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Growing Green Cities

MUNICH – The future of the world’s climate will be decided in our cities. Urban areas already account for up to 70% of global CO2 emissions, and that share is likely to increase in the coming decades, as more people – billions more – move to cities, and as urbanization drives global economic growth. From the standpoint of both climate change and growth, the rise of cities represents a challenge and an opportunity.

The nexus between urban expansion and climate protection is infrastructure. Upgrading urban infrastructure can drive economic growth and reduce carbon emissions at the same time. But how will the world’s cities pay for new and greener infrastructure?

The good news is that mayors – in developed and developing countries alike – are no longer waiting for national governments to strike a global climate agreement. Not only Copenhagen, London, and Munich, but also Johannesburg, Rio de Janeiro, and Shanghai are drawing up their own environmental programs. Such plans are variously ambitious – ranging from wish lists to enforceable targets – but the trend toward sustainable urban living is clear.

If cities are to reduce their carbon footprint, they will need massive investments in their infrastructure. Three-quarters of rich countries’ CO2 emissions come from just four types of infrastructure: power generation, residential and commercial buildings, transport, and waste management. Any urban sustainability program must therefore include a shift to renewable energy and combined heat and power stations, more public buses and trains, cleaner private vehicles, better insulation of offices, hospitals, apartment blocks, and other buildings, and smarter management of waste and water – along with much else.