City governments are increasingly taking an active role in economic development. Urban leaders around the world have different resources, strengths and priorities, but cities focus on creating an attractive environment to live, work and grow businesses, and they often invest in enhanced infrastructure and improved public services.

As economic hubs, cities also have a crucial role to play in mitigating global climate change. Cities at all levels are pursuing climate action, and many of the measures they are choosing have also been shown to have broader economic and social benefits.

This paper looks at this issue in the other direction, examining the potential GHG impact of policies and actions that are already widely used by cities to advance economic development and competitiveness.

It finds that under certain conditions, several local economic development practices can also reduce global GHG emissions. That includes mass transit and non-motorized infrastructure, compact development, expansion of renewable electricity access, and improvements to waste and water utility infrastructure.

In contrast, a continuation of car-centric, sprawling development could fail to realize the economic efficiency of compact forms and tend to lock in a higher trajectory for carbon emissions, rendering future mitigation more challenging and costly.