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ICLEI Releases First National Standard for Measuring a Community’s Carbon Footprint

by Don Knapp

Today the first-ever U.S. national standard for how to measure and report the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with communities was released by ICLEI–Local Governments for Sustainability USA (ICLEI USA). The U.S. Community Protocol for Accounting and Reporting of Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Community Protocol) changes the game for U.S. cities and counties. It is a much-needed resource to help more local governments reduce their communities’ carbon emissions.

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The Community Protocol simplifies and standardizes the technical guidance necessary to complete a greenhouse gas emissions inventory. This allows local governments to gain a clearer understanding of which sources and activities within their communities—from power generation and passenger vehicles to livestock and solid waste treatment—are most responsible for the greenhouse gases driving climate change.


A Major Step Forward for Cities and Counties

“The Community Protocol fills a huge void for local governments and resolves longstanding confusion on GHG reporting,” said Michael Schmitz, ICLEI USA Executive Director. “With a consistent standard in place, local governments can more clearly measure and report carbon emissions, evaluate climate progress, and compare results. Cities and counties are already the national leaders on climate action. This national standard will make it easier for even more local governments to get started on actions to lower their emissions.”

“ICLEI USA is proud to release this groundbreaking resource, which builds on more than a decade of guidance we’ve provided to local governments,” added Schmitz. “ICLEI is the recognized leader in local climate action, but we didn’t develop the Community Protocol on our own: We did it in close collaboration with leading local governments. This approach proves the power of our network of more than 1,000 cities, towns, and counties worldwide, who are sharing solutions and best practices to accelerate sustainability success.”


Telling the Story of a Community’s Carbon Footprint

The Community Protocol incorporates a range of new innovations in GHG accounting. But its greatest appeal is its flexibility. Local governments just beginning their climate action work can follow its basic methodology and minimum reporting requirements, while more advanced cities can also choose to report a wider set of GHG activities or conduct a deeper analysis, following the lead of trailblazing local governments like Seattle and King County, WA.

"The Community Protocol recognizes that there is no one way to tell a community's carbon story," said Garrett Fitzgerald, the Community Protocol's Steering Committee Chair, and Sustainability Coordinator for the City of Oakland, CA. "For example, some local governments may want to focus on emissions they have the most influence over. Others may want to motivate their residents to take action on a broader set of carbon emissions. The Community Protocol will help local governments to frame their reporting based on their goals."


Why Measuring GHG Emissions Is Key

Getting a clear picture of the sources and activities that generate a community’s carbon emissions is invaluable. A local government can use this information to set achievable GHG emissions reduction goals, and draft a climate action plan with targeted strategies, following ICLEI’s proven Five Milestones for Climate Mitigation process, which more than 800 U.S. local governments have utilized. Over time, a local government can re-measure its emissions to gauge progress, and the Community Protocol’s clear guidance makes this action easier. The Community Protocol also more easily facilitates comparing carbon footprints between different communities, and will set the stage to more accurately track local government trends nationally.


A Thorough Development Process for a Rigorous New National Standard

“Deep collaboration among ICLEI staff, a steering committee of leading local government and sustainability experts, and six technical advisory committees has resulted in this state-of-the-art national standard,” said Brian Holland, ICLEI USA’s Climate Programs Director. “Local government staff and sustainability consultants can have confidence that the Community Protocol reflects the consensus of leading experts in the field.”

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