CLIMATE CHANGE AND THE CITY
Clearing the air about Bengaluru’s carbon emissions
The Copenhagen Climate Meet 2009 may have turned out inconsequential, but the need to check carbon emissions is as crucial as ever.
By Bhanu Sridharan 15 Feb 2010, Citizen Mattersbookmark email print
A lot of heated debates at the recently concluded Copenhagen Climate Meet 2009 threw up more questions than answers. Though many argued over India's position in the debate, little is known of how its rapidly growing cities are contributing to global warming. Speaking locally, how much does Bangalore, teeming with a six-million-plus, contribute to India's total carbon emissions? How does it hold itself accountable to the mess our planet is in and how does it plan to help clean it up?
The answer is systematic assessment of its emissions. As with much of the climate change topic, here it becomes crucial to negotiate our way through some technical jargon.
Talk of carbon levels (particularly in the media) are usually followed by the phrase ‘carbon footprint', while a more accurate term would be ‘greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory' or ‘carbon inventory'. Professor N H Ravindranath, an IPCC member from the Centre for Sustainable Technologies at the Indian Institute of Sciences, says, "Carbon footprint is a loose, generic term often used (by the media) to explain the amount of carbon emissions; whereas a GHG inventory is a binding legal term with specific parameters."
Green house gases are those that contribute to global warming including Carbon dioxide and Methane. Their emissions caused by burning fuels, whether for cooking, for transportation or generation of electricity.
Simply put, a carbon inventory is a measure of all GHGs that a particular activity produces. "When we talk about carbon levels, a common mistake is to confuse it with pollution. But GHGs do not include polluting gases like carbon monoxide, which though harmful, do not contribute to warming," he adds. But a carbon inventory takes into account only GHGs like carbon dioxide and methane which trap and radiate the sun's rays (the greenhouse effect), thus increasing the earth's average temperatures.
Most carbon inventories for cities calculate emission levels from land use activities particularly transport and housing. For instance, an inventory conducted for New York City by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) based its findings on the calculation of fuel emissions from vehicles and the energy used by buildings.
"While these factors are useful, they are not all-inclusive," says Sapna N, Project Coordinator for City Managers' Association, Karnataka (CMAK), a state-level advisory body that provides technical expertise to various urban local bodies (municipalities) in cities and towns across Karnataka.
She says a comprehensive inventory of the city's emissions must "trace sources of all activities that lead to GHG emissions". She adds, "For example, if we take power supply in Bangalore, the sources are thermal and hydroelectric. Thermal power supply must then consider emissions from transportation and burning of coal, transportation of residues like charcoal, etc."
Prof. Ravindranath says that to produce any useful data for Indian cities carbon inventories must define the boundaries for that region. "In Karnataka, electricity comes mainly from hydropower but in Bihar, it may be 100% coal," he explains.
Emissions linked to lifestyle
Dr Sharadchandra Lele, senior researcher at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Environment, agrees that in cities like Bangalore, "studies must take into account socio-economic differences while measuring emission levels".
Different lifestyles influence emission levels. "A low-income family may emit more carbon while cooking by using firewood as against households using LPG," says Lele, but is quick to add "middle- and high-income groups contribute far more by travelling in private vehicles while the poor may use public transport," Lele says.
This throws up various difficulties in collecting data on Bangalore's emission levels.
Every family contributes
Difficult, yet possible. A simple way of collecting data is to ensure that inventories look into consumption (and therefore emission) patterns of households with emphasis on socio-economic status, industries and local governing bodies (emissions produced while delivering essential services).
For instance, basic data might come from an individual level (a whole family unit). How much carbon (or GHG) does a typical household in Bangalore emit on an average? This involves mapping its consumption patterns of electricity, water consumption (from borewells or Cauvery river pipeline), transportation patterns (number of vehicles owned, yearly petrol consumption etc) and nature of the building or house.