Quantifying carbon mitigation wedges in U.S. Cities: Near-term strategy analysis and critical review

Anu Ramaswami, Meghan Bernard, Abel Chavez, Tim Hillman, Michael Whitaker, Gregg Thomas, Matthew Marshall

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


A case study of Denver, Colorado explores the roles of three social actors-individual users, infrastructure designer-operators, and policy actors-in near-term greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation in U.S. cities. Energy efficiency, renewable energy, urban design, price- and behavioral-feedback strategies are evaluated across buildings-facilities, transportation, and materials/waste sectors in cities, comparing voluntary versus regulatory action configurations. GHG mitigation impact depends upon strategy effectiveness per unit, as well as societal participation rates in various action-configurations. Greatest impact occurs with regulations addressing the vast existing buildings stock in cities, followed by voluntary behavior change in electricity use/purchases, technology shifts (e.g., to teleconferencing), and green-energy purchases among individual users. A portfolio mix of voluntary and regulatory actions can yield a best-case maximum of ∼1% GHG mitigation annually in buildings and transportation sectors, combined. Relying solely on voluntary actions reduces mitigation rates more than five-fold. A portfolio analysis of climate action plans in 55 U.S. cities reveals predominance of voluntary outreach programs that have low societal participation rates and hence low GHG impact, while innovative higher-impact behavioral, technological, and policy/regulatory strategies are under-utilized. Less than half the cities capitalize on cross-scale linkages with higher-impact state-scale policies. Interdisciplinary field research can help address the mis-match in plans, actions, and outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3629-3642
Number of pages14
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 3 2012
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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