Realising net zero cities

Local governments play a crucial role in supporting their communities to reduce their climate change impacts.  Globally, over 9,000 cities and local governments have joined the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, committing to an inclusive, low-emission and climate-resilient future.

The Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories provides the framework for local governments to measure and monitor their progress.  However, local governments have struggled to use this framework effectively and consistently.  Australia’s commitment under the Paris Agreement to reach net zero emissions by 2050 can only be achieved when governments understand community emissions and plot a pathway of actions towards net zero emissions.

In Australia, just eight of the 26 local governments that have signed up to the Global Covenant of Mayors have published a community inventory on one of the two global reporting registers – the carbonn Climate Registry and CDP (formerly Climate Disclosure Project).  Even fewer cities can use their most recent inventory to report on progress or compare their progress to other cities. And while more than 80 local governments across Australia have taken a first step to understand their community greenhouse gas profile, integrating this information into council planning is still not common.

A lack of granularity of data is the main barrier to councils’ ability to meet their commitments to the Global Covenant of Mayors.  Many community inventories rely on modelled data or state-wide data scaled down to the local government area. As a result, these inventories do not allow any meaningful comparisons over time or between cities. And while a council’s first community emissions profile can reveal interesting insights into where to focus their emissions reduction efforts, future emissions inventories will generally be unable to monitor the progress of specific strategies.

To overcome these barriers, local governments need to:

  • measure and monitor major emissions sources using public data, where available
  • advocate for greater data availability and granularity from third parties (e.g. electricity and gas distributors; freight transport providers)
  • make better use of robust representative survey data (e.g. traffic surveys)
  • supplement this data with meaningful indicators to understand how they can influence emissions.

Local governments must also regularly assess their progress in reducing community emissions to gauge if current actions will meet their commitments.  By setting and communicating a clear path to net zero emissions, local governments will affirm their position as global leaders in climate mitigation.

Overcoming these barriers will give local governments a deeper understanding of their community emissions that can be monitored over time. This in turn will allow councils to develop more robust pathways towards net zero emissions.

For more information on community inventories, please contact Brett McKay at