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Dense downtown living more carbon intense due to higher consumption : A case study of Helsinki

Heinonen, Jukka ; Kyrö, Riikka LU and Junnila, Seppo (2011) In Environmental Research Letters 6(3).
Abstract

Hindering urban sprawl is one of the main goals for contemporary urban planning. Urban density is considered crucial in climate change mitigation since it reduces automobile dependence and decreases unit sizes, for example. This letter analyzes the effect of density in a city context. In the study the Finnish capital Helsinki is divided into two areas of different urban densities: the high density downtown area and the more scarcely populated suburbs. The study is a continuation of a recently published study on the implications of urban structure on carbon emissions, and analyzes further the main finding of the first study - that higher urban density might have negligible or even reverse effect on the per capita carbon emissions.... (More)

Hindering urban sprawl is one of the main goals for contemporary urban planning. Urban density is considered crucial in climate change mitigation since it reduces automobile dependence and decreases unit sizes, for example. This letter analyzes the effect of density in a city context. In the study the Finnish capital Helsinki is divided into two areas of different urban densities: the high density downtown area and the more scarcely populated suburbs. The study is a continuation of a recently published study on the implications of urban structure on carbon emissions, and analyzes further the main finding of the first study - that higher urban density might have negligible or even reverse effect on the per capita carbon emissions. Similarly to the previous study, a consumption based tiered hybrid life cycle assessment (LCA) approach is employed in order to produce a comprehensive assessment, free of territorial boundaries and system cutoffs typical of traditional LCAs. Based on the findings of the previous study, it is hypothesized that when assessing city level carbon dioxide emissions from a wider, consumer oriented LCA perspective, increased urban density may not necessarily reduce carbon emissions. Surprisingly, the study finds that carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions are substantially higher in the dense downtown area than in the surrounding suburbs, which is suggested to imply that the increased consumption due to the higher standard of living increases emissions more than the higher density is able to reduce them. The results demonstrate that, while increasing urban density can be justified from a number of ecological, social and economic viewpoints, density is not necessarily a key parameter in the particular case of climate change. In cities like Helsinki, where wealth is concentrated in the downtown area, climate policies should give higher priority to the energy consumption of buildings, to alternative energy production and distribution modes, as well as to low carbon consumption within the city.

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Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:
author
; and
organization
publishing date
type
Contribution to journal
publication status
published
subject
keywords
carbon emissions, climate change, consumption, D variables, LCA, life cycle assessment, urban density
in
Environmental Research Letters
volume
6
issue
3
article number
034034
publisher
IOP Publishing
external identifiers
  • scopus:80053484406
ISSN
1748-9326
DOI
10.1088/1748-9326/6/3/034034
language
English
LU publication?
yes
id
2266bf37-e825-49f3-af1e-34785c383535
date added to LUP
2019-02-04 09:43:55
date last changed
2020-12-08 05:07:40
@article{2266bf37-e825-49f3-af1e-34785c383535,
  abstract     = {<p>Hindering urban sprawl is one of the main goals for contemporary urban planning. Urban density is considered crucial in climate change mitigation since it reduces automobile dependence and decreases unit sizes, for example. This letter analyzes the effect of density in a city context. In the study the Finnish capital Helsinki is divided into two areas of different urban densities: the high density downtown area and the more scarcely populated suburbs. The study is a continuation of a recently published study on the implications of urban structure on carbon emissions, and analyzes further the main finding of the first study - that higher urban density might have negligible or even reverse effect on the per capita carbon emissions. Similarly to the previous study, a consumption based tiered hybrid life cycle assessment (LCA) approach is employed in order to produce a comprehensive assessment, free of territorial boundaries and system cutoffs typical of traditional LCAs. Based on the findings of the previous study, it is hypothesized that when assessing city level carbon dioxide emissions from a wider, consumer oriented LCA perspective, increased urban density may not necessarily reduce carbon emissions. Surprisingly, the study finds that carbon dioxide equivalent (CO<sub>2</sub>e) emissions are substantially higher in the dense downtown area than in the surrounding suburbs, which is suggested to imply that the increased consumption due to the higher standard of living increases emissions more than the higher density is able to reduce them. The results demonstrate that, while increasing urban density can be justified from a number of ecological, social and economic viewpoints, density is not necessarily a key parameter in the particular case of climate change. In cities like Helsinki, where wealth is concentrated in the downtown area, climate policies should give higher priority to the energy consumption of buildings, to alternative energy production and distribution modes, as well as to low carbon consumption within the city.</p>},
  author       = {Heinonen, Jukka and Kyrö, Riikka and Junnila, Seppo},
  issn         = {1748-9326},
  language     = {eng},
  month        = {01},
  number       = {3},
  publisher    = {IOP Publishing},
  series       = {Environmental Research Letters},
  title        = {Dense downtown living more carbon intense due to higher consumption : A case study of Helsinki},
  url          = {http://dx.doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/6/3/034034},
  doi          = {10.1088/1748-9326/6/3/034034},
  volume       = {6},
  year         = {2011},
}