Smart Green Cities – Towards a Carbon Neutrality

By Smart City Insider

Smart Cities Insider met with Woodrow Clark II, the co-author of newly published book “Smart Green Cities – Towards a Carbon Neutral World”. We discussed some of the topics covered in his new book.

Woodrow Clark is an internationally recognized and respected expert, author, public speaker and consultant on global and local solutions to climate change. His core advocacy is in the economics for smart green communities. During the 1990s he was Manager of Strategic Planning for Technology Transfer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) with the University of California and the U.S. Department of Energy. While at LLNL he served as one of the contributing scientists and experts for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. He chaired the first Research Team for the UN FCCC.

​His current work generates responses to climate change from governments and businesses, using public policy, science and technology, and their economics and finance methods. In 2004 he founded, and now manages, Clark Strategic Partners (CSP), a global environmental and renewable energy consulting firm using his political-economic expertise to guide, advise and implement public and private projects advancing sustainable, smart communities as well as colleges and universities, shopping malls, office buildings and film studios.

In your book “Smart Green Cities”, you speak of “Climate Neutral” cities. What does climate neutral mean? 

smart-green-cities-toward-carbon-neutral-world-by-woodrow-clark-ii-grant-cooke-cover

Woodrow Clark: Climate neutral has a lot of different definitions. One of the definitions comes from UN Climate Neutral Strategy in its application to reducing greenhouse gases to get global warming under control and below the dangerous 2°C level. Berlin, the German capital, set this strategy which is discussed in my book as a key case study for smart green cities. One of the key factors is that there are no emissions in the cities and its region. You have to remember that given the world is round, whatever happens in one city is going through the atmosphere or the water to other parts of the world.

The other definition for climate neutral is that you don’t have programs, products, services, or infrastructures that utilize fossil fuels or other non-renewable and polluting sources. Fossil fuels should not be used for cars, trucks, trains or energy generation in general. Keep in mind that charging an electric vehicle with energy generated by fossil fuels does not allow climate neutrality.

People need to walk more and ride their bikes safely, as well as use mass transportation that is powered by renewable energy. Buildings need to have solar panels, geothermal and “smart” systems for energy, water, and waste use.

Copenhagen (København) is one of the world’s greenest and most environmentally friendly cities. Which environmental programs and policies in Copenhagen did you like? 

Woodrow Clark: I used to live in Denmark and was very familiar with Copenhagen, which started a free of charge bike share program available to all of their citizens.

A few year ago Copenhagen introduced a new bike share program for a fee. It happened because the city and the country have had difficulties financing this infrastructure and, as a result, expected the citizens to contribute their part. Bike share programs gained in popularity, and now we see some of these programs in the United States.

Copenhagen introduced many other environmentally friendly programs. For example, already in the early 1990s, hotel guests were encouraged to reuse their towels after taking a shower.

The city encourages people to walk and has protected areas for bicyclists to ride, which we hardly have in the United States, particularly in Southern California. You want to see people reduce their carbon footprint as well as exercise.

Copenhagen encourages people to live, work, and enjoy their neighborhoods locally instead of using a car to get around.

What about renewable energy? What’s different between Denmark and the U.S.? 

Woodrow Clark: Copenhagen was one of the first cities in the world that began installing wind turbines nearby offshore. The wind industry started in Denmark with the company called Vestas. They saw the environmental value of wind energy, not just as wind farms, but also as individual wind turbines placed in different communities within the cities. Even today, we don’t have off-shore wind turbines in the United States. We have off-shore oil wells drilling for fossil fuels, but not wind turbines. Next to the Copenhagen Airport there are 12 wind turbines off-shore producing renewable energy for the region. This, we never see in America.

smart green city - wind energy

Today there is still a debate going on in the U.S. because some people say wind turbines obstruct their ocean views. The Dans went through this issue a long time ago. In Denmark, one of their solutions was to put the wind turbines further out in sea so that they were not as visible from the beach. However, their sea shores are less sloping than ours.

Many Danish cities have wind turbines inside the city. Even small towns have them. Where do you see that ever in America? You see some of it in other parts of Europe and China.

The total population of Denmark is roughly about 5.6 Million people, compared to the 28 Million in California. Denmark is much smaller, but that doesn’t mean that what they have done can’t be replicated and taken to other places. And that’s exactly what is happening around the world.

