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How to Reduce Carbon Footprint: Steps for Urban Sustainability

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16 min read

Truthfully that is not good enough for keeping global warming under two degrees centigrade. They have a long way to go to meet the goals set forth by global climate negotiations.

For cities to cut down on carbon emissions and combat climate change, the public and private sectors must work together. Thankfully this is exactly what is happening today in cities across the world. The good news is cities have the power to reduce those emissions and help meet climate change goals dramatically. Cities are able to do this with smart planning, clean energy, transportation investments, and by working together with other cities.

By 2050, cities will account for 70 percent of all carbon emissions. That's why it's essential for cities worldwide to work on reducing their carbon footprint.

By 2050, cities must reduce their carbon footprint by 45 percent to meet climate goals. This is the equivalent of taking 7 billion cars off the road for an entire year.

This is a daunting task, especially considering that transportation accounts for more than half of the total emissions in many cities. However, there are plenty of ways cities can work towards reducing their carbon footprints by 2050.

Here are some things that city leaders should consider doing to reduce their carbon footprint:

  1. Implement public transit systems like buses and trains that run on renewable energy sources like wind or solar power.

  2. Build more bike lanes and walkways so residents can get around without driving cars or taking public transit systems that rely on fossil fuels to operate them.

  3. Make sure buildings are energy efficient by installing insulation material that helps keep the temperature inside at a comfortable level without using too much energy from heating systems or air conditioners; this will also save money on utility bills!

  4. Use renewable energy

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What Does Our Carbon Footprint Look Like Today?

The average American yearly contributes about 17 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere. That's five times as much CO2 emitted by people in China and ten times as much as people in India.

We're All Part of the Problem, But We Are All Part of the Solution

Cities have a significant role in reducing emissions. Why? Because cities account for not only 70 percent of global energy use but also 80 percent of global CO2 emissions.

When cities think about their carbon footprint, we often focus on the energy consumption of buildings and transportation. However, there are many other ways cities contribute to climate change.

First, let's examine what our carbon footprint looks like today. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, urban areas account for almost three-quarters of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. This is increasing yearly. In fact, this figure is expected to rise as more people move into urban areas and use more fossil fuels.

If all cars were taken off the road tomorrow, cities would still be responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions in America! That's because we're contributing significantly to climate change when we fly commercial planes or heat our homes with fossil fuels. Those contributions don't stop at city limits. Cities can reduce their carbon footprint by improving energy efficiency and reducing the waste production.

The average footprint of an American is about 20 tons of CO2 per year. That's a lot of CO2 to be responsible for! It's not just Americans accountable for their carbon footprint, it's every city developed in the last 200 years.

To reduce your city's carbon footprint, you must make sure it's developed thoughtfully and sustainably.

You have to consider:
  • What kind of energy infrastructure can we build that will allow us to use renewable energy sources like solar and wind power?
  • How can we reduce our reliance on cars?
  • How can we encourage people to live in cities rather than commute from the suburbs?

Cities are responsible for generating electricity and heat. They also have a high rate of industries, manufacturing, and construction that can generate large amounts of greenhouse gases.

How Can We Reduce Our Carbon Footprint? What Part Do Cities Play in Global Emissions?

It all comes down to cities' choices as they grow and develop.

Here are some tips:
  • Build more densely. Denser neighborhoods are better for the environment in many ways. They use less land, require less infrastructure (roads, pipes), and allow people to walk or bike instead of driving.
  • Reduce waste by recycling and composting more. Did you know that about half of all trash ends up in landfills? Recycling and composting help keep those items out of landfills and reduce our overall waste output.
  • Decarbonize transportation systems. Adding electric cars or buses to fleets or making public transit more accessible via bike shares or carpooling options like UberPool support this system.
  • Implement green roofs. One of the most effective ways cities can reduce their carbon footprint is by implementing green roofs. Green roofs are a type of roofing system that uses plants to reduce stormwater runoff and provide insulation for buildings. Green roofs have many positive effects on urban environments, including:
    • Reducing energy costs by providing insulation against heat loss and cold temperatures
    • Reducing stormwater runoff by absorbing rainwater and reducing the amount that makes it into storm sewers
    • Improving air quality by removing pollutants from the atmosphere
    • Creating habitats for native plants and animals

Cities can use their unique geographic features, such as their density and layout, to implement policies that change how people use energy and transportation. For example, cities with high public transit systems tend to have lower CO2 emissions than those without them.

We know cities are the world's largest carbon emitters. That's because they have a lot of people, buildings, and vehicles in one place. When it comes to emissions, people are the most significant factor.

Cities can reduce their carbon footprint by banning plastic bags at stores. Plastic bags are made from oil, a fossil fuel that is a large contributor to global warming.

Additionally, cities can reduce their carbon footprint by creating policies that promote renewable energy sources like wind or solar power. These resources are more sustainable than fossil fuels and don't produce carbon dioxide when burned or used in electricity generation processes.

