The economic and social benefits of low carbon cities: A review of the evidence

4pm, June 13th, 2018

This paper, from the Coalition for Urban Transitions, reviews the synergies between urban economic development and climate action in cities. 

Over half of the world’s population live in urban areas and increasingly, cities are the focus of efforts to meet human development goals and sustain economic growth. Yet the pursuit of more prosperous, inclusive and sustainable urban development is complicated by climate change, which multiplies existing environmental risks, undermines the effectiveness of existing infrastructure, and creates new resource constraints.

To catalyze action on climate change, low carbon measures must help to realise other development priorities. These measures that enhance the positive social, economic, and environmental impacts beyond emission reductions are characterized as ‘co-benefits’ of sustainable development. By identifying synergies between human development goals and climate mitigation, co-benefits can help to build the political will and public appetite for ambitious low carbon action in cities.

This paper provides a comprehensive review of the links between aspirations for urban development and the imperative for climate action in cities. Drawing on over 700 publications, the paper focuses on low carbon measures in the buildings, transport, and waste sectors. The report highlights that low carbon measures can help to achieve a range of development co-benefits including job creation, improved public health, social inclusion, and improved accessibility.

A selection of the findings


  • Workers in energy-efficient buildings have been found to be 1–16% more productive, due to an improved working environment and lower rates of illness.
  • Up to 3 billion people rely on open fires for heating, cooking, and lighting, leading to 4 million deaths from indoor air pollution. When health benefits are considered, the benefits of adopting solar lighting and clean cook stoves in cities can be worth up to 60 times the investment needs.


  • Motor vehicle crashes are responsible for 1.3 million global deaths each year and over 78 million injuries. Where public transport networks are well developed, transport-related injuries are more than 80% lower.
  • More roads often lead to even slower travel times. Conversely, public transit can provide a dramatic reduction in travel times, in some cases reducing them by more than 50%.
  • People from lower income brackets typically spend more time commuting. Improving accessibility therefore disproportionately benefits the urban poor.

Waste management

  • In Bangladesh, there are potentially over 200,000 jobs and livelihoods associated with solid waste management. Composting and recycling initiatives could account for a significant number of new and better paid jobs.
  • Investments in recycling schemes can offer new job opportunities for skilled and unskilled workers, new revenue streams for local governments, and potential for improved working conditions for waste workers.

Read the full set of findings in the paper – The economic and social benefits of low carbon cities: A Systematic Review of the Evidence

Institutions Involved

  • New Climate Economy


Andy Gouldson, Andrew Sudmant, Haneen Khreis, and Effie Papargyropoulou
Links for Resource