Low-carbon cities could spur savings of $16.6 trillion by 2050

Low-carbon actions and investments in cities could reduce GHG emissions by 3.7 Gt CO2e per year by 2030 and generate savings of $16.6 trillion by 2050, according to a new report released by The New Climate Economy.

The idea is that investing in public and low-emission transport, building efficiency, and waste management in cities will have short-term costs, but significant long-term benefits, even beyond the economic savings. Cities can become healthier, more livable, and more productive, while simultaneously decreasing GHG emissions. For example, investing in low-carbon transport has the added benefits of decreasing congestion, increasing accessibility, and improving air quality. As noted in the report, “cities have much to gain from adopting more compact, connected and efficient forms of development: greater economic productivity and appeal to investors, improved air quality and public health, reduced poverty and enhanced safety, and substantial avoided infrastructure and public service costs.”

Cities Today reports that this $16.6 trillion is likely even at the low range of potential savings, as Nick Godfrey, Head of Policy and Urban Development at the New Climate Economy, said, “US$17 trillion in savings is actually a very conservative estimate, because it only looks at direct energy savings generated from investment, which are a small proportion of the wider social, economic, and environmental benefits of these investments.” This means that savings for cities could eventually be much higher.

While the economic case alone is compelling, support from international organizations can amplify and accelerate action.

International collaboration and cooperation, from organizations like C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, and global frameworks like the Compact of Mayors, help with knowledge-sharing, capacity-building, and increasing access to finance for low-carbon development, thereby in accelerating action and enabling cities to take action.

The Compact of Mayors can provide the framework to track actions moving forward. As the biggest cooperative effort among global city networks, with over 2000 cities, it aims to drive aggressive climate actions in cities through public reporting of cities’ GHG data, thereby enhancing transparency, accountability, and credibility of climate action in local and subnational governments. Under the Compact, city networks invite members to report their mitigation and adaptation commitments, emissions inventories, and actions. Successful and effective projects gain visibility and can then be implemented by other cities.

In The New Climate Economy report, The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate recommends taking advantage of this knowledge and opportunity to accelerate low-carbon development in the world’s cities: “All cities should commit to developing and implementing low-carbon urban development strategies by 2020, using where possible the framework of the Compact of Mayors, prioritizing policies and investments in public, non-motorized and low-emission transport, building efficiency, renewable energy and efficient waste management.”

The Commission furthermore recommends that international community should develop an integrated package of at least US$1 billion for technical assistance, capacity building and finance to support commitments by the world’s largest 500 cities.


(Image: the city scapes of Dhaka, as seen from flight. Sandeep Menon Photography/Flickr)