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Low-carbon investments could save cities US$17 trillion by 2050, report says

Urban centres poised to reap the benefits of emission-cutting infrastructure



WASHINGTON—Cities that invest in low-emission transport, buildings and waste management could be reaping cumulative rewards of US$17 trillion by 2050, according to a New Climate Economy report. The investments could also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 3.7 gigatons of carbon dioxide per year by 2030, a figure that exceeds the current annual emissions of India.

“The steps that cities take to shrink their carbon footprints also reduce their energy costs, improve public health, and help them attract new residents and businesses,” Michael Bloomberg, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change, said. “This report can help accelerate the progress cities are making in all of these areas.”

The report recommends cities commit to low-carbon urban development strategies by 2020 as well as create a global coalition of mayors and city officials pledging to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions, enhance resilience to climate change, and track their progress more transparently. Citing several examples of cities already in transition, the report points to Johannesburg’s Bus Rapid Transit system, which has saved the city slightly less than $1 billion in its first phase, as well as Singapore’s “Green Mark” building program, which could save the city $400 million.

The report also noted policy instruments and innovative financing can help cities overcome barriers to action.

“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 says.

In addition, while $17 trillion would no doubt translate to significant individual savings, if complementary national policies were put in place, such as support for low-carbon innovation, reduced fossil fuel subsidies, and carbon pricing, the report says cities could add as much as $22 trillion to their coffers.

“$17 trillion in savings is actually a very conservative estimate,” Nick Godfrey, head of policy and Urban Development at the New Climate Economy and an author of the report, said, “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.”

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