LONDON (Reuters) - Cities often blamed for producing most of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions actually generate just two-fifths or less, according to a study published on Friday.
U.N. agencies, former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s climate change initiative and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg have all said that 75 to 80 percent of total emissions come from cities, the paper in the journal Environment and Urbanization says.
But using data from the U.N. climate change panel, it estimates the correct figure at between 30 and 40 percent.
Author David Satterthwaite, a researcher at the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development, said the error had led policy makers to overlook the potential for cities to help tackle climate change.
“Blaming cities for greenhouse gas emissions misses the point that cities are a large part of the solution,” he said in a statement. “Well-planned, well-governed cities can provide high living standards that do not require high consumption levels and high greenhouse gas emissions.”
Satterthwaite said some experts have given cities too high a share of emissions from industries and power stations located outside their boundaries.
He also noted that many city residents pollute less than families in rural areas. “People that live in the suburbs or commute actually have much higher greenhouse gas emissions per person than people living in (the London district of) Chelsea for the same income level,” he told Reuters.
Country-dwellers tend to have larger homes that need to be heated or cooled and higher car use per household.
The paper highlights the “hundred-fold” difference between emissions from rich and poor cities, but argues that higher emissions do not always indicate better living standards.
“Most U.S. cities have three to five times the gasoline use per person of most European cities — and it is difficult to see that Detroit has five times the quality of life of Copenhagen or Amsterdam,” it says.
Reporting by Megan Rowling; Editing by Giles Elgood