Do you believe the government needs to be more involved in stimulating change towards carbon neutral economy or should it be left to the free market?  

Woodrow Clark: In California, we have Governor Jerry Brown, and I think he is doing a lot of good things. The difference between what he is doing and his predecessor Arnold Schwarzenegger is that he sees the fact that government has to have a leading policy making and economic role in changing and protecting our environment. Schwarzenegger felt it was the “market” which would do the change. This theory was created by Adam Smith, over a hundred years ago. It became an economic ideology that has never been true anywhere. When you need change, you must have government involved one way or the other. The government has to provide policy, financial resources and not just tax incentives. Remember, tax incentives are beneficial to the very wealthy.

In your book, you mention Ebenezer Howard, the founder of garden cities movement. Howard had a holistic view of a new type of urban development. Which of his ideas are common in urban development today, and which of his radical ideas, perceived far in the past, would make lots of sense now? 

Woodrow Clark: When people talk about having green cities, they usually speak about energy efficiency. Ebenezer Howard said why don’t we do something with our roofs and make it a place where people can relax. Most roofs are empty and just sitting there. Rooftop gardens are great and needed, as well as using roofs for solar panels and small wind turbines. However, too many developers in America, take land to build massive structures and even entire communities without considering the environment and providing more green spaces.

smart green city - Ebenezer Howard - green roof

Oil prices are dropping. More alternative fuel vehicles are on the road. While this is great news, how does this trend affect the state of road infrastructure?   

Woodrow Clark: California is dependent on cars as its primary source of transportation. Here in California, even going to or from a subway, a train station or a bus stop, you have to use a car. It drives me crazy.

The freeway infrastructure here in California is funded through a carbon tax on oil and gas. The prices for oil and gas are dropping, and more people are driving electric cars. Due to the decline in oil prices and gas consumption, the amount of tax money cities collect is diminishing, leaving fewer funds for freeway maintenance and updates.

When I used to live in Denmark, 62% of my income was for taxes. In the United States it’s up to 31%, and then most people are trying to get tax breaks. The middle and working classes are paying for most of the freeway maintenance since the big companies and wealthy people take the largest tax breaks. The United States is facing an issue of how they are going to pay for their highways and freeways when they don’t have the amount of money they used to have.

The U.S. will have to do things differently. For example, using toll roads like they do in Florida, where everyone whether resident or tourist are required to pay for the use of the toll roads. Therefore, both contribute to funding for freeway upkeep.

How do you see freeways evolve in the future? 

Woodrow Clark: I share the view of a Japanese company which looks creatively at the future of transportation. In their vision, the highways and freeways have solar panels over the freeway median. Also, there are hydrogen fuel cell and electric charging stations along the freeway; wind farms onshore and offshore and driverless vehicles that move people around.

Do you think driverless cars will solve some of the transportation challenges in cities?

Woodrow Clark: I don’t know if the driverless cars are going to solve all problems. They make a lot of sense in some ways. It’s a great idea for longer transportation needs, but using driverless cars just in the community you live in, is going to be tough for many reasons. However, that was what many said about the internet and wi-fi. Look at them today. The future is coming sooner than we think and have seen in the past.

California is in its fifth year of severe drought. The state has introduced many water conservation programs and policies. Some were very successful and some less. What else do you think California, particularly Southern California, needs to do to improve water sustainability?  

Woodrow Clark: Water in the Middle East is almost as valuable as gold. Israel has been successful with conservation and recycling of water for decades. During the drought, California, particularly Southern California, started to look into the techniques and strategies of the Israelis. For example, in Israel, they have water systems where plants are not in the ground but dangling from roofs and poles where the water drips from one plant to another.

Another area is the greywater which is the water from showers, kitchen and bathroom sinks. In other parts of the world, they clean up greywater and reuse it for things such as irrigation.

What’s important to know is that the water in Southern California comes primarily from Northern California. When the water comes down the aqueducts, it has to go over a mountain range that is just north of Los Angeles. To get that water over the mountain range you need a lot of energy. In fact, one-third of the energy California uses is to pump the water up and down. What’s interesting is that there are no in-stream turbines to generate energy from the water running down the river. Also, why not put solar panels over the aqueducts? That would decrease evaporation of the water and would generate energy at the same time.

