Nine Million Bicycles in Beijing

Quantifying anything in a country as large as China can be a challenge, as the song ‘Nine Million Bicycles’ suggests. This is certainly true with pollution, a problem which a new online accounting tool aims to resolve.  

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Just how do you start to count the emissions from a city the size of Beijing?

Last week brought news that China’s economic growth between July and September had picked up to 7.8% – in part thanks to a boost in small-scale manufacturing.

News of strong Chinese growth is a familiar success story but raises the usual concerns of how this can be achieved without high levels of pollution and environmental damage.

One way that the Chinese government hopes to decouple growth from environmental damage is by requiring a number of its largest cities to get serious about greenhouse gas management.

And as with individual companies, reducing emissions at the city level can only happen if the the source and quantity of the emissions is properly measured and understood.

New Greenhouse Gas Accounting Tool

That’s why a group of leading organisations, including the World Resources Institute and WWF China, recently launched a new Greenhouse Gas Accounting Tool.

The tool is specifically designed for Chinese cities and addresses a number of problems that these cities have encountered when previously trying to measure their emissions, for example a lack of available data and standardised methodology.

So how does the tool work?

Structure of the Tool

The tool, which is freely available online, is built in Excel and calculates total emissions in four stages:

1. Background information of the city, such as population and GDP

2. Selection of Global Warming Potential of specific greenhouse gases – based on IPCC reports

3. Level of activity from all emitting activities, such as buildings, waste disposal, transportation and industry

4. Application of relevant emission factors

After inputting this data the tool then calculates emissions with the click of a single button.

In addition to comprehensive measurement the tool also offers guidance on how to get hold of more primary data if it’s missing – a problem that many companies know all about.

And with 54 tabs the spreadsheet doesn’t lack for detail!  

Although it’s still only a trial version with some acknowledged limitations, it’s a refreshingly open and user-friendly approach to carbon management.

Increasing Greenhouse Gas Measurement in China   

The tool provides further evidence that better carbon management is a continuing trend in China. In May, for example, the CDP held a conference in Beijing advising companies on the benefits of measuring and disclosing their carbon emissions.

One compelling reason is the possible introduction of a nationwide emissions trading scheme in the coming decade. By taking action now many Chinese companies can prepare themselves for the introduction of mandatory legislation later on.

With cities now getting their act together on carbon management too, companies may find themselves being requested by city authorities to provide increasingly detailed data themselves.

In a country which has annual emissions in the region of 7,992 million tonnes in addition to seemingly non-transparent accounting procedures, it’s hard to know where to start with carbon management.

Which is why this tool could be so significant.

If Chinese cities are able to transparently manage (and then reduce) their emissions, there’s no reason why companies across the world can’t make a better go of it too.

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