Studies Identify Cities As Low-Lying Fruit In Effort To Slow Climate Change

Population growth is hard to project, but demographically it’s clear that we’re growing more in cities than in the countryside, and Graham Floater of the London School of Economics says that cities will absorb roughly two-thirds of the world’s population growth over the next 20 years.

“If this rapid urban growth is managed badly, we face a world of sprawling, inefficient, polluted cities – and a major climate change risk,” says Floater, who is also director of cities research for the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, which this week released five studies designed to provide real-world examples of how to achieve better patterns of urbanization and highlight how cities can grow their economies while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

One of the case-studies focuses on the city of Lima, which next week hosts global climate negotiations. Lima currently has over 7 million inhabitants and is one of the fastest growing cities in Latin America. Without further action it will see substantial increases in energy bills, which will be bad for the poor, and more greenhouse gas emissions, which will be bad for the climate.

“The challenge of supporting economic growth and tackling climate change will be met in the world’s cities,” said Lima Mayor Susana Villarán. “Investing in public transport is good for citizens, good for business and good for the climate. This study shows that it is in the economic interest of the city and of its people to build better. Clear leadership is now needed to make this vision a reality.”

The Lima study shows that through effective investments in transport Lima can reduce its carbon emissions by 15% by 2025 while saving citizens US$1.1 billion per annum in energy bills. If done well, these investments would be paid back in less than 3 years, building on the improvements already implemented in the city.

There is real potential for similar savings across major cities:

  • The world’s 724 largest cities could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 1.4 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent annually by 2030 through better, more efficient transport systems. This is greater than the annual emissions of Japan.
  • Adopting low-carbon technologies – such as new building technologies and electric buses – across 30 megacities could create more than 2 million jobs, while avoiding 3 billion tonnes of cumulative greenhouse gas emissions.

Progress is already being made around the world:

  • Curitiba in Brazil has accommodated a threefold increase in population since the 1960s while achieving per capita greenhouse gas emissions 25% lower and gasoline consumption 30% lower than the national average.
  • In Europe, Stockholm reduced emissions by 35% from 1993 to 2010, but grew its economy by 41%. Car ownership in London decreased 6% from 1995 to 2011, while the city’s economy grew by 40%. 
Business-as-usual urbanization is creating huge economic and social costs:
  • Traffic congestion for example costs 3.4% of GDP in Buenos Aires and 2.6% in Mexico City. In Beijing, the social costs of motorised transport, including air pollution and congestion, are as high as 15% of GDP.
  • Urban sprawl in the United States adds some US$400 billion in extra costs each year, as a result of greater infrastructure, public service delivery and transport costs.
  • Alarmingly, 86% of cities currently exceed World Health Organisation guidelines for outdoor air pollution, leading to 730,000 premature deaths.

Read the studies here:

Steve Zwick

I edit Ecosystem Marketplace, which is a news service focused on environmental finance. With this blog, I hope to offer coverage that is a bit lighter and more holistic than what we offer on EM.

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