There are other ways to deal with the water shortage. For instance, desalination which is using ocean water to produce potable water, but that’s very expensive to do.

Even though we have been getting more rainfall in Southern California, drought is still a major issue for the region. Our objective must be to create ways of preserving, using, and recycling water.

Related Articles

Portland awards itself a participation trophy for climate

Portland is utterly failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, but not to worry, its ticking lots of boxes in its bureaucratic check-list.
The city walks away from its 2015 Climate Action Plan after an increase in greenhouse gases, but promises to do better (and more equitably) in the future.
Portland’s greenhouse gas emissions increased by 440,000 tons per year, instead of decreasing as called for in its 2015 plan.
Increased driving due to cheap gas has wiped out all the city’s climate progress in other sectors in the past five years.
We’re frequently told that when it comes to dealing with climate change, if our national government doesn’t step up (and it hasn’t under the current administration), not to worry, because the nation’s cities, and the mayors who lead them are as green as can be.
To be sure, mayors have loudly proclaimed their commitments to (future) greenhouse gas reductions, and fealty to the Paris Climate Accords, but rhetoric and pledges are one thing, and lower rates of carbon emissions are another. While plans are nice, we really need to be focusing on the results that the plans are producing.
When it comes to Portland, one of the self-proclaimed leaders of North American climate change cities, the results are disappointing, and the explanations are, at best, disingenuous.
Portland was one of the first cities in the US, to adopt and explicit grenehouse gas reduction goal in 1993.  The city’s website boasts:

Portland is tackling climate change head on. We were the first US city to adopt a carbon reduction strategy in 1993, and our cutting-edge Climate Action Plan put us on a path to reducing emissions by 80% in 2050.

Noble and far sighted, to be sure, but a quarter of a century later, how is the city doing in actually, you know, reducing greenhouse gases?
The answer to that question is supposed to be spelled out in a progress report on the the city’s adopted 2015 Climate Action Plan. The city’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability last month published “final” report card on the city’s efforts. But rather than being an honest report card, the document amounts to the bureaucratic equivalent of a third-grade participation trophy. The city congratulates itself for its efforts, but the true test of progress, a reduction measured in tons of carbon emissions, shows the plan has been a failure.

The  city’s “Final Progress Report” almost completely glosses over the failure to cut emissions modestly in the past five years, and now the City has quickly moved on to a much more ambitious interim goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 1990 levels (up from 40 percent), in its new Climate Emergency Declaration.
Let’s get to the heart of the matter:  The key element on the plan is reducing emissions.  Here’s the report’s summary of our progress:

The 2018 data also shows that carbon reductions have started to plateau and that current emissions trends are not sufficient to meet the needed reduction targets that need to be achieved. To achieve the goal of a 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 as identified by climate science, local emissions must be reduced by an additional 31% in the next 10 years. This is a daunting task.

Actually, the report doesn’t present the actual emissions data; instead, it links to another report (the September 2019 report we wrote about here) that has the  data, and that report includes data only through 2017.
A checklist isn’t a climate strategy
The bulk of the city’s self-congratulatory report card consists of describing a laundry list of 247 actions that were mentioned in the previous climate action plan, and briefly rating each as either complete, on track or “facing obstacles.  The actions include sweeping and important policies that would make a big difference (like Item 1H: carbon pricing, which is “facing obstacles), and administrivia, like planning for actions with minimal benefits (“Item 6B: explore options intelligent transportation system, complete).  Nothing in the report calculates or categorizes the impact of any of these individual actions on the region’s greenhouse gas reduction progress (or lack thereof).
Wow! 77% of 247 Actions are on track: But the one indicator that matters—carbon emissions—is going in the wrong direction. (Portland Climate Action Plan Report, 2020).
Put another way:  If you successfully implemented all or most of your checklist actions, and you’re not making progress on reducing GHG, then something is fundamentally wrong with your plan.
Plans have to be accountable, not just for endless checklists of busy-work tasks, but actually achieving measurable results. Ironically, the plan itself calls for more measurability, but as noted above, it simply failed to report the annual data showing that by the CAP’s own metrics, that its failing.
It’s the equivalent of a grade-school participation trophy:  The City and County laud themselves for implementing about three-quarters of their 250 checklist items, but gloss over the fact that greenhouse gases, particularly from transportation are rising.
In 2013, the base year for statistics used in preparing the 2015 Climate Action Plan, Multnomah County’s total emissions were estimated at 7,260,000 tons.  According to the latest climate inventory (linked to, but not actually quoted in the progress report), the level of emissions in 2017 (the latest year for which data is available), were 7,702,000 tons. (We dig into the detail of these estimates below). Thus, Portland’s  total GHG are higher in 2017 than in 2013 according to the city’s own numbers, i.e. since Portland adopted the 2015 plan we’ve made zero (actually negative) progress.  The report spins this as “plateauing” but we all know that unless we make steady progress in reducing GHG, the task becomes exponentially more difficult in the years ahead.  Nobody would call having your 8th grader still reading at the 3rd grade level five years later as “plateauing.”
Mission unaccomplished
Its clear from the tone of the report card, that the City is simply walking away from its 2015 plan–even though its substantive goals haven’t been accomplished.  The title of the report is “Final Progress Report.”  All of the references to the plan are in the past tense, for example:

