Putting cities on a course of smart growth – with expanded public transit, energy-saving buildings, and better waste management – could save as much as $22tn and avoid the equivalent in carbon pollution of India’s entire annual output of greenhouse gasses, according to leading economists.
The Global Commission on Climate and Economy, an independent initiative by former finance ministers and leading research institutions from Britain and six other countries, found climate-smart cities would spur economic growth and a better quality of life – at the same time as cutting carbon pollution.
If national governments back those efforts, the savings on transport, buildings, and waste disposal could reach up to $22tn ($14tn) by 2050, the researchers found. By 2030, those efforts would avoid the equivalent of 3.7 gigatonnes a year – more than India’s current greenhouse gas emissions, the report found.
The finding upends the notion that it is too expensive to do anything about climate change – or that such efforts would make little real difference. Not true, said the researchers.
“There is now increasing evidence that emissions can decrease while economies continue to grow,” said Seth Schultz, a researcher for the C40 climate leadership group who consulted on the report.
“Becoming more sustainable and putting the world – specifically cities – on a low carbon trajectory is actually feasible and good economics.”
The report called on the world’s leading cities to commit to low carbon development strategies by 2020.
The findings, were released as the United Nations and environmental groups try to spur greater action on climate change ahead of critical negotiations in Paris at the end of the year.
The Paris meeting is seen as a linchpin of efforts to hold warming to 2C by moving the global economy away from fossil fuels to cleaner sources of energy.
The UN concedes the climate commitments to date fall far short of the 2C goal. But the strategies outlined in the report – some of which are being put into place already – would on their own make up about 20% of that gap, said Amanda Eichel of Bloomberg Philanthropies who also consulted on the report.
Two-thirds of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050, with Africa’s urban population growing at twice the rate of the rest of the world.
The right choices now, in terms of long-term planning for urban development and transport, could improve people’s lives and fight climate change, the report found.
Investing in public transport would make the biggest immediate difference, the report found. Air pollution is already choking the sprawling cities of India and China. Traffic jams and accidents are taking a toll on the local economy in cities from Cairo to Sao Paulo.
But building bus lanes, such as those rolling out in Buenos Aires, could cut commuting time by up to 50%, the report said.
Green building standards could cut electricity use, reduce heat island effects, and reduce demand for water. In waste management, biogas from waste could be harnessed as fuel to provide electricity to communities, as was already being done by Lagos in Nigeria and other cities.