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Low carbon action plans for climate smart cities

Cities are responsible for 75% of global energy use and greenhouse gas emissions from cities and their populations are growing rapidly. Decisions are being taken now that will lock cities into carbon emissions for decades to come. Pioneering research at the University of Leeds has explored the potential for low carbon cities and highlights the economic case for ambitious levels of action.

Our research for the Global Commission on Economy and Climate has shown that economics need not be a barrier to ambitious climate action in cities. Such action in all of the world’s cities would require approximately $1.0tn to be invested each year between 2015 and 2050. Critically, these investments would unlock a stream of net savings between 2015 and 2050 with a current value of $16.6tn.

The wider co-benefits of urban climate action – relating, for example, to reduced air pollution and congestion and improved public health – could be more significant still, and we are currently working to evaluate these.

Through our Climate Smart Cities programme, we have translated the global case for climate action into detailed and specific low carbon plans for cities around the world (so far including China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil, Peru, Rwanda and UK). Our work has provided city decision makers with an evidence base and a menu of options to develop fundable, deliverable low carbon action plans.

We have explored the potential for new forms of governance such as the creation of city-scale Committees on Climate Change to share responsibility for climate action out across a city. We have also evaluated the contribution of new forms of finance and business models for delivering low carbon transitions, illustrating that revolving funds can radically reduce the cost and improve carbon effectiveness of different forms of investment.

Key messages:

  • Global investments in urban climate action of $1.0tn per year between 2015 and 2050 would unlock net savings with a current value of £16.6tn along with cobenefits such as improved air quality and public health.
  • The Climate Smart Cities programme has provided city decision makers across the globe with an evidence base and a menu of options to develop fundable, deliverable low carbon action plans.

Overview by Andy Gouldson, Professor of Environmental Policy.

Research paper: Exploring the economic case for climate action in cities, Global Environmental Change, 35, 93 – 105, 2015.