Renewable resources require significant initial investment costs before they become profitable enough to operate without subsidies from taxpayers or utility companies. It can be a deterrent to many smaller businesses or even larger corporations.

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Can Today's Youth Overcome Widespread Climate Anxiety?

The first step is recognizing climate change is a problem. Most millennials have not yet felt the effects of climate change in their daily lives. Pew Research Center survey conducted in March 2018, states only 21 percent of millennials said they were "apprehensive" about global warming. That number is down from 48 percent who said so in 2006. However, with the increasing frequency and severity of storms, droughts, and other extreme weather events, millennials may be unable to avoid the consequences for long.

So what will it take to get young people excited about addressing climate change? The answer may be as simple as tapping into their love for technology and their desire for new experiences. When asked what they would do if they could travel back in time and stop climate change from happening, only eight percent said they would invest more money into renewable energy technologies.

  • 30 percent said they would travel back in time to try alternative fuels or ride electric-powered vehicles like Tesla cars
  • 27 percent said they would travel back to stop deforestation from occurring so quickly; something that would have been nearly impossible even 20 years ago because forests used to grow back quickly after being cleared for agriculture

As the future of our planet relies on our collective willpower, youth have an imperative role to play in creating change today.

Climate Anxiety

The recent wave of climate anxiety has been devastating for many young people. While the world's leaders have been slow to act on this issue, young people are starting to take matters into their own hands. It's time for cities to follow suit.

Young people are taking action on a global scale, with mass demonstrations in New York City and London and student strikes in Europe.

What can cities do to ensure their residents can lead happy, healthy lives in a more sustainable future? The answer lies in investing in green energy sources and reducing carbon emissions through renewable energy sources. This is particularly important because cities tend to be densely populated areas with large amounts of traffic congestion and air pollution. By taking steps toward greening their cities, they can help prevent further damage while also allowing their residents peace of mind as they go about their daily lives.

This isn't just a problem for young people in America. A recent study surveyed 1,000 Norwegians between the ages of 18 and 30 and found that 69 percent believed climate change would negatively affect their generation.

The future of our planet is a source of great anxiety for many people. The climate change crisis is a significant threat to the well-being of humans and other species, and it's not getting any better.

The good news is that there are things we can do to help, both individually and collectively. It starts with recognizing that we have the power to make a difference.

We Are the Change

Individuals can get started by making small changes:
  • Using public transportation or carpooling whenever possible
  • Turning off lights when you leave a room
  • Using energy-efficient appliances in your home

Some organizations help people reduce their carbon footprint by providing ways to recycle products and reuse materials.

These individual actions add up over time! When enough people start making small changes in their

ives, they see actual results as they build momentum toward larger goals like switching their power company or installing solar panels on their roofs.

Cities Taking Action

Cities need to take action to reduce their carbon footprint. If we don't act now, by 2050, climate change will have caused $1 trillion in damage to cities alone. The good news is that we can still make a difference!

With cities being responsible for a significant chunk of the world's carbon emissions, it's no surprise they're on the front lines of climate change. According to one study, if all cities took action right now, they could reduce global emissions by nearly 20 percent by 2050. That's just in transportation and buildings alone!

The bad news is that many cities aren't taking action yet. Thus, the fight is on. Whether it's fueled by climate change apathy or anxiety, one thing is certain, cities have a significant role in reducing carbon emissions.

To ensure that emissions reach peak levels by 2050, there are at least five things that need to happen:
  1. Adopt renewable energy sources
  2. Reduce consumption by improving infrastructure and transportation networks
  3. Implement behavior change programs
  4. Reduce reliance on imported goods
  5. Create economic incentives that promote sustainable practices

The fight to curb our carbon footprints doesn't end there. Cities must educate citizens and politicians alike on the perils of global warming to improve resource efficiency and develop renewable energy sources in the future. Aside from getting more people on bikes and public transportation, cities might find ways to close some of their industrial "carbon leaks," such as construction and cement manufacturing. Deciding where and how to improve the city's energy efficiency is also necessary.

Neighborhood by neighborhood, block by block, the city's carbon footprint can be reduced little by little in a cost-effective manner.

Climate Goals for 2050

To meet climate goals by 2050, we need to:

  1. Reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills by 90 percent

  2. Increase the number of bike lanes in cities by 50 percent

  3. Increase the number of solar panels on rooftops by 200 percent

Globally we need to act quickly. Unfortunately, the planet is running out of time. By 2050, cities need to reduce their overall energy use by 60 percent and CO2 emissions by 80 percent. The Intergovernmental Panel set out these climate goals.

Cities are on the front lines of climate change. As urban areas continue to grow, they have both a responsibility and an opportunity to reduce their carbon footprint. There are many different ways that cities can reduce their carbon footprint, but they all have one thing in common, they need to start now.

Ultimately, the effects of climate change will only be mitigated if society works together to reduce carbon emissions. In the end, we need to remember that we are all in this together, and the combined efforts of multiple cities and communities across the globe that will spark meaningful change.

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