What metrics best reflect the energy and carbon intensity of cities? Insights from theory and modeling of 20 US cities

Anu Ramaswami, Abel Chavez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Three broad approaches have emerged for energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) accounting for individual cities: (a) purely in-boundary source-based accounting (IB); (b) community-wide infrastructure GHG emissions footprinting (CIF) incorporating life cycle GHGs (in-boundary plus trans-boundary) of key infrastructures providing water, energy, food, shelter, mobility-connectivity, waste management/sanitation and public amenities to support community-wide activities in cities - all resident, visitor, commercial and industrial activities; and (c) consumption-based GHG emissions footprints (CBF) incorporating life cycle GHGs associated with activities of a sub-set of the community - its final consumption sector dominated by resident households. The latter two activity-based accounts are recommended in recent GHG reporting standards, to provide production-dominated and consumption perspectives of cities, respectively. Little is known, however, on how to normalize and report the different GHG numbers that arise for the same city. We propose that CIF and IB, since they incorporate production, are best reported per unit GDP, while CBF is best reported per capita. Analysis of input-output models of 20 US cities shows that GHGCIF/GDP is well suited to represent differences in urban energy intensity features across cities, while GHGCBF/capita best represents variation in expenditures across cities. These results advance our understanding of the methods and metrics used to represent the energy and GHG performance of cities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number035011
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2013
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


  • carbon accounting
  • cities
  • consumption
  • energy efficiency
  • greenhouse gas accounting
  • infrastructure
  • metrics


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