Carbon neutral by 2030: How does Oslo's ambitious carbon budget work?

Storms over Norway. Image: Getty.

Oslo’s city government has issued an ambitious “climate budget” with the intent of halving its carbon emissions from 1990 levels by 2020, and becoming completely carbon neutral by 2030. To achieve this goal, the city plans to limit access for cars with new tolls and fewer parking spaces; to power the bus fleet with renewable energy; to increase cycle use; and to eliminate heating with fossil fuels in homes and offices.

The move comes at a time when cities are taking on a more important role in addressing the issue of climate change. Globally, cities are thought to be responsible for roughly 75 per cent of human-sourced carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions, because urban populations still depend largely on fossil fuels to generate energy. Since CO₂ is the chief greenhouse gas, cities are considered to be key drivers of global climate change.

Yet cities are also uniquely well-placed to address this issue. Most cities have their own planning systems, which can be used to manage the local economy and the urban landscape (that is, land-cover and land-use), in order to regulate energy use.

Until relatively recently, policies to measure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions were administered at a national level, to ensure compliance with international agreements, such as the Paris Agreement. But over the last decade, cities have started to play a bigger role in global efforts to tackle climate change.

A new protocol

This is evident in initiatives such as the Global Compact of Mayors, of which Oslo is a member. The compact – founded by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2014 – is a coalition of cities and local governments that are voluntarily taking action to combat climate change and move toward a more resilient, low-carbon society.

To come up with effective policies for reducing emissions, cities first need a way to inventory their energy use. To that end, the compact has created a protocol that classifies energy use into six main sectors: stationary (for example, building construction and use); transportation; waste; industrial processes and product use; agriculture, forestry, and other land use and any other emissions occurring outside the boundary as a result of city activities.

These categories account for the greenhouse gas emissions associated with burning coal, gas, oil and so on. But they also take stock of the gases that are taken out of the atmosphere by plantations and forests, for example.

Get planting. Image: Dreamhamar/Flickr/creative commons.

Completing a greenhouse gas inventory using the protocol can guide urban policies to reflect the character of a city. For example, cities in cold climates use more gas and electricity to heat buildings in winter, while low-density cities generally dedicate more energy to transportation, and cities with a strong industrial base expend energy on manufacturing.

Becoming carbon neutral means reducing or even eliminating fossil fuel use, reducing landfill waste and offsetting any remaining emissions. Typically, the strategies involve incorporating aspects of technology (such as renewable energy generation), design (for instance, making cities more compact) and behaviour (for example, shifting commuters from private to public modes of transport).


Healthy competition

In the case of Oslo, its population of about 650,000 people emits roughly 1.34m tonnes of CO₂ per year, with much of this energy expended to meet building and transportation needs. While the plan to reduce emissions to zero is very ambitious, it’s worth keeping in mind that Norway already generates the majority of its electricity using hydropower.

This gives Oslo options that other cities may not have. For example, adding to the electric car fleet is a common policy in many cities concerned about air quality and greenhouse emissions. But if the electricity is produced by fossil fuels, then electric cars simply shift the creation of greenhouse gases from moving transport to stationary charging points.

Likewise, most of Oslo’s homes are heated with electricity generated from hydropower, and by burning wood pellets, which are also considered to be a renewable fuel. Here, the challenge is to make homes more efficient, and to ensure that more fuel for direct and indirect heating comes from renewable sources.

There is much to be learned from Oslo’s progress; in particular, it highlights the need for tailored policies and plans, to address the unique emission profile of each city. Yet the city will still need to overcome significant barriers, to become carbon neutral by 2030. In particular, it will need to offset any residual emissions through forestation, or by actively capturing carbon at the source.

Yet Oslo’s carbon budget raises the stakes for other cities which are working to combat climate change. The greenhouse gas protocol provides a consistent, transparent and internationally recognised approach for cities to measure and report emissions, allowing for credible comparison – and a little healthy competition – between urban areas across the globe.The Conversation

Gerald Mills is senior lecturer in geography at University College Dublin.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

What does the fate of Detroit tell us about the future of Silicon Valley?

Detroit, 2008. Image: Getty.

