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Low-carbon transition: It’s possible, cost effective and beneficial

Sue RiddlestoneSue Riddlestone, a commissioner of the London Sustainable Development Commission and Executive Director of BioRegional writes from Copenhagen ahead of the Climate Change Conference next week.  She outlines the findings of a study, an example of international best practice, to measure London’s carbon footprint on a consumption-based approach:

We have travelled to Copenhagen with the message that delegates can afford to be bold and sign up to the tough targets the science tells us we need, because from our own practical experience, working with partners all around the world, we know that putting in place ultra-low-carbon sustainable communities and production systems can be done, and can be done cost effectively. It just requires commitment and a different approach. Even better, new businesses can be created and people can have a better quality of life.

While we are here we will be talking about “Capital Consumption,” a new report out today undertaken by BioRegional and the London Sustainable Development Commission. For the first time, the carbon footprint of London has been calculated to include the “hidden emissions” of food and consumer goods produced elsewhere, and imported into the capital. More traditional measures such as that used by government tend to focus on emissions that occur within a certain boundary plus those associated with the production of electricity that we use in the home.

The traditional measure of the city’s footprint of around 44 million tonnes of CO2 per year has been based primarily on direct emissions from energy use and transport. The report shows that with the inclusion of the emissions of goods imported into London, the footprint is approximately 90 million tonnes of CO2 per year. The approach to consumption-based carbon dioxide emissions used in the study has not been taken before by such a prominent world city as London, and provides a leading international example of this approach. Just as important as the new measurement, is the modelling undertaken in the report to show the action that can be taken by business, government and the people of London to achieve a 90% reduction in emissions by 2050.

London can lead a shift to a more sustainable economy if it decarbonises its supply chains, supports innovation and acts both here in the UK and internationally. Cutting carbon by new ways of consuming will be good for jobs, can help build a more resilient economy, and benefit the health and social well-being of Londoners. Of course London is already taking many positive steps to curb emissions. This ranges from the highly anticipated new public bike hire scheme; plans to give 200,000 homes a free carbon makeover by 2012;  introducing greener buses; and supporting the mainstream introduction of electric vehicles. There is also a great deal being done around food and health with communities being encouraged to grow their own food locally. There is also a focus on waste including reusing and recycling items that might otherwise be thrown away. This action on food and waste will also help reduce emissions coming from outside the city.

Take a look at the report and see what the low-carbon economy will mean for your sector. We have found that at first businesses do find it challenging but it’s a creative process and new commercial opportunities can come out of it. For example, BioRegional has been working with retailer B&Q who have committed to reduce their CO2 emissions by 90%.  Last year they managed a 6% cut mainly by reducing waste. They have calculated how they can reduce CO2 emissions from logistics by 38%, which will save them money as fuel costs rise. They have also identified some new business opportunities to help their customers reduce their impacts in retrofitting and energy efficiency, as well as this year’s big success, B&Q’s new “grow your own” (veg!) range.

The research in the report outlines the share of emissions of sectors from food to  public services and, in keeping with the latest scientific evidence and global treaties, the level of action needed to help the world achieve its climate change targets. Action is required from all eight sectors examined in the report: domestic energy use, housing infrastructure, personal transport, food, consumer goods, private services (e.g. financial and recreation), public sector, and the built environment.

Action includes reducing embodied carbon in food by encouraging people to eat less meat and dairy and reduce food waste. When it comes to consumer goods, carbon savings can be made at each stage of the supply chain and by recycling more efficiently, as well as reducing consumption in general. For both housing and built infrastructure, more durable building materials are recommended, as well as retrofitting existing buildings with energy efficiency measures and renewable energy sources. A large part of the necessary reductions can come from the decarbonisation of the electricity supply grid, which is modelled in all eight sectors.

One of the key themes of the Copenhagen discussions is the dynamic between the developing and developed worlds with regards to their responsibilities in addressing climate change. The “Capital Consumption” report makes an invaluable contribution to this subject from one of the world’s most high-profile cities. The encouraging thing about the report is the multiple positive benefits that can come from changing how we live and work, and most importantly consume.

The Capital Consumption report and a summary of the actions required from by each sector are available at: and

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