The Climate Action Plan was an important roadmap over the last five years to help ensure the City and County continued their progress toward carbon reduction goals. The 2015 Climate Action Plan broke important new ground by including several important elements:
(Report, page 65).

City officials promise accountability, but if they simply walk away from plans after five years, without seriously acknowledging their failure, and analyzing the reasons for that failure, and begin by writing a new plan, de novo, as the city now proposes, there is no accountability. Moreover, the city’s “final report” disappears the few bits of serious number-crunching that were done in the 2015 plan, showing that we’d need to dramatically reduce vehicle miles of car travel in order to achieve our carbon goals.
The 2015 plan was explicit about what would be needed.  It laid out a carbon budget that did the math on what we would have to do to reach our goals. Specifically:

For example, by 2030 emissions from the building energy and transportation sector must be approximately 40 percent below 1990 levels (see Table 1). In 2050, residents must be able to meet all of their needs while using 62 percent less electricity and driving 64 percent fewer miles than they do today (see Table 2). (This also assumes a shift to cleaner electricity sources and more efficient vehicles.)
Climate Action Plan, 2015, page 19

In place of tangible, measurable indicators of progress toward our stated goal, the City’s climate emergency declaration offers  vague exhortations about future process.
As they walk away from the 2015 plan, there’s as yet  no plan to take its place.  There are vague statements about process going forward, descriptions of how the city might do something else, but few if any actual policies.  The City’s Climate Emergency Resolution directs BPS, by the fall of this year to “co-convene a process” to “identify and implement strategies that will advance a shared solution.”

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that no later than Fall 2020, the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability is directed to work closely with other City bureaus, Multnomah County, frontline communities, and youth-led organizations to establish and co-convene a new and ongoing climate justice initiative that will provide a framework for government and community to work together as equal partners to identify and implement strategies that will advance a shared vision for climate justice and action;

