Cities’ roles in fighting climate change have been showcased in recent years. In July, mayors from around the world met at the Vatican to discuss climate change. Last year, a report from the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group found that, on their own, cities had the potential to cut 8 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. In August, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg wrote in Foreign Policy that cities are “key” to fighting climate change.
Many of the most important new initiatives of this century — from the smoking ban adopted in New York City to the bus rapid transit system pioneered in Bogotá have emerged from cities,” Bloomberg wrote. “Mayors are turning their city halls into policy labs, conducting experiments on a grand scale and implementing large-scale ideas to address problems, such as climate change, that often divide and paralyze national governments. Cities around the world have suffered severely from climate change and pollution, so it makes sense that some of them are starting to find new ways to tackle climate change. Dry weather and major air pollution has made Santiago, Chile home to some of the worst air in the world. Beijing, China also regularly suffers from dangerous air pollution while Superstorm Sandy hit New York City hard.
Making cities greener could save a lot of, well, green, according to a new report. The report, published Tuesday by the New Climate Economy, found that if cities around the world implemented certain carbon-reducing strategies — including making buildings more efficient and investing in public transportation they could save a combined total of $17 trillion by 2050. The report looked at actions such as “aggressively” deploying high-efficiency lighting, “ambitiously” installing solar on buildings, increasing the fraction of methane captured from landfills, and expanding public transit. It found that, if all of the measures were implemented, cities would reduce their combined greenhouse gas emissions by 3.7 metric gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030. That’s more, the report notes, than the annual emissions of India.
Nick Godfrey, head of policy and urban development at the New Climate Economy, said in a statement that the amount of money saved by cities could be even higher. US$17 trillion in savings is actually a very conservative estimate, because it only looks at direct energy savings generated from investments which are a small proportion of the wider social, economic, and environmental benefit. The report recommends that cities make commitments to undertake these carbon-saving initiatives by 2020. On the national level, countries should implement support structures that incentivize city-wide efforts to reduce emissions. The international level, at least $500 million should be made available for cities to expand existing efforts to tackle climate change. The international community will be key in helping cities in developing nations find the capital they need to make these changes investing in improving the creditworthiness of these countries, for instance, can help them raise needed funds. That tactic has worked with cities in Uganda and Peru, the report points out. Overall there is now an increasing evidence that emissions can decrease while economies continue to grow. Hence major cities committed to fighting climate change are on a trajectory to be feasible with good economics.