Towards low carbon, climate resilient cities?
The opportunities for and limits of green growth
A special Cabot Institute talk by Prof Andy Gouldson, Director – ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy, University of Leeds, UK.
Cities are in the frontline of the fight against climate change. As major centres of social and economic life, they are ultimately responsible for more than half of all carbon emissions. And as major concentrations of institutions, assets and infrastructure, they are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. In a world where global agreements on climate change are hard to reach, where national policy often progresses slowly, and where austerity and budget cuts are eroding state capacities, many cities have been able to innovate and to adopt ambitious strategies on climate change.
This paper will argue that, in part, this is because the need for cities to respond to climate change has been repackaged as an opportunity for them to stimulate ‘green growth’. Green growth enables action on climate change by making it politically viable, economically sensible, technologically practicable and even socially beneficial to promote the low carbon, climate resilient economy. But despite its short-term political appeal, the paper recognizes that to many green growth must ultimately be flawed – sustained growth, however green, cannot in the end be sustainable.
This paper seeks to inform this long running debate with some empirical evidence. Drawing on research from cities in the UK and internationally (China, India, Malaysia Indonesia and Peru), it will explore the economic case for city-scale action on climate change. It will suggest that there are certainly opportunities for cities to embark on the early stages of the transition to low carbon, climate resilient development in ways that also stimulate and/or protect their economies. And it will suggest that these green growth opportunities can be extended through various innovations - including in science and technology, policy and governance, economics and finance, and society and communities.
But it will also present evidence that highlights the limits of green growth. Evidence from multiple cities indicates that at some point the easy options are likely to dry up, and that the latter stages of the transition are unlikely to be as easy as the earlier stages. This has profound implications for the ways in which cities respond to climate change, even in the short term. It also has great relevance for wider debates on green growth and sustainability.