But this new process and the plan it produces, and its specifics are in the future.  For now the city has simply closed the book on the 2015 plan, and awarded itself a participation trophy for having done so.
Portland’s 2015 Climate Action Plan has been an abject failure
Its important to look in detail at the data on carbon emissions in Portland for the past decade. They show that the city’s climate change efforts, so far, have failed.  In the three years prior to the adoption of the Climate Action Plan (2010 through 2013), the city managed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 250,000 tons per year; In the four years between the plan’s baseline and the latest available data, emissions have increased by 110,000 tons per year. In 2013, Portland GHG’s were 7.26 million tons; in 2017, they were 7.7 million tons, an annual increase of 1.5 percent per year, at a time the Climate Action Plan called for an annual reduction of 1.4 percent per year.
In the most basic sense, more greenhouse gas emissions mean your plan isn’t working. The plan characterizes this whopping failure as a “plateauing.”
It also conceals the failure by constantly referring to a 1990 baseline, rather than looking a recent trends (i.e. the past two, five or ten years).  In essence, the plan takes credit for emission reductions that happened in the two decades years before the 2015 plan was adopted (i.e. 1990 to 2010), and simply ignores the fact that Portland’s GHG are now going in the wrong direction.
Plateauing is a tacit admission of failure for a plan that depends on large and consistent reductions in emissions.  But, to be clear, emissions haven’t plateaued:  Portland’s total greenhouse gas emissions as calculated by the city, have risen by 440,000 tons between the CAP baseline year (2013) and the latest year for which data are available (2017).
It’s telling that the report includes no chart showing the needed path of emission reductions between now and 2030 or 2050.  Such charts are a staple of climate plans, including the 2015 CAP, which laid out this roadmap for GHG reductions:
The path laid out in Portland’s 2015 Climate Action Plan
If they’d replicated this chart, with data showing actual progress from 2013 to 2017, and showing their new, much more aggressive goal, it would look like this.
The 2015 Climate Action Plan, the 2020 Climate Emergency Declaration, and Reality
On this chart, the blue line shows actual emissions (as reported by the city), the 2015 plan (the orange line) and the 2020 Climate Emergency Goal (green line).  By 2017, in order to be on a path to achieving its 2030 goal, the City needed to reduce greenhouse gases by 25 percent below their 1990 levels; instead, as we’ve noted greenhouse gases rose, and were at 15 percent below 1990 levels.  The fact that the blue line is above the orange line shows the city isn’t meeting its previous goal.
And its worth noting just how much more ambitious the new goal of cutting emissions to 50 percent of 1990 levels by 2030 (and to zero net emissions by 2050) is.  The much steeper slope of the green line (the new climate emergency goal) implies a vastly bigger lift than the previous (2015) plan, the orange line. Meeting the 2030 goal will require more than twice as much annual reduction (110,000 tons vs 220,000 tons), each year, from now through 2030. The 2015 plan required that the City reduce its emissions by about 1.7 percent per year over 17 years to reach its goal of a 40 percent reduction; its new climate emergency declaration requires a 4.1 percent annual emissions reduction over the next decade to reach its higher 50 percent objective.
The city has raised the bar at exactly the time that its shown that its current efforts simply aren’t working. And unlike the 2015 plan, there’s no detailed calculation of how we’ll achieve this vastly greater level of emissions reductions. Recall that the 2015 plan said we’d need to cut driving in half to achieve a more modest goal over a longer period of time. If the city is serious about achieving this goal, as opposed to just posturing, its essential that they show how the goal can be reached. They haven’t.
What’s needed:  A laser like focus on reducing GHG from driving
The startling omission from the report is the fact that it’s been the increase in driving over the past five years that’s undercut our progress toward our stated climate change goals. The report neatly glosses over the fact that emissions, especially from transportation, are rising.  It presents one chart showing GHG in 2000 and in 2018 (the year of the latest GHG inventory) and omits data for individual years.

The City’s report  card makes it look as if very little has happened—the transportation emissions have gone up, and just a little  Leaving out the annual data conceals a much bleaker reality:  In the past five years, Portland has recorded huge increases in greenhouse gas emissions.  Here are the annual data from the independent, nationally-normed estimates prepared as part of the DARTE GHG inventory, showing the  Portland area’s greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. (These data are for the entire metropolitan area).

As we’ve noted before at City Observatory, the Portland made good progress until 2013, when increased driving due to cheaper fuel costs produced a surge in vehicle miles traveled and carbon emissions. Portland’s carbon emissions increased by 1,000 pounds per person annually between 2013 and 2018, more than wiping out all the other progress made in reducing greenhouse gases in other sectors.
Portland’s won’t make progress in reducing greenhouse gases until it finds a way to reduce vehicle miles traveled.  And it will need to reduce them substantially. As noted above, when it wrote the 2015 plan, the city did the math to figure out how big a reduction in driving would be needed.  Then, when transportation emissions were lower (and the city’s climate goals less aggressive) the city’s calculations showed we’d need a 62 percent decline in VMT. Our backsliding combined with a tougher goal means we’ll need to reduce driving even more to achieve the objective laid out in the Climate Emergency Declaration.
Dealing with climate change is a serious existential threat to humanity. Its good that the city is willing to acknowledge this, and that it has an important role to play in reducing greenhouse gases. This will be a challenging task, and it is not made easier by presenting reports that conceal fundamental failures to move forward, that hide key data and analysis that tell us where we really are, and which avoid accountability for failing to make meaningful progress toward our stated goals.

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