Copenhagen aimed too high. Too close, rather. The Danish capital wanted to become the first in the world to become carbon neutral in 2025. But over the summer, the city’s mayor Sophie Hæstorp Andersen agreed that thethe goal was not achievable. “That doesn’t mean we won’t get there in 2026, 2027 or 2028,” she said, adding that Copenhagen had reduced its CO2 emissions by 80% since 2009. Others, in its wake , followed the same cautious path.
Last week, Edinburgh said he was on the right track but kept a certain reserve: the objective of achieving “climate neutrality” in 2030 will depend “on what will happen in the next two years”. In Rome, the head of the climate department of the municipality said that this same deadline would be very complicated to meet. “I’m not going to contradict my colleagues”, points out Yann Françoise, deputy director and head of the Climate division of the city of Paris. “We didn’t apply at first,” he says, referring to the european mission launched in September 2021 and aiming to make 100 cities on the continent “climate neutral” and “smart” by the end of the decade.
Paris was selected alongside eight French cities (Lyon, Marseille, Dunkirk, and the cities of Angers, Bordeaux, Dijon, Grenoble and Nantes) to be part of this program. EU support includes, among other things, tailor-made advice, support and the possibility of applying for additional funding. Cities need it, as the stakes are high: 75% of EU citizens live in an urban area, and these consume more than 65% of the energy produced and represent 70% of CO2 emissions. The ecological and energy transition cannot take place without them. But if the Danish capital, which is nevertheless a leader in terms of decarbonization, delays its objective, can the other cities really respect their commitment?
“It will be wrong to claim to be carbon neutral”
“It’s not feasible”, summarizes Floriane Ortega, in charge of climate strategy at the Setec organization design office. “But I prefer that we set ambitious goals. Above all, this project makes sense, in a context where emissions continue to increase after the Covid-19 epidemic and with the current energy crisis”, she continues. . “I do not see how even one of these European cities could become carbon neutral in 2030”, continues Philippe Ciais, researcher at the Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences (LSCE). This commitment is seen more as a way to get on a good trajectory than an absolute aim. “It’s an accelerator for the transition, a pretext for sharing knowledge”, confirms Yann Françoise, from the Paris Climate cluster. Because several pitfalls make it unattainable.
One of them concerns the lexicon used. In the eyes of the IPCC, the terms “carbon neutrality” and “net zero” are interchangeable: they refer to the level at which greenhouse gas emissions generated by human activities are balanced by anthropogenic removals. Except that no strict definition existed, neither of them, before the Paris agreement. The concept of carbon neutrality was – and may still be – subject to different interpretations. The idea of compensation via carbon credits, often to finance international projects, is for example very common there. “There is always a distinction between the notions of the scientific community and how the market uses them,” says Floriane Ortega.
“Neutral in what, on what?”
In addition, she adds, the European Commission refers in its project to two minimum emission segments (scopes 1 and 2). It therefore leaves it up to the goodwill of cities to apply the third, in which are classified indirect emissions, which represent the majority of total emissions. “These are those, for example, of tourists who have come to visit Paris, explains researcher Philippe Ciais. I don’t see how to delete them.” Which makes Floriane Ortega say “that by using a biased methodology, the objective may be achievable in France. But it will be wrong to claim to be carbon neutral”.
This is one of the arguments put forward by Yann Françoise, from the city of Paris, to recall the skepticism of the municipality when applying for the project. “Neutral in what, on what?” he asks. The fields of action are again difficult to transpose from one city to another, each being dependent on its urbanization, past and present government policies… Paris, a dense city where there are many public transport networks, is not Berlin, which is much larger, nor Warsaw, which does not benefit from the French energy mix. And each one chooses to incorporate what it wants, depending on the skills they share with the other administrative levels. “Cities remain very open economic systems. It is complicated to set limits there. domain”, remarks Philippe Ciais.
“A positive competition”
The challenges, however, are not lacking: the renovation of buildings – which is one of the main sources of emissions for cities -, the decarbonization of transport, food autonomy… “On the first two subjects, there has a lot of inertia and it is expensive”, notes the LSCE researcher. This is the reason why the majority of actors – states, companies or cities – are rather counting on the horizon 2040, and especially 2050. The Paris Climate Plan, currently being revised, keeps this last objective for “build a carbon-neutral and 100% renewable energy city”. But “the ambitions for 2030 are maintained: go faster, more locally, more socially”, adds Yann Françoise. It remains to detail a roadmap. “Overall, the Climate plans are quite vague. They give an objective but not the recipe for achieving it”, regrets Philippe Ciais. He also points to another weakness of metropolitan areas: “the lack of tools to make a correct inventory of their emissions”. The Consortium NetZero Tracker has recently been alarmed. “Emission reduction promises made by these ‘non-state entities’ suffer from an overall credibility deficit,” he said. in an analysis.
If Hélène Chartier admits that this EU project of carbon neutrality in 2030 could have been defined in a clumsy way, she welcomes the ripple effect it can generate. “There is a positive competition between the actors. This creates a club of cities that stimulate each other”, observes the director of urban planning and architecture of the global network C40 Cities. The main objective remains, according to her, “to be aligned with that of the Paris agreement”, even if the latter seems increasingly out of reach. “Carbon neutrality is not, in any case, viable at the level of a city, concludes Anne Bringault, coordinator of the programs of the Climate Action Network (RAC). Let’s simply take the example of the absorption of carbon by plants. , trees… The only way to do that is to look at it globally.”