National governments that invest in low carbon measures could see annual cost savings of $2800bn in 2030 and $7000bn by 2050, according to a Coalition for Urban Transitions report released ahead of the UN climate action summit.

The report, ‘Climate Emergency, Urban Opportunity’, says that while this process would need $1800bn-worth – roughly 2% of global GDP – of investment every year, low carbon measures would lead to higher living standards and improve local opportunity by supporting 87 million jobs annually by 2030. 


“National governments with the vision to invest in smart, sustainable cities today will see great returns on their investment,” said Lord Nicholas Stern, IG Patel professor of economics and government at the London School of Economics. “Zero-carbon cities will offer countries a competitive advantage as they seek to attract global talent and investment. Countries that do not pursue the transition to zero-carbon cities, on the other hand, face staggering costs of inaction.” 

The report stresses that there is an immediate need for a transition to zero carbon because more than 10% of the world’s 820 million inhabitants live in coastal zones affected by rising sea levels, and 86% of these people live in urban or quasi-urban areas. 

Although 10,000 cities and local governments have pledged to set emissions reduction targets, local governments alone have direct power over less than a third of the emissions reduction potential of urban centres, the report says. National and state governments have power over an additional third, while the remainder depends on both local and national governments working together. 

Particular case studies where national and local governments have worked together to profoundly transform urban centres within the past three decades are underlined in the report, and include initiatives in Chile, China, Colombia, Denmark, Germany, India, Indonesia, Namibia, Rwanda and South Korea.

The report highlights six key priorities for action by national governments in order to transform their urban centres. These are: to develop an overarching strategy to deliver shared prosperity while reaching net-zero emissions – and place cities at its heart; to align national policies behind compact, connected, clean cities; to fund and finance sustainable urban infrastructure; to co-ordinate and support local climate action in cities; to build a multilateral system that fosters inclusive, zero-carbon cities; and to proactively plan for a fair urban transition.