Seizing the Urban Opportunity

Coalition for Urban Transitions

Countries around the globe are facing a triple challenge with the economic recovery from COVID-19, long-term socio-economic development goals and the threats from the climate crisis. Cities and regions are key to tackle these challenges, as the new report by the Coalition for Urban Transitions argues.

The report ‘Seizing the Urban Opportunity – How National Governments Can Recover from COVID-19, Tackle the Climate Crisis and Secure Shared Prosperity Through Cities’ was published by the Coalition for Urban Transitions in March 2021. It examines cases from six emerging economies: China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa. Together they account for one-third of global GDP, 41% of CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and 42% of the global urban population.

The challenges of COVID-19 have unlocked large amounts of public spending, which must be aligned with a low-carbon (urban) development strategy. By implementing currently available technologies and practices, the six countries could cut annual emissions from key urban sectors by 87–96% by 2050. Urban abatement potentials as share of total GHG emissions range between 38% in Mexico, 26% in China, and 10% in Indonesia. The decarbonisation of the building and transport sectors’ energy demand offers the greatest abatement potentials. Around half of the urban abatement potential depends on the decarbonisation of electricity supply.

Moreover, the report shows that it’s not just the big metropolises that can have a significant impact. Small and mid-size cities hold a large share of the urban abatement potential in all six countries. Cities with fewer than 300.000 inhabitants account for 68% of the cumulative urban abatement potential in Indonesia, 42% in Brazil and India and around one-third in China, Mexico and South Africa.

The report assesses that the socio-economic benefits of decarbonisation include a cumulative return on investment at a net-present value of US$12.8tn by 2050 and can sustain 31.4mil jobs in 2030 and 9.1mil in 2050. The large initial investments of US$13.03tn in low-carbon development are expected to create net-positive returns in the long-term, which range between US$210bn in Mexico to US$7.7tn in China (2021-2050), based on savings alone. Job creation ranges between 0.5m jobs in Mexico to 15.2m jobs in China by 2030, in areas such as building retrofits, solar installations, green space management, amongst others.

The report further urges national leaders to develop an overarching green recovery strategy with cities at its heart and national urban policies aiming at resilient and sustainable cities to accompany the transition. Vice versa, urban leaders must raise local ambitions, awareness about the opportunities of urban climate action, and create a good working relationship with other governmental levels to achieve collaborative climate action.

The report “Seizing the Urban Opportunity” provides insightful case studies on future powerhouses of the global economy, and the relevance of cities and other subnational actors on the path of development. It moreover provides a solid case for an increased collaboration between different governmental levels to tackle the challenges posed by the climate crisis and the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

CUT: Seizing the Urban Opportunity