Urban Transformation

These are the cities with the biggest carbon footprints

A suspected illegal construction is seen covered by green plants atop a 19-storey residential building in Guangzhou, Guangdong province April 11, 2014. The suspected illegal construction, which takes up an area of about 40 square metres, was built 10 years ago. Local law enforcement department discovered the construction back in 2012, but have failed to find the owner since then, local media reported. REUTERS/China Daily (CHINA - Tags: CRIME LAW SOCIETY REAL ESTATE BUSINESS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA

Many of the world's most affluent cities have large carbon footprints. Image: REUTERS/China Daily

Emma Charlton
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Urban Transformation?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Cities and Urbanization is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Decarbonizing Energy

Tackling the global emissions problem might be more manageable than it first appears.

Thinking about worldwide production of greenhouse gases can boggle the mind and make the scale of the problem seem unfathomable. But a new study showing 18% of all global emissions come from just 100 cities demonstrates how local action can meaningfully reduce pollution.

Seoul in South Korea topped a list of carbon footprints of 13,000 cities compiled by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Guangzhou in China, with a population of 14 million, came second on the list, followed by New York City.

Image: Global Gridded Model of Carbon Footprints

Los Angeles, Singapore, Chicago, London and Dubai also featured in the top 20.

Concentrated power

Researcher Daniel Moran said he was surprised at how carbon footprints are concentrated into a small number of dense, high-income cities and affluent suburbs. And that might make curbing the absolute levels seem more achievable, with the power in the hands of a relatively small number of local mayors and governments.

Image: Global Gridded Model of Carbon Footprints

In more than half of the 187 countries assessed, the top three urban areas were responsible for more than 25% of all national emissions.

The worst offenders

On a per capita basis, Hong Kong topped the list, followed by Mohammed Bin Zayed City and Abu Dhabi in the UAE. Four Chinese cities made up the top 10 per capita, as well as the US cities of New Orleans and Detroit.

Hong Kong was the only city to appear in the top 10 on an absolute and per capita basis. It has responded to the Paris Agreement – which aims to ensure the global average temperature doesn't rise beyond 2°C, compared to the pre-industrial level – by setting out plans to lower carbon emissions by 2030.

And the new report could be interpreted as good news globally, after US President Donald Trump disappointed environmental campaigners by announcing the US withdrawal from the Paris accord. Still, some comfort may be drawn from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s report, which suggests mayors and citizens, rather than national governments, are on the frontline in the battle to stem emissions.

“The confluence of high concentration of global GDP and global carbon footprints augurs well for future development of innovative strategies to reduce footprints,” the researchers said. “The fact that carbon footprints are highly concentrated in affluent cities means that targeted measures in a few places and by selected coalitions can have a large effect covering important consumption hotspots.”

Have you read?
Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Urban TransformationEnergy TransitionNature and Biodiversity
Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

How cities can achieve net zero by targeting building emissions from design to demolition

Anu Devi and Ashiss Kumar Dash

June 18, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum