UNEP Green Economy Report
Cities are natural sites for emerging ‘green’ economy
As the world recovers from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme
(UNEP), with substantial contributions by LSE Cities at the London School of Economics and Political Science, argues that investing in the Green Economy will trigger greener, smarter economic growth. Greener cities will, in turn, deliver more jobs, increased social equity and a better quality of life.
The main findings from LSE Cities include:
- Greening the global economy will be led by cities
- In most countries, cities will be important sites for the emerging green economy. This is for three main reasons. First, the dense, mixed-use nature of cities deliver more productive firms and stimulate creativity. Second, green industries are mainly service industries – such as public transport, energy provision, installation and repair – which tend to be concentrated in the large consumer markets of cities. Third, some cities will benefit from knowledge economies of universities and research labs to develop high-tech green manufacturing.
- Greening the building sector can lead to an increase in jobs
- Investments in improved energy efficiency in buildings could generate an additional 3.5 million green jobs in Europe and the USA alone.
- Greening cities can increase social equity and quality of life
- Enhancing public transport systems, for example, can reduce inequality by improving access to public services and other amenities, and by helping to relieve vehicle congestion in poorer neighbourhoods.
Cities Investing in energy and resource efficiency
- 1. Urban development will have to fundamentally change to facilitate the transition towards
a green economy. Urban areas are now home to 50 per cent of the world’s population but they
account for 60-80 per cent of energy consumption and 75 per cent of carbon emissions. Rapid
urbanisation is exerting pressure on fresh water supplies, sewage, the living environment, and
public health, which affect the urban poor most. In many cases, urbanisation is characterised by
urban sprawl and peripheralisation – which is not only socially divisive but increases energy demand,
carbon emissions and puts pressure on ecosystems.
2. Unique opportunities exist for cities to lead the greening of the global economy. There are
genuine opportunities for national and city leaders to reduce carbon emissions and pollution, enhance
ecosystems, and minimise environmental risks. Compact, relatively densely populated cities with
mixed-use urban form are more resource-efficient than any other settlement pattern with similar levels
of economic output. Integrated design strategies and technologies are available to improve urban
transport, the construction of buildings, and the development of urban energy, water, and waste
systems in such a way that they reduce resource and energy consumption and avoid lock-in effects.
3. ‘Green cities’ combine greater productivity and innovation capacity with lower costs and
reduced environmental impact. Relatively high densities are a central feature of green cities,
bringing efficiency gains and technological innovation through the proximity of economic activities
while reducing resource and energy consumption. Urban infrastructure including streets, railways,
water, and sewage systems come at considerably lower cost per unit as urban density rises. The
problem of density-related congestion and associated economic costs can be addressed by road
charges and by public transport.
4. In most countries, cities will be important sites for the emerging green economy. This is for
three main reasons. First, the proximity, density and variety intrinsic to cities deliver productivity
benefits for firms and help stimulate innovation. Second, green industries are dominated by
service activity – such as public transport, energy provision, installation and repair – which tend
to be concentrated in urban areas where consumer markets are largest. Third, some cities will also
develop high-tech green manufacturing clusters in or close to urban cores, drawing on knowledge
spillovers from universities and research labs.
5. Measures to green cities can increase social equity and quality of life. Enhancing public
transport systems, for example, can reduce inequality by improving access to public services and
other amenities, and by helping to relieve vehicle congestion in poorer neighbourhoods. Cleaner
fuel for transport and power generation can reduce both local pollution and health inequality.
Reducing traffic and improving conditions for pedestrians and cyclists can help foster community
cohesion, an important aspect of quality of life. Children who live close to green space are more
resistant to stress; have lower incidence of behavioural disorders, anxiety, and depression; and have
a higher measure of self-worth. Green space also stimulates social interaction between children.
6. Only a coalition of actors and effective multilevel governance can ensure the success of
green cities. The most important foundational enabling condition is a coalition of actors from
the national and local state, civil society, the private sector and universities who are committed
to advancing the green economy and its urban prerequisites, placing it centrally within the top
strategic priorities for the city. The coalition required can be cohered and focussed to promote the
idea of a long-term strategic plan for the city or urban territory.
7. Numerous instruments for enabling green cities are available and tested but need to be
applied in a tailored, context-specific way. In contexts with strong local government it is possible
to envisage a range of planning, regulatory, information and financing instruments to advance
green infrastructure investments, green economic development and a multitrack approach to
greater urban sustainability. However, in the absence of this, it may be more prudent to adopt a
more pragmatic and minimalist approach which primarily commits municipal sectors such as water,
waste, energy and transport to a limited number of over-arching strategic goals.