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Help communities share their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions data over the internet in a standardized machine readable format.



This proposal is to create a common, open set of technical standards for organizing and sharing community GHG emissions data.

Urban areas cover 2% of the Earth's surface, yet contribute approximately 70% of global GHG emissions. Cities are a critical driving force behind climate change.  Urban areas are also the principal setting in which climate mitigation* and adaptation solutions will emerge. 

We know we must measure what we want to manage. Thus, accurate and consistent GHG emissions data is needed to design local mitigation strategies and monitor their effectiveness:

  • Local governments need this data to design policies, codes and incentives.
  • Non-profits need this data to plan targeted outreach programs.
  • Entrepreneurs need this data to create innovative low-carbon businesses.
  • Academics need this data to advance urban climate science and policy research.


What’s the Problem: It is too difficult to access community GHG emissions data. For communities that have completed GHG emissions inventories, they often share results in a pdf inventory report. Although helpful, these static reports do not encourage resue and remixing of the raw GHG emissions data for new analyses or innovative uses. 

What’s the Solution: We should create a common, open set of technical standards for organizing and sharing community GHG emissions data. An open data standard is a set of rules in XML or other format that can be commonly implemented by software developers and data analysts. Agreement on an open standard protocol enables wider use and adaptation across software tools and allows the seamless and automated reporting of urban GHG emissions information to regulatory and planning agencies.

* Note: This is an urban mitigation proposal (rather than adaptation, as this contest is categoriezed).

Category of the action

Urban adaptation

What actions do you propose?

Creating an open data standard will help communities share the results of their community-wide GHG emissions inventory results with citizens, entrepreneurs, researchers and other cities.

Organizations such as ICLEI and WRI have established GHG accounting protocols, or "how-to" guides for community GHG inventories. These protocols outline which emissions sources should be incorporated and describe data gathering and calculation methodologies.  What these proposals don't do is provide an open data standard for easy online reporting.

Other organizations such as the Carbon Disclosure Project and the Climate Registry provide a venue for communities to disclose their GHG emissions. However, these city emissions data are not accessible to the general public as a bulk download or via API. 

An OpenGHG data standard would help link the GHG Accounting and GHG Reporting processes, making data transfer more efficient and timely. In addition, releasing open, standardized, machine-readable data could benefit multiple sectors that influence future GHG emissions, from policy-making to start up ventures to waste management, as illustrated by the diagram below.

openGHG diagram

Step 1: Organize an open and transparent venue to develop OpenGHG standards

Open data standards are  developed through a fair, transparent, collaborative process, and are available under an open source license. Open standards may apply to data formats, to the protocols and APIs that are used to pass around information, and to tool configuration. A public GitHub, Google Group, wiki or other platform should be established to discuss questions such as:

  • Which organizations and individuals should be involved?
  • Which Community GHG Accounting Protocol(s) should OpenGHG standards align with? (See References section)
  • What is a fair decision-making process for OpenGHG?
  • Who should be the owner/guardian of the community emissions profile? 
  • Where should communities openly disclose their GHG emissions profile?
  • Manage open source licensing and other legal issues.


Step 2: Develop an open data format for GHG emissions inventory results. 

If many different cities are publishing data about GHG emissions, it helps re-users of that data if they all publish the data using the same format. In general, reusing existing formats (such as using JSON or CSV rather than creating a custom text-based data format) helps re-users to take advantage of existing tooling.

The Open Data Institute recommends that "to be most useful, open data should be made available using a format defined in an open standard, for example as an XML, JSON or RDF format, and should be delivered over a protocol defined in an open standard, such as HTTP, as well as being licensed with an open license.” 

Step 3: Develop an open API for efficient sharing of community GHG data. 

API's help computers, websites, or applications talk to each other. Many have noted that the internet is moving towards an API-based model. 

How have open data standards enabled innovation in other fields? 

Transportation: The General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) defines a common format for public transportation schedules and associated geographic information.  A few city employees in Portland wanted to provide transit information to Google in a standardized format. A public-private partnership was born, and now over 380 transit agencies publish transit data using GTFS. A growing community of civic developers have released apps in cities across the US, often at no cost to the transit agency or to the traveler. Uses indclude: trip planning, maps, rideshring, mobile apps, timetable creation, data visualization, planning analysis. See list here.

Public Health: Developed in collaboration with the City of San Francisco and Yelp, the Local Inspector Value-entry Specification (LIVES) is an open data standard which allows municipalities to publish restaurant inspection information to Yelp or any other website. And now, any city can participate.

Who will take these actions?

This will need to be an interdisciplinary effort. We would need to bring sustainability analysts, local governments, utilities, and planning agencies together with information technology experts to create a useful data standard. A formal or informal organization could be formed to continuously assess, manage, and improve the data standard. Many open source software groups are managed by a non-profit entity with an elected board of directors.

The "open" in open data standard is a key distinction between this project and many other greenhouse gas emissions disclosure programs. To maximize innovation and participation, the creation and application of the data standard should be open to any interested individual or organization. Clearly defined principles, quality control and decision-making structures will be necessary. A creative commons or open source license should ensure that the data standard can be utilized by as many cities as possible at no cost. 

Where will these actions be taken?

The open data standard would be deployed globally. Climate change is a global issue, so the data standard would be useful in aggregating or analyzing GHG emissions data from cities across the world.

What are other key benefits?

What are the proposal’s costs?

Minimal costs are associated with voluntary open data standard efforts. Potential costs would include maintaining a website, legal costs, developing communications materials to disseminate information about the project.

Time line

Related proposals


Community-Scale GHG Inventory Protocols:

Resources on Open Data Standards:

Example Open Data Standards:

Research Articles on Urban Greenhouse Gas Inventories:

Kennedy, C., Steinberger, J., Gasson, B., Hansen, Y., Hillman, T., Havránek, M., Pataki, D., et al. (2010). Methodology for inventorying greenhouse gas emissions from global cities. Energy Policy, 38(9), 4828–4837. doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2009.08.050

Hillman, T., & Ramaswami, A. (2010). Greenhouse gas emission footprints and energy use benchmarks for eight US cities. Environmental science & technology, 44(6), 1902–1910. Retrieved from

Ramaswami, A., & Chavez, A. (2011). Two approaches to greenhouse gas emissions foot-printing at the city scale. Environmental science & …, 45, 4205–4206. Retrieved from

Chavez, A., & Ramaswami, A. (2013). Articulating a trans-boundary infrastructure supply chain greenhouse gas emission footprint for cities: Mathematical relationships and policy relevance. Energy Policy, 54, 376–384. doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2012.10.037

Peters, G. P. (2010). Carbon footprints and embodied carbon at multiple scales. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 2(4), 245–250. doi:10.1016/j.cosust.2010.05.004