Smart growth highlighted as key strategy for climate change mitigation in IPCC report

In light of rising emissions and failed climate promises, the IPCC released a report emphasizing the urgency of reducing emissions and highlighting the role of smart growth as a tactic to support emissions reduction. To prevent communities from experiencing even more harmful effects of climate change, the IPCC calls on governments and businesses to take immediate action to stem emissions, including through land use and transportation strategies.

On Monday, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released their third report on the Mitigation of Climate Change, highlighting the increasingly narrow pathway to prevent the planet from worsening consequences caused by human-caused warming. In the report, scientists warned that without swift action to halt emissions caused by burning fossil fuels—including those caused by transportation and the built environment—we will not meet the goal to limit global warming by 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 Celsius), thus increasing the frequency and severity of already-devastating climate events.

The report emphasizes smart growth as a key strategy for reducing emissions, noting that “cities can reduce their transport-related fuel consumption by around 25% through combinations of more compact land use and the provision of less car-dependent transport infrastructure. Appropriate infrastructure, including protected pedestrian and bike pathways, can also support much greater localised active travel.”

Despite dire warnings from experts, wide public acknowledgement of the gravity of the crisis, and promises to reduce emissions from businesses and governments, recent emissions tracking shows a near-record level for global carbon emissions. And while emission growth has begun to slow, we still must reduce emissions by about 50 percent by the end of the decade and eliminate nearly all emissions by midcentury if we are to meet necessary targets.

“The IPCC report highlights what we already knew: the time to drastically reduce carbon emissions is not today, but yesterday,” said Calvin Gladney, President and CEO of Smart Growth America. “While the smart growth strategies highlighted in the report are essential tools to mitigate the effects of climate change, we also must ensure vulnerable communities don’t bear the brunt of extreme weather already caused by climate change. Government and business leaders must meet the moment—a healthy, just and prosperous future for America requires bold action, now.”

The message in the IPCC report is clear: time is running out, and governments need to leave lip service behind and implement mitigation strategies to reduce emissions and avoid dire consequences. Fortunately, the report uplifts recommended pathways to support emissions reductions, including through land use, zoning reform, transit-oriented development, and public transportation—all of which are smart growth tactics.

Helping city leaders and communities at risk mitigate and adapt to climate change is a priority of our work; that’s why we advocate and produce research in support of smart growth to be used as a tool to reduce emissions, prepare for future climate impacts, and enhance standards to protect vulnerable communities who are the most acutely impacted by climate change. Projects including The Great Real Estate Reset, Driving Down Emissions, and our upcoming project on climate-informed zoning with the Lincoln Institute show how land use and transportation decisions can be important methods to rein in emissions.

Implementing these strategies will require not only government entities, but businesses, communities, and even individuals whose choices will drive markets and policy toward smart growth tactics. Building a country where no matter where you live, or who you are, you can enjoy living in a place that is healthy, prosperous, and resilient will require us to combat climate change, and we know where to start.

Climate Change