Working paper

The economic and social benefits of low-carbon cities: a systematic review of the evidence

7 Jun 2018

Over half of the population of the world live in urban areas. This means that efforts to meet human development goals and sustain economic growth must be concentrated in cities. However, the pursuit of more prosperous, inclusive and sustainable urban development is complicated by climate change, which multiplies existing environmental risks, undermines the effectiveness of existing infrastructure, and creates new resource constraints.

In this paper, we conclusively demonstrate that there are many synergies between aspirations for urban development and the imperative for climate action. We draw on over 700 papers, focusing on the literature on low-carbon measures in the buildings, transport, and waste sectors. This systematic review clearly shows that low-carbon measures can help to achieve a range of development priorities, such as job creation, improved public health, social inclusion, and improved accessibility.

There is already strong evidence of an economic case for climate action. The Stern Review: The Economics of Climate Change demonstrated that the benefits of strong and early action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions far outweigh the economic costs of not acting.1 Subsequent research for the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate demonstrated that low-carbon measures could be economically attractive on their own merits. One analysis suggested that low-carbon investment in cities might have a net present value of US$16.6 trillion by 2050.2 This economic case is an important, but not sufficient, condition for deep decarbonisation.

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