Low carbon smart cities could save world $22tn, finds study

A study by independent initiative The Global Commission on Climate and Economy has found that the world could save $22 trillion – and cut carbon emissions to a level equivalent of India’s entire annual output of greenhouse gases – if national governments adopted efforts to turn their cities into low carbon smart cities.

The new Climate Economy report was backed leading research institutes from the U.K. and six other countries (including Sweden, South Korea and Norway), and concluded that savings on transport, buildings, waste disposal and heating could reach $22 trillion globally by 2050 if strategies outlined in the report are adopted.

These strategies would include investing heavily in public transport and freight planning in many of the world’s largest conurbations to cut emissions from private vehicles, and adopting stringent green building standards that would require a larger percentage of rooftops to be fitted with solar PV arrays, and buildings to be equipped with a battery storage system and smart demand response and monitoring software that better manages energy usage.

Heating retrofits would also be carried out at a rate of 1-4 to 3% of the building stock per year, beginning 2020. The third key step would be to increase recycling rates to 80% of recoverable materials by 2050, and for the proportion of methane captured to increase 5.5% annually in non-OECD countries, and 2.5% in OECD countries.

Recommendations in the report suggest cities commit to low-carbon urban development strategies by 2020 to set them on course to reach the stated goal of reducing global greenhouse gases by 3.7 Gt Co2e per year by 2030 – the equivalent of India’s current output.

As low-carbon innovation is adopted, carbon pricing falls and fossil fuel subsidies shrink, cost savings will soon begin to pile up, particularly among cities in developing countries where opportunities to make great strides in a short timeframe are vast.

"The steps that cities take to shrink their carbon footprints also reduce their energy costs, improve public health and help them attract new residents," said Michael R. Bloomberg, the UN Secretary-General’s special envoy for cities and climate change. "This report can help accelerate the progress cities are making in all of these areas, by highlighting smart policies and encouraging cooperation."

The report also urges governments to compel cities to commit to the Compact of Mayors, which is a global coalition of mayors and city officials who are committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in their cities. The coalition already boasts 130 cities representing 220 million people.

"Cities around the world are already leading the way in implementing sustainable and innovative urban solutions," said Rio de Janeiro mayor and chair of C40 Cities Eduardo Paes. "By sharing and scaling-up these best practices through international collaboration, cities can save money and accelerate global climate action."

The report also states that creative funding models can lower financial barriers to action, citing for every $1 invested in improving the creditworthiness of cities, in excess of $100 can be leveraged through private finance for low-carbon infrastructure upgrades. For every $1 million spent on project preparation, capital support for successful projects could reach between $20 – $50 million.