From Lima to Leeds: Cities could cut emissions by 34% at no net cost, report finds

Cities across the world could bring in billions of dollars of investments that would completely pay for themselves while delivering carbon savings of up to 34% of global energy-related emissions, according to a new report.

The report, published today (1 December) by the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy at the University of Leeds and London School of Economics and Political Science, found that cities can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions at a zero net cost.

The study focused on the cities of Leeds, Kolkata, Lima, Johor Bahru and Palembang. It found that a number of cost-effective, low-carbon developments could cut global energy-related emissions by more than a third.

These developments – such as energy efficient appliances, fuel-efficient transport, biomass boilers and policies to tackle congestion – have an average payback period of just five years. After this payback period, the developments would continue to deliver savings and the returns could be reinvested in other low-carbon developments in the city.

Widespread benefits

Lead author Professor Andrew Gouldson of the University of Bristol said: “A low-carbon economy is a no-brainer from an economic point of view, as well as an environmental one. By implementing a range of low-carbon measures, cities could bring in billions of dollars of investments that would completely pay for themselves while delivering carbon savings of up to 34% of global energy-related emissions.

“There would also be widespread benefits in terms of employment, congestion and air pollution. City councils and investors have everything to gain from investing in a low-carbon future.

“As the source of over 70% of global energy-related carbon emissions, cities must be at the heart of the fight against climate change, and this will become increasingly clear at the climate negotiations that start this week in Lima.”

The report found that, based on economic factors alone, investment in low-carbon urban development should be favourable for investors and decision-makers in cities around the world.

It goes on to suggest that investment in the early stages of the low-carbon transition can appeal to local decision-makers and investors on direct, short-term economic grounds. This indicates that climate mitigation ought to feature prominently in economic development strategies as well as in the environment and sustainability strategies that are often more peripheral to, and less influential in, city-scale decision-making.

Quick payback

For instance, low-carbon investment of £11.6bn in Leeds city could deliver annual emission reductions of 21.8% in 2025 relative to projected levels, and at no net cost to the region.

Residential buildings could be responsible for almost a third of Leeds’ total emissions reductions by 2025. Investment of £1.1bn in the domestic sector would create savings of £400m each year, paying back investment within three years and saving billions thereafter.

Meanwhile Lima, which today begins hosting the COP20 climate talks, could reduce its carbon emissions by 22.4% relative to 2025 projected levels at no net cost to the city.

The report on ‘The economic case for low-carbon cities’ is a contributing paper to the New Climate Economy project by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate.

Luke Nicholls

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