Preparing a City for the Future

You can imagine the complexities involved when a major city charts a course to reduce greenhouse gas emissions beyond regulatory requirements. The dependencies include public transportation, waste removal, car usage, infrastructure—just about every activity within a dense urban area. A strategic balance of reducing usage, encouraging technological innovation, and changing behaviors is required.

Burk was uniquely suited to help the city put a comprehensive plan together, and there was real urgency behind it, since the city was on course to be more than 50 percent above its emissions target by 2030. The Burk team leveraged the innovative “carbon economics tool,” which was designed by us precisely for assessing multifactorial impacts of this kind, based on a combination of cost effectiveness, feasibility, and impact. This remarkable computational engine enabled the Burk team to determine that through a combination of behavioral and technological measures, the city might be able to abate 2.5 million tons of CO2 or more per year by 2030—on top of its already ambitious “business as usual” target.

The results were encouraging. Overall, the assessment of cost effectiveness, feasibility, and impact showed that the city could make a number of “no regrets” moves, including implementing building retrofits, introducing variably priced parking, and increasing recycling and composting. Other measures would require further analysis of economic and other impacts as well as benefits such as health, safety, and productivity, while some measures needed pilot projects to test their effectiveness. Burk’s work left the city with a direction for implementing a bold strategy to attain its targets, and become a global model for urban transformation.