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Report:
Low-Carbon Cities a $17 Trillion Economic Opportunity

Investing in public and low emission transport, building efficiency, and waste management in cities could generate savings with a current value of $17 trillion by 2050, according to new research from the New Climate Economy, the flagship project of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate.

The report, Accelerating Low-Carbon Development in the World’s Cities, found that these low-carbon investments could also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 3.7 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent (Gt CO2e) per year by 2030, more than the current annual emissions of India.

With complementary national policies such as support for low-carbon innovation, reduced fossil fuel subsidies, and carbon pricing, the economic savings could be as high as $22 trillion.

The report recommends that cities commit to low-carbon urban development strategies by 2020. It also recommends cities commit to the Compact of Mayors, a global coalition of mayors and city officials pledging to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions, enhance resilience to climate change, and track their progress transparently.

More than 130 cities — representing more than 220 million people — already have committed to the Compact of Mayors and will be setting ambitious emissions reduction targets and reporting publicly.

Creative policy instruments and innovative financing can help cities overcome barriers to action, the report said. For every $1 invested in improving the creditworthiness of cities, more than $100 can be leveraged through private finance for low-carbon urban infrastructure. And every $1 million invested in project preparation could yield $20–50 million in capital support for successful projects.

The report offers some examples of cities that have achieved or can achieve economic benefits from green investments.

  • Bus Rapid Transit: The economic returns of Johannesburg’s Bus Rapid Transit system in its first phase were close to $900 million.
  • Building efficiency: Singapore’s “Green Mark” program, for instance, which aims to cover 80 percent of its buildings by 2030, could see a reduction in building electricity use of 22 percent and net economic savings of over $400 million.
  • Cycling: Copenhagen’s planned Cycle Super Highways are estimated to have an internal rate of return on investment of 19 percent per year.

The report also recommends that the international community should develop an integrated package of $1 billion or more over five years to help accelerate and scale up low-carbon urban strategies in at least the world’s largest 500 cities.

Rio de Janeiro recently became the first city in the world to reach full compliance with the Compact of Mayors. The city now has established a local greenhouse gas emission inventory using the Global Protocol for Community-scale GHG Emissions Inventory (GPC), the international “gold” standard for greenhouse gas emission reporting. It also is the first Brazilian city to complete a study on climate vulnerabilities.

In other city resilience news, the University of Minnesota in August received a $12 million dollar award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to bring together a network of scientists, industry leaders and policy partners committed to building better cities of the future. The network will connect across nine research universities, major metropolitan cities in the U.S. and India, as well as infrastructure firms and policy groups.

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