 2010, the Seattle City Council adopted the goal of making the city, in the northwestern United States, carbon-neutral.

The Seattle Office of Sustainability and Environment (OSE), which is drafting a new Climate Action Plan for the city, hired SEI and its partners Cascadia Consulting Group and ICF International to develop a carbon-neutral scenario.

With community input and guidance from a technical review committee, the SEI team and OSE built the scenario from the “bottom up,” looking at an array of possible measures – from energy retrofits of buildings, to shifts to electric cars and biking, to increased recycling – that they deemed to be feasible and relatively low-cost over the next 40 years.

Seattle Monorail passing the Space Needle. FLICKR/Nick Boos

Making it happen
The resulting scenario suggests that implementing a full suite of emissions-reducing strategies could cut Seattle’s per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 30% by 2020, 60% by 2030, and 90% by 2050, relative to 2008 levels.

The scenario entails:
• Shifting to less GHG-intensive travel modes such as ride sharing, transit, walking and biking, to produce a 30% reduction in per capita travel in light-duty vehicles by 2030 and a 50% reduction by 2050, relative to 2008 levels.
• Dramatically increasing energy efficiency in building design and operations, as well as in vehicle efficiency, to produce over 30% in energy savings by 2030 (per capita in residential, per square foot in commercial, and per mile in vehicles) and over 50% by 2050, relative to 2008 levels.
• Transitioning homes, businesses, and vehicles to lower-carbon energy sources: electricity (or possibly hydrogen) in the long run, biofuels as a bridging strategy for transportation until electric vehicles predominate, and to a much lesser extent, sustainable biomass sources (for district energy systems).

“It’s important to recognise that this is just one of many possible paths a city like Seattle could take to achieve deep emission reductions,” says Pete Erickson, co-author of the report. “Our scenario is not a specific recommendation, but rather, it will help inform the City’s process, just beginning now, to create a new Climate Action Plan.”

Bus-with-bikeA New Flyer DE60LF hybrid bus in Seattle. FLICKR/Stephen Rees

Cities’ unique position
Co-author Chelsea Chandler noted that while cities, as economic hubs, are responsible for high levels of emissions, they also have advantages due to their density, and they are “uniquely positioned” to innovate.

“Cities can serve as leaders by piloting strategies which can be replicated or adapted elsewhere,” she says. “And while action at all levels is critical, local initiatives are taking on increasing importance, particularly in the United States, which has yet to enact a comprehensive federal climate policy.”

Read a Q&A with the scenario’s three SEI authors, or click here to read the report.

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