Around the world, cities are growing, and, here in India, the number of people living in cities is projected to grow from 340 million in 2008 to almost 600 million by 2030. People are moving to cities because they provide jobs and opportunities, diversity and tolerance.
Cities are also where the majority of carbon emissions come from. Most of those emissions come from sources that cities have some control over–like buildings, transportation, and waste. Steps to make those systems more efficient also make cities better places to live.
In New York City, we were able to reduce our carbon footprint by 19% in just six years while also making our air cleaner than it has been in more than 50 years, increasing life expectancy by three years, and leading the US in creating new jobs. And India can do the same for its citizens.
In New York City, our economy didn’t grow despite our investments in sustainability. It grew because of them. I can’t emphasise that enough.
The most effective economic policies are ones that improve people’s health and quality of life. The fact is: People want to live in cities with clean air and water, good public transportation, and streets that are safe for walking and biking. And where people want to live, businesses want to invest.
There is a great deal that cities can learn from one another. In New York, our sustainability work borrowed great ideas from cities around the world. To give you just a couple of examples: In designing our bus rapid transit routes, we learned from cities like Bogotá, Colombia. For our work building bike lanes and pedestrian plazas, we learned from cities like Copenhagen.
As you know, the Indian government has set a target of installing about 100 gigawatts of solar power across the country–enough to power tens of millions of homes.
There may be no large country in the world that is better positioned to capitalise on solar power than India is. Just think about it: India gets about 70% more solar radiation than Europe. And one of the benefits of solar energy is that it is decentralised. It doesn’t rely on expensive transmission lines.
Imagine the signal it would send to the world if India were able to achieve its goal of bringing electricity to every household that lacks it, largely using clean solar power–at a fraction of the cost of the conventional grid. It would be a success story told—and copied— around the world.
This year, for the first time, solar contracts signed here in India are cheaper than contracts for power that is produced from imported coal. The cost of Indian-generated wind power is now often comparable to the cost of power from imported coal. By 2020, that same coal may cost considerably more than wind and solar power, and it will come with even greater risks.
When droughts and cyclones have hit India in recent years, they have shut down coal plants. And I can tell you that in New York City, when we were hit by a historic storm while I was mayor, it knocked out our electricity system for days. The more solar power you have, the more resilient your energy system is. We saw that after a recent typhoon here in India, when the solar panels survived in Visakhapatnam.
Reducing pollution from coal brings major benefits for public health, too. Pollution from burning coal contributes to more than 7,500 deaths in the US every year, and in India that number is 100,000. It is an avoidable tragedy.
Clean energy investments, of course, also produce jobs. In the US, there are now more people working in the solar industry than in the coal industry.
Here in India, business leaders increasingly recognise the opportunity before them. Mahindra recently committed to tripling its investment
in domestic solar power. And the American company Sun Edison, in partnership with Adani Enterprises, just announced plans to build a $4 billion solar equipment manufacturing plant in India.
India’s leadership is helping to show other countries how much is possible–by showing that clean-energy, climate-resilient growth is the path to a brighter future. We’re all in this together, and we have a great deal to learn from one another.
By Michael R Bloomberg
The author is UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change
(Excerpted from his speech at RE-Invest 2015 last month, in New Delhi)