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It turns out sustainability’s not only good for the planet, it’s also good for the pocket book – like, really, really good. That’s the word from the Global Commission on Economy and Climate, an independent initiative formed by the former finance ministers and leading research institutions from seven countries. Research from their New Climate Economy project shows that investing in sustainability programs could save cities trillions of dollars and substantially reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

To get into the specifics, investing in public and low emission transportation, infrastructure energy efficiency and waste management could generate as much as $17 trillion in savings by 2050. In a press release, the GCEC adds that with “complementary national policies such as support for low-carbon innovation, reduced fossil fuel subsidies, and carbon pricing, the savings could be as high as US$22 trillion.” At the same time, low-carbon investments could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 3.7 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide per year by 2030 – more than the current annual emissions of India (the third highest greenhouse gas emitter on the planet).

Electric tram in Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo Credit: LHOON / WikiMedia Commons)

Electric tram in Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo Credit: LHOON / WikiMedia Commons)

“The steps that cities take to shrink their carbon footprints also reduce their energy costs, improve public health, and help them attract new residents and businesses,” said Michael Bloomberg, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change. “This report can help accelerate the progress cities are making in all of these areas, by highlighting smart policies and encouraging cooperation through efforts like the Compact of Mayors.”

The Compact of Mayors is a global coalition of mayors and city officials that has pledged to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions and prioritize climate change adaptation. According to the press release, “[m]ore than 130 cities – representing more than 220 million people – have already committed to the Compact of Mayors.”

The New Climate Economy report cites real sustainability projects to back up its claims. For example, in its first phase, Johannesburg’s Bus Rapid Transit system earned nearly US$900 million in returns; and Copenhagen’s planned Cycle Super Highways are estimated to generate a 19 percent return on investment per year.

The GCEC was created “to examine how countries can achieve economic growth while dealing with the risks posed by climate change” and represents seven countries: Colombia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Norway, South Korea, Sweden and the UK. Their findings smash the popular argument that green investments and fossil fuel reduction are cost-prohibitive to domestic and global economies. In fact, the GCEC’s latest report is now part of a growing economic literature that argues sustainability is better for the planet in the long term.

In a report recently published by Citibank, analysts found that taking economic action to combat and adapt to climate change is actually cheaper than taking no action at all. In their report, Citibank calculates that the “rapidly falling costs of renewables…combined with lower fuel usage from energy efficiency investments actually result in [a] significantly lower long term fuel bill.” The report later states that the argument for climate action becomes particularly strong once all the facts are analyzed. “Why would you not?” Citibank concludes.

“There is now increasing evidence that emissions can decrease while economies continue to grow,” Seth Schultz, a researcher for the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and a consultant on the GCEC report, told The Guardian. “Becoming more sustainable and putting the world – specifically cities – on a low carbon trajectory is actually feasible and good economics.”

The report urges cities around the world to commit to low-carbon development strategies by 2020. This will help mitigate the chance of warming the planet over two degrees Celsius by the end of this century.

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