Climate data (everything possible/Shutterstock.com)

Bringing better data to local climate action planning

A cloud-based tool lets communities inventory and calculate their greenhouse gas emissions to make data-driven climate action plans.

ClearPath, created by ICLEI, a nonprofit with more than 1,750 members worldwide, enables users to track current and predict future emissions usage.

“The ClearPath tool makes it straightforward to go sector by sector, system by system, in the city and quantify emissions,” said Kale Roberts, senior program officer for network relations at the organization’s U.S. regional office. “After a city or town or county has a greenhouse gas inventory, then they can build on that data and forecast how emissions will change into the future -- projecting emissions will hopefully decrease or increase out to 2030, out to 2050 or any year in between.”

The tool has four modules: inventory, forecasting, planning and monitoring. The inventory module has two accounts -- community-scale and government operations -- that calculate emissions using several protocols that help measure output from businesses, residents and transportation along with emissions from government buildings, facilities and vehicles. Users enter data manually and get post-calculation reports as visualizations and exports in .csv form.

With the forecasting module users can develop detailed energy and emissions forecasts either from scratch or by connecting to a completed inventory, and the planning module lets them apply reduction measures to visualize their impact on the emissions forecast in real time. Monitoring lets communities track the measures they put in place using the planning module so they can see what’s working and what’s not.

“The ClearPath tool has calculators built in to quantify the emissions-reduction potential for those actions,” Roberts said. “It can add them all up -- the many dozens of things a city could do to create a menu of climate action planning opportunities and do this comparative analysis: Which actions are going to deliver the most emissions reductions for the cost of the project?”

For instance, cities can see what their emissions profile will look like in 10 years if they continue to use gasoline- or diesel-based vehicles vs. switching to hybrid or electric ones, or what adding 1 mile of bike lanes per year will do to their carbon footprint.

In Park City, Utah, Sustainability Manager Celia Peterson uses ClearPath to measure municipal and community electricity and gas outputs from buildings, transit and the water treatment system.

Peterson uses ClearPath to generate the detailed reports  that pull together electricity usage, all of the different emissions and convert the data into carbon equivalents  and energy equivalents. "Having all of that data right at your fingertips and summarized is super helpful when it comes to the real analysis that needs to happen,” she said. “Tracking data is great, but figuring out what to do with that data is important.”

For instance, between the 2017 and 2018 municipal report, Peterson said Park City's emissions footprint rose, which looks bad out of context. But the reason for the increase is that as the city works to electrify its public transit fleet, renewable electricity won’t be available until 2022. As a result, public transit will be carbon-heavy until the renewables come online, and then it will drop to 0 so “an investment in the future is a good way to explain it,” she said.

Fort Collins, Colo., uses ClearPath to archive greenhouse gas data, which facilitates reporting requirements to organizations such as the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy. “ClearPath acts as a backup repository of data, storing the data on a cloud software for city staff to easily access without handling multiple file versions,” according to an organization report.

Kirkwood, Mo., created a greenhouse gas inventory in ClearPath that has helped the city secure financial and other support for sustainability projects such as getting wind energy from the Missouri Utility Alliance.

ClearPath Pro, including the full suite of modules and technical assistance, is available for free to ICLEI members, which pay $600 to $8,000 in annual dues based on population size. ClearPath Basic, which includes the community-scale inventory module, is free to any local government that joins the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy.

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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