Reducing City Emissions Could Generate $23.9 Trillion by 2050

Investments in compact and clean cities could generate $23.9 trillion for global governments by 2050, according to a new report from the Coalition for Urban Transitions.

The report details the myriad of benefits that investments in low-emissions technologies would generate for cities, which currently host 55 percent of the global population and where 68 percent of the world's population is expected to live by 2050.

The report, which was conducted by more than 50 organizations, says the proposed low-carbon measures would cut city emissions by 90 percent in the next three decades. Much of the reduction, 58 percent, would come from the buildings sector, while 21 percent come from the transport sector, 16 percent from materials efficiency and 5 percent from the waste sector.

A range of steps is offered in the report, including decarbonizing electricity grids, stopping the sale of vehicles running on fossil fuels, ensuring financial institutions end fossil fuel financing and implementing carbon pricing -- which at least 45 countries already do -- to limit emissions by 90 percent in the next three decades. Many of the savings would come from changes to the transportation sector, with $1.76 trillion being generated just by reducing motorized travel costs. The investments would also provide for 87 million jobs in 2030 and 45 million in 2050.

"After the IPCC special report was published last year, the science basically made it clear that we need to reach net zero emissions in cities by mid-century and no one knows how to do that," Sarah Colenbrander, the study's lead author, told Newsweek.

Despite the evidence in the IPCC report showing that carbon dioxide emissions needed to reach net zero by 2050 in order to prevent average global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degree Celsius beyond pre-industrial levels, the limit targeted in the Paris Climate Accord, only 15 countries have adopted net-zero emissions, according to the World Resources Institute.

"This report really lays out what are the set of measures that could get us all the way there -- technically feasible, proven measures -- and it actually goes a step further by saying what they might cost and the return they might generate," Colenbrander continued.

The solutions demand fast reconfiguration of infrastructure around the world. But, Colenbrander said, the current investment in sustainable urban infrastructure offers benefits beyond financial incentives.

About a billion people around the world live in cities without access to safe drinking water, hygienic sanitation, durable housing or legal tenure. A shift to clean energy, if conducted as the study suggests, would also benefit human health, alleviate poverty and reduce economic inequality.

"People living in those circumstances, it's incredibly difficult to lift yourself out of poverty in the absence of the provision of some basic goods and services," Colenbrander said. "If we don't reduce greenhouse gases, we are not going to eradicate poverty, because climate hazards will cause so much damage to life and livelihood. If we don't deal with poverty, we won't have the political ambition and political will to act on climate change because people will feel that they're too vulnerable already and focus on more short-term issues."

And India, sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia will be spending mass quantities on urban infrastructure investments within the next 30 years.

"They have a choice. They can choose a high carbon option or a low carbon option. And the choices they make today will lock them into a particular path perhaps for generations to come," Colenbrander said. "It could be sprawling, inefficient and more expensive to operate in the long run. Or it could be compact, connected and clean. Cheaper to build and cheaper to operate."

A smoking power plant chimney is seen close to the Lechia Gdansk football stadium in Gdansk, northern Poland, in 2015. Michal Fludra/Corbis via Getty Images