Report: Creating massive economic opportunity on the way to a low-carbon future

Wed, 2015-09-09 06:00 -- SCC Staff

Smart and green cities are increasingly viewed as central to achieving a low-carbon, prosperous and resilient future. A recent report by The Global Commission on Energy and Climate, which includes former finance ministers and prestigious research institutions from seven countries, found that global savings from buildings, transportation and waste management alone could reach $22 trillion by 2050.

Smart cities technologies are at the heart of these savings – from smart buildings to smart electrical grids, and smart transit to smart electric vehicles. The report argues that achieving this scenario will require innovative financing approaches including public-private partnerships, with every $1 invested in improving the creditworthiness of cities unlocking a projected $100 in private finance for low-carbon urban infrastructure.

Careful work to link government policy, effective transactional models and existing smart cities solutions has the potential to create massive economic opportunity while reducing carbon emissions by billions of tons per year. – Stuart Cowan

“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,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, 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 through efforts like the Compact of Mayors.”

The report recommends that cities commit to low-carbon urban development strategies by 2020. It also recommends cities commit to the Compact of Mayors, the global coalition of mayors and city officials pledging to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions, enhance resilience to climate change, and track their progress transparently. More than 130 cities – representing more than 220 million people – have already committed to the Compact of Mayors and will be setting ambitious emissions reduction targets and reporting publicly.

Sharing best practices
“Better, more resilient models of urban development are particularly critical for rapidly urbanizing cities in the developing world,” said Eduardo Paes, Mayor of Rio de Janeiro and Chair of C40 Cities. “Cities around the world are already leading the way in implementing sustainable and innovative urban solutions. By sharing and scaling-up these best practices through international collaboration, cities can save money and accelerate global climate action."

The report offers numerous examples of cities that have achieved or can achieve economic benefits from green investments. Among them:

  • Bus Rapid Transit: The economic returns of Johannesburg’s Bus Rapid Transit system in its first phase were close to US$900 million.
  • Building efficiency: Singapore’s "Green Mark" program, for instance, which aims to cover 80% of its buildings by 2030, could see a reduction in building electricity use of 22% and net economic savings of over US$400 million.
  • Cycling: Copenhagen’s planned Cycle Super Highways are estimated to have an internal rate of return on investment of 19% per year.

Download the report: Accelerating Low-Carbon Development in the World’s Cities to learn more.


Stuart Cowan, Ph.D., is the Smart Cities Council's Chief Scientist. He is a faculty member at Bainbridge Graduate Institute in the Sustainable MBA program, and received his doctorate in complex systems from U.C. Berkeley with a focus on ecological economics.