by Jill Carlson, Jenny Cooper and Marie Donahue

Cities across America and around the world are feeling the impacts of climate change, and in their long-term planning efforts should be incorporating climate change—both reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change—into their decision-making.

A key step in the development of such urban climate change policy—a climate action plan—is understanding how much greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions the city produces, and a baseline for these emissions. In other words, conduct a GHG inventory.

This week, Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice and the University of Michigan Center for Sustainable Systems published the first-ever comprehensive GHG inventory of Detroit, which was written by a team of University of Michigan graduate students from the School of Natural Resources & Environment and the Erb Institute (U-M students complete Detroit’s first comprehensive greenhouse gas inventory). The GHG inventory will serve as a critical component of the work of the Detroit Climate Action Collaborative, a grassroots multi-stakeholder effort to develop a climate action plan for the city of Detroit.

The GHG inventory accounts for emissions from six major activities in Detroit at the municipal government and the citywide scales: buildings and facilities, transportation, industrial processes, solid waste, and land use.  The full report is available here (pdf). A year-and-half in the making, the GHG inventory data collection and analysis included identifying GHG inventory protocols, data sources, and emissions activities in order to characterize GHG emissions at both the citywide and municipal government operations scales. To clarify methods, share how results could be interpreted, and provide an opportunity to discuss how Detroit’s baseline inventory could be improved in future iterations, the student team held multi-stakeholder workshops in Detroit, and worked closely with DWEJ throughout the process.

Cities are at the epicenter of both challenges and solutions to climate change, and the impacts of climate change are knocking on the doors of localities around the world. Sea level rise, heat waves, droughts, floods. While we need political action at all levels of governance to effectively address climate change, cities around the world operate on a timescale far quicker and with agility far greater than national governments or multilateral institutions: cities must be prepared for disasters and respond with immediacy. From Des Moines, Iowa to the Delta State in Nigeria, municipal governments are taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and find cost-savings through improving energy efficiency, in tandem with increasing resilience to climate change. Detroit should join the call to action, weaving climate change mitigation and adaptation into its long-term planning and decision-making processes in a manner that engenders justice and leverages energy efficiency to yield cost-savings.

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our times, but it also presents us with one of the greatest opportunities of our time—to bring together people from across the political, socio-economic, and racial spectrums to create resilient, efficient, and healthy communities. Our hope is that the first-ever GHG inventory for the city of Detroit will contribute to such efforts.

By Jill Carlson (MS ’14, School of Natural Resources & Environment),  Jenny Cooper (Erb MBA/MS ’15) Ross School of Business and School of Natural Resources & Environment),and Marie Donahue (MS ’14, School of Natural Resources & Environment)