Transparency Is a Key Ingredient for City Climate ActionPublished: Apr 20, 2017 Policy | Blog Post
When it comes to addressing climate issues, cities receive a lot of attention. It’s not hard to understand why, as mayors in the U.S. and across the globe are doubling down on local environmental initiatives, unifying to push for the goals set by the historic Paris Climate Agreement. This commitment from cities is important, since two-thirds of the world’s energy is consumed by cities, and half of the world’s population lives in them, among many other reasons.
Recognizing the massive potential cities have to transform our energy landscape, lower climate risk, and stimulate economies, CDP (formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project), brings transparency on climate action into focus every year by way of its annual reports on cities, states/regions, investors, and companies.
In 2016, 533 cities, 100+ state governments, and thousands of companies voluntarily reported their climate impacts through the CDP platform. The trove of new climate and energy-use information can be explored through CDP’s reports and online data repository. These resources reveal how leading cities, states/regions, investors, and corporations are taking climate risks seriously and are forging partnerships to reduce energy and carbon footprints. Last year’s global cities report highlighted a total of 720 climate change-related projects, worth a combined $26 billion. Of these projects, 127 involve building energy efficiency and retrofitting—an important factor that I’ll dive into a little further in this post.
Recent analysis from the 2016 CDP data produced by CDP and the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group also shows that there are over 3,000 low-carbon infrastructure projects in planning stages across C40 cities worldwide, with over 700 in the buildings sector alone. Cities have only reported costs for 15 percent of these projects, but this percentage alone amounts to $15.5 billion in required investment.
Now entering its seventh year, CDP’s global and standardized online platform not only gives participants an opportunity to collect, report, and share their climate action information, but it also helps spread best practices and gives sustainability directors and businesses a handy tool to benchmark their performance against peer cities.
“We really value the opportunity to collect our own data and then to report it and see how we compare to other organizations. It helps keep us focused and it gives us a good baseline understanding of where we are and of opportunities for improvement,” said Kerrie Romanow, Director of Environmental Services for San Jose, Calif., in a video interview for CDP. (Watch this video for more takeaways from CDP staff, cities, and business participants.)
Transparency in the Built Environment
Buildings can account for more than 75 percent of a city’s carbon emissions and building energy use is one of the highest operating costs for many businesses, so ramping up energy efficiency in buildings is a necessity for any city government, company, or real estate manager to achieve their climate and business goals.
The Institute for Market Transformation (IMT), where I work, believes in the value of energy data transparency in the real estate market, both as a driver for greater energy and dollar savings and as an important window into how our buildings and cities are using energy. To integrate energy efficiency into basic business practices, real estate companies and tenants need to have access to enough energy-use data on their buildings and systems to make well-informed decisions.
Data transparency through voluntary and mandatory energy efficiency initiatives fills a vital information gap, and IMT has helped lead these initiatives, working hand-in-hand with city and state governments and companies to assist them with new policies and programs that are opening the doors to energy-related information that can motivate savings and lower carbon emissions. To this end, IMT collaborated with CDP last year via the City Energy Project (CEP), a national initiative of IMT and the Natural Resources Defense Council, to pilot a reporting platform for building energy performance in 10 CEP cities. Through the pilot, CDP and CEP captured information on cities’ activities involving building energy efficiency and compared performance and approaches across cities.
This joint effort provided new opportunities for collecting information on building performance initiatives in cities, as well as highlighted the need for standardization in how these initiatives are evaluated—something both CDP and CEP are currently working on.
Cities with strapped budgets are looking for solutions that will generate the biggest impact for fewer resources, so being able to communicate in hard numbers about how well initiatives are working in their jurisdictions will allow program managers to make smart decisions on where to invest. A great example of this is the Retrofit Chicago Energy Challenge, which just announced an expansion to 76 buildings representing over 50 million square feet of space. Through 2015, the program estimates that participants saved 90 million kilowatt-hours per year, representing 70,000 metric tons in avoided greenhouse gas emissions.
Chicago is not alone in introducing these types of programs. Cities participating in CEP are finding creative ways to address complicated climate issues and stepping up to the plate on solutions such as access to private financing for projects, ways of convening disperse stakeholders, and methods to stretch limited resources for the biggest impact.
Data dearth to data deluge
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, cities are not waiting to take action on climate. Another way they are doing this is by passing energy efficiency policies such as benchmarking and transparency laws, effectively putting miles-per-gallon signs on large buildings for potential lessees and other real estate stakeholders. These building performance policies have taken the market from a data dearth to a data deluge on building energy use in just a few short years, and they’re already showing positive impacts as noted in this Urban Land Institute report on San Francisco.
Now, cities are working with CEP on finding applications of the data, sharing it through data portals, visualization tools, and annual energy benchmarking reports. Through collaboration with city governments and organizations like CDP, IMT will continue working to make this data more actionable for building owners and tenants through improving data quality, defining baselines, capturing best practices, and identifying solutions to barriers in the market to better data access and transparency.