Optimize, Electrify, Decarbonize: The 3 Steps to Thriving, Zero-Carbon Cities

Cities are currently both climate-culprit and climate-victim. They are already responsible for 70 percent of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions and 65 percent of global energy demand; they could easily account for more than three-quarters of electricity use by 2030. Cities in emerging economies, where 95 percent of population growth to 2030 and beyond will occur, will account for the majority (70 percent) of global growth in energy use through 2030.

But cities can also become climate-solvers. Cities as they are now will not pull us out of the climate crisis. But since 75 percent of the urban infrastructure that will exist by mid-century hasn't been built yet, we have a huge opportunity to shape more resource-efficient cities to avoid the worst effects of climate change and that will also make us wealthier, healthier and more productive.

Investments in low-carbon city projects have significant benefits for urban and rural citizens alike. A seminal study by New Climate Economy found that $1 trillion spent per year by cities on 11 types of low carbon projects would produce $17 trillion in net present financial value through 2050, just from the direct energy savings alone. A follow-on research review found that the economic and social benefits of those investments, such a improvements in citizen health, jobs generated, poverty and inequality eliminated, were many times greater even than the $17 trillion value. As just one example, health benefits of improved heating and insulation can be more than 10 times the value of energy savings.