Towards Carbon Neutral Communities
For a challenge as daunting as climate change, it is critical that action be taken at every level

Deepti Gumber       

Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs is called Sustainable Development. Besides the commonly used economic indicators of well-being, the social, environmental and institutional indicators have also to be taken into account to arrive at a broader, more complete picture of societal development.

Climate change is one of the most significant sustainable development challenges facing the international community. It has implications not only for the health and well-being of the Earthís ecosystems, but also for the economic enterprises and social livelihoods that we have built upon this base. The average global temperature is rising sharply. Humans are contributing to the greenhouse effect by emitting greenhouse gases (GHGs) that trap energy and warm the atmosphere. In fact, emission of Greenhouse Gases is an important indicator of Sustainable Development.

The combustion of fossil fuels (oil, natural gas and coal) to generate electricity for industries, households; and other human activities, such as transportation and deforestation, are the primary reasons for increased concentration of these gases in the atmosphere. The energy sector is responsible for about three-fourth of the carbon dioxide emissions, one-fifth of the methane emissions and a large quantity of nitrous oxide.

Creative responses based on research, shared knowledge and the involvement of people at all levels is required to meet the challenge posed by climate change. There are many functional projects focusing on GHG emission reduction from the industries but community level initiatives are lacking in this regard. The carbon footprint of the community could be measured and steps taken at the individual as well as community level to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions significantly.

Active participation of public in the improvement of the city, right from the stage of planning to implementation, can have far reaching benefits. Public-private partnerships are a good approach wherein government, private and civil society pool their resources and skills to address the urban environmental challenges.

A personís carbon footprint is a representation of the effect he has on the climate in terms of the total amount of greenhouse gases he produces (measured in units of carbon dioxide). Many of our actions generate carbon emissions, which contribute to accelerating global warming and climate change. By measuring our carbon footprint, we could get a better sense of what our individual impact is and which parts of our lifestyle deserve the greatest attention. Armed with such information, we can take effective action more readily to shrink our carbon footprint, thereby minimizing our personal impact on the climate.

Measures could be taken to reduce oneís Carbon emission by concentrating on transportation, buildings, electricity and waste management. But for that, the foremost step is the assessment of our carbon footprint. For example, we can quantify the amount of carbon dioxide produced by transportation in the following manner.

Distance traveled
(in kms.)
  Mode of transportation   Approximate number of times in an year   CO2 produced

To office (to & fro)


car, bus / train




Mode of transport CO2 produced
  Car   0.22 kg. CO2 / km traveled
  Bus / Train   0.07 kg. CO2 / km traveled

We can reduce our carbon footprint by cutting down on our electricity requirement. Likewise, below mentioned are a few measures we can adopt to further reduce our GHG emissions.

Energy conservation measures

l reduced vehicle miles travelled
l reduced power consumption
l minimized use of private vehicles and car pooling
l improved driving practices (optimum speed)

Improved energy efficiency measures

l Adopting less polluting transport fuels  (For example, the adoption of CNG by the Delhi government as a fuel for buses and auto-rickshaws)
l Taking energy efficiency initiatives (e.g., adoption of energy efficient appliances like compact fluorescent lamps, energy efficient pumps, etc.)

Using standardized appliances

l Adopting renewable energy appliances (e.g., solar technologies use the sunís energy and light to provide heat, light, hot water, electricity, and even cooling for homes, businesses, and industry)

Replacing lights with LEDs (light emitting diodes) LEDs are used as indicator lights on all sorts of electronic devices and in moving-message panels. The advantage lies in attributes like low power requirement, high efficiency and the long life of an LED.

GHG emission nullifying measures
l Tree plantation - Trees absorb Carbon dioxide (CO2), the primary gas causing Global Climate Change.
l Composting Ė Instead of land filling & burning, the organic part of the municipal solid waste could be composted, which would not only prevent the emission of GHGs and other air pollutants but also produce a rich manure.
l Paper recycling - Manufacturing paper products from recycled materials is less energy intensive and associated with fewer GHG emissions than making them from virgin materials. For every tonne of fine paper recycled (rather than land filled), greenhouse gases linked to climate change are reduced by 4.8 tonnes of CO2 equivalent. In addition, recycling means less stress on the forests that act as CO2 sinks.

All the above measures account for other benefits besides greenhouse gas reduction, viz. conservation of natural resources and cost savings among others. The more efficient use of energy will result in less money spent on energy by homeowners, schools, government agencies, and businesses. The money that would have been spent on energy could instead be spent on consumer goods, education, services, and products.

Once we adopt the best practices for energy and resource conservation, we can ultimately aid the formulation of a policy framework. The policy framework can be defined by working closely with the local authorities and the CSOs. This could be initiated by setting up goals and identifying possible strategies that could be adopted by the concerned authorities to achieve carbon emission reduction at the community level. The idea is to create carbon neutral communities that contribute very little towards Global Warming with an aim to stimulate the efforts of the Government towards community energy efficiency. q

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