There was a time when California’s Santa Clara Valley, bucolic home to orchards and vineyards, was known as “the valley of heart’s delight”. The same area was later dubbed “Silicon Valley,” shorthand for the high-tech combination of creativity, capital and California cool. However, a backlash is now well underway – even from the loyal gadget-reviewing press. Silicon Valley increasingly conjures something very different: exploitation, excess, and elitist detachment.

Today there are 23 active Superfund toxic waste cleanup sites in Santa Clara County, California. Its culture is equally unhealthy: Think of the Gamergate misogynist harassment campaigns, the entitled “tech bros” and rampant sexism and racism in Silicon Valley firms. These same companies demean the online public with privacy breaches and unauthorised sharing of users’ data. Thanks to the companies’ influences, it’s extremely expensive to live in the area. And transportation is so clogged that there are special buses bringing tech-sector workers to and from their jobs. Some critics even perceive threats to democracy itself.

In a word, Silicon Valley has become toxic.

Silicon Valley’s rise is well documented, but the backlash against its distinctive culture and unscrupulous corporations hints at an imminent twist in its fate. As historians of technology and industry, we find it helpful to step back from the breathless champions and critics of Silicon Valley and think about the long term. The rise and fall of another American economic powerhouse – Detroit – can help explain how regional reputations change over time.

The rise and fall of Detroit

The city of Detroit became a famous node of industrial capitalism thanks to the pioneers of the automotive age. Men such as Henry Ford, Horace and John Dodge, and William Durant cultivated Detroit’s image as a centre of technical novelty in the early 20th century.

The very name “Detroit” soon became a metonym for the industrial might of the American automotive industry and the source of American military power. General Motors president Charles E. Wilson’s remark that, “For years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa,” was an arrogant but accurate account of Detroit’s place at the heart of American prosperity and global leadership.

The public’s view changed after the 1950s. The auto industry’s leading firms slid into bloated bureaucratic rigidity and lost ground to foreign competitors. By the 1980s, Detroit was the image of blown-out, depopulated post-industrialism.

In retrospect – and perhaps as a cautionary tale for Silicon Valley – the moral decline of Detroit’s elite was evident long before its economic decline. Henry Ford became famous in the pre-war era for the cars and trucks that carried his name, but he was also an anti-Semite, proto-fascist and notorious enemy of organised labor. Detroit also was the source of defective and deadly products that Ralph Nader criticized in 1965 as “unsafe at any speed”. Residents of the region now bear the costs of its amoral industrial past, beset with high unemployment and poisonous drinking water.


A new chapter for Silicon Valley

If the story of Detroit can be simplified as industrial prowess and national prestige, followed by moral and economic decay, what does that say about Silicon Valley? The term “Silicon Valley” first appeared in print in the early 1970s and gained widespread use throughout the decade. It combined both place and activity. The Santa Clara Valley, a relatively small area south of the San Francisco Bay, home to San Jose and a few other small cities, was the base for a computing revolution based on silicon chips. Companies and workers flocked to the Bay Area, seeking a pleasant climate, beautiful surroundings and affordable land.

By the 1980s, venture capitalists and companies in the Valley had mastered the silicon arts and were getting filthy, stinking rich. This was when “Silicon Valley” became shorthand for an industrial cluster where universities, entrepreneurs and capital markets fuelled technology-based economic development. Journalists fawned over successful companies like Intel, Cisco and Google, and analysts filled shelves with books and reports about how other regions could become the “next Silicon Valley”.

Many concluded that its culture set it apart. Boosters and publications like Wired magazine celebrated the combination of the Bay Area hippie legacy with the libertarian individualism embodied by the late Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow. The libertarian myth masked some crucial elements of Silicon Valley’s success – especially public funds dispersed through the U.S. Defense Department and Stanford University.

The ConversationIn retrospect, perhaps that ever-expanding gap between Californian dreams and American realities led to the undoing of Silicon Valley. Its detachment from the lives and concerns of ordinary Americans can be seen today in the unhinged Twitter rants of automaker Elon Musk, the extreme politics of PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, and the fatuous dreams of immortality of Google’s vitamin-popping director of engineering, Ray Kurzweil. Silicon Valley’s moral decline has never been clearer, and it now struggles to survive the toxic mess it has created.

Andrew L. Russell, Dean, College of Arts & Sciences; Professor of History, SUNY Polytechnic Institute and Lee Vinsel, Assistant Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Virginia Tech.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.