Producer Cities and Consumer Cities: Using Production- and Consumption-Based Carbon Accounts to Guide Climate Action in China, the UK, and the US

Meeting the commitments made in the Paris Agreement on climate change will require different approaches in different countries. However, a common feature in many contexts relates to the continued and sometimes increasing significance of the carbon footprints of urban centres. These footprints consider both production or territorial (i.e. Scope 1 and 2) emissions, and consumption or extra-territorial (i.e. Scope 3) emissions. Although a growing number of cities have adopted targets for their production-based emissions, very few have even started to analyse or address their consumption-based emissions. This presents a potential challenge for urban policymaking if consumption emissions rise while production emissions fall, and for climate mitigation more broadly if emissions are effectively migrating to areas without carbon reduction targets or capabilities. To explore these issues, in this paper we analyse and compare production- and consumption-based emissions accounts for urban centres in China, the UK and the US. Results show that per-capita income and population density are strong predictors of consumption-based emissions levels, and consumption-based emissions appear to diminish but not decouple with higher per-capita incomes. In addition, results show that per-capita income is a predictor of net emissions – or the difference between production- and consumption-based accounts – suggesting that continuing increases in per capita income levels may drive the ‘leakage’ of urban emissions. These findings highlight a risk in placing too much faith in city-level climate strategies focused only on production-based emissions, and stress the importance of new city-level initiatives that focus on consumption-based emissions, especially in cities that are shifting from producer to consumer city status.

Journal of Cleaner Production, 176, pp.654-662, March 2018