Compact, connected, and efficient “low-carbon” cities could generate global savings of up to $22 trillion, while sharply reducing greenhouse gas emissions, alleviating poverty, and improving public health, says a new report out Tuesday from leading international economists.

Accelerating investment in building energy efficiency, public transit, and better waste management techniques “has the potential to generate sustained urban productivity improvements and a wide range of economic, social and environmental benefits,” reads the document (pdf) from the New Climate Economy, the flagship project of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate. The project was established by seven countries—Colombia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Norway, South Korea, Sweden, and the United Kingdom—as an independent initiative to examine how countries can achieve economic growth while dealing with the risks posed by climate change.

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Other recommendations included in the report range from aggressively retrofitting existing buildings to promoting cycling—”an equitable transport mode that can enhance mobility for the urban poor”—to introducing distributed energy systems based on small-scale renewables.

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 $22 trillion, said the research group, which is chaired by former Mexican President Felipe Calderón, co-chaired by renowned economist Lord Nicholas Stern, and includes 28 leaders from 20 countries, including former heads of government and finance ministers, leading business people, investors, city mayors, and economists.

In fact, according to report co-author Nick Godfrey, head of policy and urban development at the New Climate Economy, “$17 trillion in savings is actually a very conservative estimate, because it only looks at direct energy savings generated from investment, which are a small proportion of the wider social, economic, and environmental benefits of these investments.”

Furthermore, by 2030, such efforts would avoid the equivalent of 3.7 gigatonnes of carbon pollution a year—more than India’s current greenhouse gas emissions, the report found.

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