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Low-carbon strategies save money for cities

By investing in low-carbon energy infrastructure the city of Kolkata can not only cut down its carbon emissions but also save money, a UK-Malaysia study claims.

Conducted by an international team of researchers from the University of Leeds, University of York, and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, the study, due to be published in the November edition of Global Environmental  Change, explores the economics of low-carbon energy infrastructure in five cities representing different economic conditions.

These included Johor Bahru (Malaysia) Leeds (UK), Lima (Peru), Johor Bahru (Malaysia) and Palembang (Indonesia).

Cities around the world are hotspots of human habitation, the study says. More than half of the earth’s people now live in cities. Population models suggest that by 2050 about 6.7 billion people will be city dwellers, a majority of them in low- and middle-income countries. Already, more than a million people are estimated to be migrating to cities in low- and middle-income countries every week.

Since cities are the epicentres of economic activity, they also become natural energy sinks.

According to the IPCC 2014 report, 71 — 76 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions originate in the cities. Though it acknowledged that investing in low-carbon footprint cities was necessary, it was left unclear whether such measures were economically viable.

The researchers show that investing in low-carbon energy infrastructure makes eminent climate-sense. In each city, they studied emissions from electricity usage and projected electricity consumption and the corresponding emissions in a business as usual (BAU) scenario.

They also calculated how consumption and emission would be in 2025, if the cities decided to rigorously invest in low-carbon energy infrastructure.

Such initiatives require action at different levels. “Cities require better support from international policy and national government, enhanced capacities in local government, improved access to finance,” says Andrew Gouldson, leader of the study and professor of environmental policy at the University of Leeds.  

For Kolkata, the study reveals that a substantial investment in low-carbon infrastructure could cut down carbon emissions by 21 per cent by 2025, as against a BAU scenario.

Cost analyses by the researchers suggest that it is possible to recover the initial US$ 2 billion investment in about four years because the city can potentially save about US$ 520.70 million in reduced energy bills. By reinvesting these savings in low-carbon measures, the city could cut down its emissions by 36 per cent with respect to a BAU scenario.

Mahalaya Chatterjee, associate professor, Centre for Urban Economic Studies, University of Calcutta, feels that studies of this kind are of “immense importance”. “The study advocates a strong economic argument for adoption of low-carbon strategies that will be beneficial in the long run,” he says.

Link to full paper in ScienceDirect

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