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The basics


What is a greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory?

  • A GHG inventory is the tabulation of energy consumed, waste produced, and other emission sources from municipality facilities, or the municipality’s whole community, for a chosen analysis year, plus the use of agreed emission factors, to calculate a baseline from which the “size of the emissions issue” can be assessed.
  • It provides a starting point for measuring progress in achieving emissions reductions achieved from the implementation of local emissions reduction measures (or “actions”) – in this context it is called a Baseline Emissions Inventory (BEI).
  • Emissions Inventories that are conducted to follow on the BEI are called Monitoring Emissions Inventories (MEI). These are used to regularly check progress and monitor reductions achieved after the implementation of GHG measures – ideally either every year or at least every three years.


Why do local governments (LGs) need a GHG inventory? 

  • As a level of government responsible for a specific geographical area, Local Governments (LGs) – also called municipalities, local authorities, cities, and county councils – need a GHG inventory to assess the size of their emissions footprint.
  • A BEI also provides a starting point to measure progress toward emissions reductions achieved when implementing (emissions reduction) measures or “actions”.

Is it useful to split an inventory into one the local government operations and one for the whole community?

Yes, but it is also important to understand that these are also two components of a full inventory required for a municipality, determined by the geopolitical boundary of the jurisdiction, namely:

  • A “government operations” inventory – this provides a baseline and allows accurate measurement of results for measures involving municipal owned or operated buildings, facilities and vehicles. This government operations inventory uses data already held by the municipality, and so should be easy to produce.
  • A “community” inventory is the calculation (or estimation) of all emissions sources within the municipality’s geopolitical boundaries, i.e. within the whole local community.

The “government operations” inventory is always a sub-set of the “community” inventory.

Does a local government really need a greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory to engage in local climate and energy action?

  • Baselines are important for monitoring progress on any environmental project – to understand what you are comparing future developments against.  Energy efficiency and low carbon activities also fall into this category – you want to know where real GHG reductions are taking place, in addition to perhaps also monitoring other aspects such as local job creation, etc.
  • To ensure project effectiveness in this context, a credible and “verified” inventory will be needed. This is increasingly necessary, also to provide decision-makers and/or financial institutions with confidence that municipalities and private sector partners can deliver "investment grade" emissions reductions.  These will be essential if the EU is going to meet the goal of a 20 percent improvement in energy efficiency by 2020.
  •  Action can be started at any time, by anyone. So local climate and energy action can also be addressed without having a clear overview of the baseline GHGs released from the government operations and whole community – although this is not recommended.
  • An inventory can also be established retroactively, as it is based on historic energy and waste data. It is recommended that a BEI is conducted as soon as possible in the process as it also helps to identify problem areas or sectors where most GHGs are released – and thus to set targets.


1-2 facts: 

  • Research has shown that municipalities that have produced an inventory as part of a process make more consistent and sustainable emissions reductions than those that have not produced an inventory and are implementing ad hoc actions. Thousands of municipalities around the world have prepared GHG inventories. This was for example done as part of their involvement in ICLEI’s Cities for Climate Protection Campaign initiated in 1993. Many of the European CCP participants were the first to sign the Covenant of Mayors commitment, with many more cities and towns joining since its start in 2008 (now more than 1.400, as of July 2012).
  • It is possible to disconnect emissions from Gross Domestic Product (GDP), as shown by the case of Växjö in Sweden – which has economic growth and a continuous reduction trend of GHGs.


Are some emissions more important for local communities than others?

  • As far as the environment is concerned, all emissions are of equal value. Some have a higher global warming potential (GWP) than others.
  • Typically carbon dioxide (CO2) is one of the main GHGs addressed in an urban context, with methane (CH4) also important in those communities with landfill, agriculture, forestry, etc. Thus the context of the local government is a deciding factor in terms of which GHGs should be addressed.
  • The total operational emissions of a municipality are in the range between 3–10% of the total emissions of a community. However, it is important to understand that this can vary greatly depending on the nature of the municipality and the whole community (e.g. level of industrialisation, extent of ownership of infrastructure), and the types of public transport available.  While a municipality’s government operations emissions may be easier to directly control, it is reductions to community emissions that can make the most significant difference, even though these reductions may be more difficult to achieve as many more local stakeholders / actors are involved. It is essential to try to get the whole community – citizens, businesses and industry – on board in a concerted effort.

What can a GHG inventory be used for?

Conduct a baseline emissions inventory (BEI) to identify main problem areas. “Know where you want to go” - the local government has to define the direction and community development strategy.

  1. Use results to set emissions reduction target(s). This should include an overall GHG reduction target by a specific year (e.g. 20% GHG reduction by 2020, 80% by 2050) and ideally also broken down into sectoral targets (e.g. 10% GHG reduction in buildings by 2020, 5% in transport, etc..), also differentiating between renewable energy targets and energy savings / conservation targets.
  2. Understanding what will happen (purely from a mitigation perspective, not including the need for adaptation) if you do NOT deal with GHGs, by forecasting predicted emissions in future years under a “Business-as-Usual” scenario (e.g. for target year).
  3. Quantify the impact of reduction measures on emissions, energy use and cost – helping to assess resources needed for achieving targets and to implement actions.
  4. Monitor and keep track of emissions reductions progress and changes over time towards meeting targets, and to identify main problem areas.

Who can use this information?

  • Local governments: Identifying and dealing with GHGs throughout the whole community can be challenging, yet needs to be dealt with. A municipality usually has only a limited “influence” over the emissions of their community, except in areas such as land-use planning, provision of effective public transport, and the provision of district heating/cooling systems. But the influence of the municipality in this area can effectively be addressed and enhanced through energy advice services, building energy standards and codes, and general support for community energy efficiency programmes.
  • Sub-national governments: Typically this level supports a number of local governments in its region / area (e.g. province) – with joint GHG reduction planning making sense in most cases.
  • National governments: They need to conduct national GHG inventories, and the bottom-up data that can be provided from the local level can help to improve data quality checks.
  • Energy, transportation, land use, and waste disposal planners: They need to engage at a sectoral level, understanding where GHGs are released and how they can plan and influence reductions. They can in many cases also provide useful data for a GHG inventory.
  • Technical supporters of local governments: These could include universities, researchers, municipal consultants, Covenant Supporters (local government or thematic networks), and anyone interested in supporting to the GHG inventory development.
  • Local community: From citizens to NGOs, business and industry, all contribute GHGs and can support the production of an emissions estimate for their actions and operations in a location.

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