Cities can effectively fight against climate change by focusing on improving residential building practices, according to a recent MIT study.

Averaged across the 11 metro areas in the study, residential energy conservation mandates could reduce residential carbon dioxide emissions in 2030 by an average of 30 percent over 2010 levels. Also, reducing emissions from residential energy may also be easier for cities than reducing emissions from local transportation, according to the study.

“Our take-home message is that cities can do a lot at the local level with housing stock,” says David Hsu, an assistant professor in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning, and one of three co-authors of a new paper detailing the study’s findings. “In transportation, cities can’t make up for the loss of a national strategy.”

With uncertainty on combating climate the national level, many cities are look at ways to create their own plans. The MIT study, “Intersecting Residential and Transportation CO2 Emissions,” which was published online in the Journal of Planning Education and Research, analyzed how local policies could reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Researchers examined economic, environmental, and demographic data from 11 major U.S. cities, then developed models projecting emissions through the year 2030.

The study found that requiring new homes to be more energy efficient would reduce residential emissions by about 6 percent by 2030. Also, requiring existing homes to be retrofitted for greater energy efficient would provide another 19 percent reduction in residential greenhouse emissions.

Trimming such emissions could be significant. About 20 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions are from housing, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Researchers also found differences among the 11 cities studied. For example, requiring newly built homes to be more energy efficient would reduce residential emissions by 10 to 13 percent in Houston and Phoenix, but only by 3 to 5 percent in Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, and Philadelphia.

“We’re trying to be hopeful,” Hsu says. “It’s really just about getting planners to think about what makes sense in their market. There’s not going to be a policy idea that works everywhere equally. If you have a fixed amount of time and political capital and focus, you should do the most efficient thing.”

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