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Greening Our Cities

Cities are the world's leading source of both economic growth and greenhouse-gas emissions, and those contributions will continue to grow as more of the world's population moves into urban areas. Any successful global framework for addressing climate change thus must recognize both the threat cities pose and the opportunities they offer.

LUXEMBOURG – With global leaders gathering in New York City for the UN Climate Action Summit this week, it is important to remember that cities are not just convenient settings for our coexistence and dialogue, but also leading sources of greenhouse-gas emissions.

As hubs of employment, trade, and innovation, cities are the engines of our economic growth, accounting for over 80% of global GDP. By mid-century, more than six billion people – almost 70% of the world’s population – will live in urban areas, up from about four billion today. Yet cities already use more than two-thirds of the world’s resources and energy, accounting for over 70% of carbon dioxide emissions. As cities continue to grow, so will these numbers. Between 2011 and 2013, China used more cement in cities development than the United States did during the entire twentieth century.

The future of our planet, then, depends on how we manage urban development. In addition to being the biggest contributors to climate change, cities are also among the most at risk, and thus have the most to gain from going green. With 90% of the world’s urban areas on coastlines and at risk from rising sea levels, there is significant work to be done to protect the bulk of the world’s population from these and other climate-related threats. Cities are where spending on climate action will have the biggest impact. Making cities more compact, connected, and coordinated around green policies could yield economic savings of up to $17 trillion by 2050.

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