Cities must build up and not out

Global cities need to be more compact and limit urban sprawl to withstand the challenges of climate change and help sustain economic growth. This is a key conclusion of the Global Commission of Climate and the Economy’s landmark report, Better growth, better climate: The new climate economy report, which has been published ahead of next week’s United Nations Climate Summit.

The report, which was compiled by a commission of global leaders and supported by global research, looks at cities, land use, energy, resource efficiency, infrastructure investment and innovation. Its chapter on cities outlines how locations like London are leading by example by focusing development in the core. London’s population growth since 2000 has all been concentrated within a 10km radius of the city centre and more than half of newly constructed floor area between 2004 and 2011 was within 500m of a rail or Underground station. At the same time, London continues to be an economic powerhouse.

Urban sprawl limits the resources available for investment in infrastructure, with analysis showing that it adds around US400bn of costs in the USA, mainly in greater infrastructure, public service delivery and transport costs, the report says. A study of 50 global cities estimates that almost 60% of growth in expected energy consumption is directly related to urban sprawl.

The report also points out that insulation, lighting, small-scale renewables and other energy saving measures in buildings could help the world’s cities cut their energy use by up to 25%. It says that implementation of £1.1bn of energy efficiency measures in homes across Leeds City Region could generate savings of £400m with a three year payback, and reduce domestic emissions by 16%.

Governments and businesses can improve economic growth and reduce their carbon emissions side by side, the report finds. In order to deliver more compact, connected and coordinated cities, it says policymakers need to:

  • Strengthen the role of strategic planning and land use regulation, to give a framework for more effective and efficient planning
  • Reform subsidies and introduce pricing to reflect the full costs associated with unstructured urban expansion
  • Unlock financing for smarter, more resilient urban infrastructure and technology to allow cities to redirect and invest capital
  • Build institutions to support implementation and delivery of coordinated programmes and investment.

“The decisions we make now will determine the future of our economy and our climate,” said Lord Nicholas Stern, co-chair of the commission. “If we choose low-carbon investment we can generate strong, high-quality growth – not just in the future, but now. But if we continue down the high-carbon route, climate change will bring severe risks to long-term prosperity.”

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