16th Oct 2021

Low-carbon cities can unlock €21tn by 2050, report finds

  • High-carbon systems are expected to become unprofitable or inoperable since markets and regulations will evolve towards climate-friendly economies (Photo: mw238)

According to a new report released on Thursday (19 September), investing €1.65tn (about two percent of global GDP) per year in low-carbon cities can reduce emission by nearly 90 percent by 2030, while generating economic prosperity of over €21tn by 2050.

The three-year research, carried out by a coalition of 50 international institutions, states that "the battle for our planet will be won or lost in cities" - home of more than half of world's 7.5bn people.

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"National governments have unique and crucial roles to play in nurturing zero-carbon, climate-resilient cities," according to the report, released ahead of the climate action summit in New York that will take place on 23 September.

According to the EU commission, around 75 percent of Europeans live in cities, where "climate change has the potential to influence almost all components of the urban environment".

In 2018, the commission presented its strategic long-term vision for the climate-neutral economy by 2050, which aims at an 80 percent reduction of EU domestic emissions by 2050 - in line with the Paris Agreement objective to keep the temperature increase to well below 2°C, and pursue efforts to keep it to 1.5°C.

However, a fossil-free campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, Molly Walsh, suggested that "as long as the European Commission supports new fossil gas projects, and an energy charter treaty that blocks governments from transforming their energy, a zero-carbon Europe will be beyond reach."

"We need fast action now. CO2 must have a fair price. We urge the new European commission to make climate priority a reality and increase our CO2-reduction target from the weak 40 percent to at least 65 percent by 2030," said the head of the European Parliament delegation to the COP 25 in Santiago de Chile, Bas Eickhout.

Local green initiatives

The report indicates that high-carbon systems are expected to become unprofitable or inoperable since markets and regulations will evolve towards climate-friendly economies.

"National governments with the vision to invest in smart, sustainable cities today will see great returns on their investment," said professor of economics and government at London school of economics Nicholas Stern, adding that cities are "a source of creativity and innovation" that could lead climate transition.

Besides the economic and environmental benefits, the research indicates that investment in low-carbon measures could support 87m jobs annually by 2030, in sectors such as clean energy and public transport.

"It is possible and realistic to realise net-zero urban emissions by 2050. But to get there, we will need the full engagement of city governments combined with national action and support," said secretary-general of the United Nations António Guterres.

German example

According to the German minister of the environment Svenja Schulze, "tackling the climate crisis and securing economic prosperity is possible".

However, local governments cannot carry out low-carbon transition by themselves, instead "strong support of national governments is essential to unleash the full transformative potential of cities and towns," said Schulze.

Germany's 'Energiewende' (Energy transition) is an example of how national governments can collaborate with municipalities, businesses, and citizens to accelerate low-carbon cities and foster the energy transition.

As a result, Germany has expanded the share of renewable electricity from 6 percent to over 38 percent between 2000 and 2018, largely thanks to the renewable energy sources act, which empowered local authorities.

Munich, for example, is planning to increase the city's renewable energy share from 39 percent in 2019 to 100 percent by 2025.

According to the report, the success of the German Energiewende is based on having "a comprehensive and ambitious national policy framework, strong national-local partnerships and large-scale citizen buy-in".

Two German cities have been awarded as European Green Capital, an initiative of the commission encourage climate-friendly practices among cities in Europe - Hamburg in 2011 and Essen in 2017.

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