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Climate change mitigation potential of community-based initiatives in Europe

David M. Landholm, Anne Holsten, Federico Martellozzo, Dominik E. Reusser, Jürgen P. Kropp
Regional environmental change 2019 v.19 no.4 pp. 927-938
carbon footprint, climate change, emissions factor, empirical research, energy, greenhouse gas emissions, greenhouse gases, organic foods, pollution control, public services and goods, social cohesion, transportation, wastes, Europe
There is a growing recognition that a transition to a sustainable low-carbon society is urgently needed. This transition takes place at multiple and complementary scales, including bottom-up approaches such as community-based initiatives (CBIs). However, empirical research on CBIs has focused until now on anecdotal evidence and little work has been done to quantitatively assess their impact in terms of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In this paper, we analyze 38 European initiatives across the food, energy, transport, and waste sectors to address the following questions: How can the GHG reduction potential of CBIs be quantified and analyzed in a systematic manner across different sectors? What is the GHG mitigation potential of CBIs and how does the reduction potential differ across domains? Through the comparison of the emission intensity arising from the goods and services the CBIs provide in relation to a business-as-usual scenario, we present the potential they have across different activities. This constitutes the foundational step to upscaling and further understanding their potential contribution to achieving climate change mitigation targets. Our findings indicate that energy generation through renewable sources, changes in personal transportation, and dietary change present by far the highest GHG mitigation activities analyzed, since they reduce the carbon footprint of CBI beneficiaries by 24%, 11%, and 7%, respectively. In contrast, the potential for some activities, such as locally grown organic food, is limited. The service provided by these initiatives only reduces the carbon footprint by 0.1%. Overall, although the proliferation of CBIs is very desirable from a climate change mitigation perspective it is necessary to stress that bottom-up initiatives present other important positive dimensions besides GHG mitigation. These initiatives also hold the potential of improving community resilience by strengthening local economies and enhancing social cohesion.