Five key drivers for low carbon inclusive growth

Urban life 10 November 2020 Stefanie O'Gorman

Cities have a critical role to play in driving, regulating and supporting low carbon investment and delivering in inclusive growth. Here we set out 5 critical steps that can enable cities, and those involved in their planning and development, to realise inclusive growth and address climate change challenges through infrastructure investment; whilst also making the city more liveable and competitive.

Expert columns
6 min

The OECD defines inclusive growth as ‘economic growth that is distributed fairly across society and creates opportunities for all’.  In the context of climate change and low carbon infrastructure, this can be further defined as growth that builds resilience, strengthens local communities and increases economic opportunities. Such growth improves quality of life in multiple ways: for instance, in providing jobs and training opportunities; enhancing local air quality; reducing fuel poverty; reducing commuting time; and sustaining and enhancing the natural environment.  

In addition to OECDs Inclusive Growth Agenda, the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), alongside the UKs Social Value Act (2012)  have resulted in an exponential rise in interest in the idea that social value can be created from infrastructure investment.  This is alongside financial values.  The relevance of this to infrastructure development is particularly important as it has been estimated by UNOPS/Oxford University  that over 92% of the SDG targets are influenced by infrastructure, either directly or indirectly.  This is further demonstrated by the fact that the agenda of the Global Engineering Congress (2018) and World Engineering Convention (2019) focussed on mobilising the engineering sector in response to the goals.  

The case for addressing the climate emergency has been set out loud and clear.  In this context, cities have a critical role to play. Whilst in many cities and communities’ substantial activities are underway to advance this combined agenda, there are still opportunities being missed because the scale of actions being undertaken, and the pace of their delivery is disconnected from the urgency of the challenge.  This has been the case for some years now and to some degree this reflects the level of leadership driving change. In recent years leadership in this area has gotten stronger, it has come from a wider range of stakeholders and its voice has grown louder.  However, it requires greater consistency and collaboration if fundamental change is to occur.

Five key drivers

We’ve set out five critical steps that can enable inclusive growth and effective action, which can assist towns and cities in addressing climate challenges through infrastructure investment:

1. Know your vision and plan for your outcomes.

This vision should be one which has been developed through consultation and engagement with key stakeholders and the general public. Having such a vision allows a strategy to be developed, which seeks to deliver clear outcomes. Rather than just hoping to deliver combined outcomes off the back of investment, these benefits must be planned for.  In some cities, these conversations have been ongoing for many years and are used to continually engage with local communities as the vision moves into the strategy development and on to delivery. Visit to see how this approach has been used for Edinburgh City Centre. 

2. Deliverability is key. 

Strategies are useless if they are not developed with a clear path to delivery.  They must be grounded in deliverable actions, interventions, projects, or schemes.  This requires that they are developed with a detailed understanding of the real position on the ground, the technical and operational challenges posed in the specific location, knowledge of the local communities and how they feel about change, how they use their environments and what they need in order to enable them to support the drive to net zero.  This can often be challenging for city or local authorities who have the local and operational knowledge but are lacking the technical capabilities required.  It is therefore critical that procurement of services recognises this need and seeks to support the deliverability goal.

3. Data is power. 

A detailed understanding of the current baseline, supported by up-to-date data and the voice of all effected stakeholders, is vital.  Knowing what drives the wellbeing of those living in your city or community, enables effective outcome design.  Data driven solutions development enables cities to identify how to address challenges and provide for communities, whilst also understanding any need for infrastructure provision.  Data then allows outcomes to be monitored, lessons to be learnt and changes to be made as required. 

Adaptative management approaches in cities will become increasingly important as we actively seek to improve resilience.  However, we must also be open to the idea that what might be required is a ‘no build’ solution.  Our default, under a net zero future, cannot always be to continue as we have been and build our way out of our challenges. Harnessing the power of the available data can fundamentally inform what the best, long term, approach to addressing urban challenges might be.  

4. Coordination and collaboration are vital.

 The development of plans and strategies related to the development and operation of cities and urban environments must be coordinated.  It is no longer acceptable to develop a transport plan which does not quite marry up with the local development plan or a to have a biodiversity plan and an urban realm strategy which do not talk to one another at a detailed level.  Coordination will enable maximum value to be delivered from infrastructure provision.  Imagine if district heating pipes were laid when roads are opened up to maintain other utility infrastructure.   Not only would this be a cost-effective way to provide for low carbon energy delivery, but it could also provide the required scale to enable wider application of this technology within the city.  

Cities in close proximity commonly have shared infrastructure including transport and utilities networks. It is an integrated ‘systems’ approach that is required to manage and adapt, to maximise opportunities and minimise costs associated with climate change. Managing this infrastructure requires collaboration, planning and sharing of information between all parties involved. Lack of coordination between neighbouring cities, other public organisations and the private sector can lead to scattered development, increasing the cost of infrastructure and public service delivery, and lower confidence in the market in terms of supply chain development.  This market confidence is required to ensure the investment brings further investment and secures wider economic values, including jobs.  Better coordination and collaboration can alleviate these problems; sharing knowledge, expertise and data to support faster and greater action on the ground. This would ultimately increase efficiency, both from a cost and an outcome perspective.  

5. Investment is success. 

One common challenge in delivering low carbon or blue/green infrastructure, such as energy supply, buildings and transport which is crucial in reducing carbon emissions trajectories,  is that it is difficult to fund, and access to financing is limiting the ability to realise these projects. It is not that funding is not available, it is rather that it’s difficult either to access development funding to assess feasibility or to ‘get the numbers to stack up’.                  
It is therefore not about a shortage of capital in the economy, but rather a lack of public financing capacity, combined with policies and regulation that sometimes make them unduly high risk for private investors. To address this, as projects are developed from strategies, they must be developed as investable propositions.  They need scale.  Collaboration between cities and other parties, alongside central Governments, will also serve to support this.  It is also the case that if from the outset the goal is to deliver social value via inclusive growth principles and to address climate challenges, then the likelihood of ‘the numbers stacking up’ is greater.  

Ramboll is experienced in helping clients through all steps in this process. Here are some examples:

South East Asian Smart Cities
Client: Asian development Bank (ADB) and Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Developing, piloting, and implementing smart city concepts in key cities across eight southeast Asian countries. 
In support of a large section of the UN SDGs, the project is focusing on seven sub-themes: urban resilience & disaster risk management; water; waste & sanitation; mobility; housing & architecture; inclusive and equitable growth; personal safety & security; and education.  Development of the vision for each of these cities requires multi-stakeholder collaboration.  This process is also feeding into the challenge identification which will serve to support the ultimate activities taken forward in each city.

Energy masterplan, Manchester
Client: Association of Greater Manchester

Supporting carbon and energy policy commitments both locally and nationally, the Greater Manchester (GM) Heat Network Programme is being developed to facilitate the efficient, cost-effective development and delivery of heat networks across the ten authorities of Greater Manchester. 
The project provides a basis for decisions about specific projects to be initiated and support the wider regeneration of the city. Ramboll has delivered a range of similar type projects for cities in the UK and internationally.  These projects commonly seek to support a fundamental shift from natural gas to decarbonised heat delivery.  Not only will such changes bring climate mitigation benefits, but they also deliver improved air quality, create jobs locally and provide more resilient energy systems based on sustainable fuels.

Fossil Free Oslo, Norway
Client: City of Oslo

Ramboll has assisted the municipality of Oslo in developing a new strategy for how the city can be free of fossil fuels by 2050. 
The strategy focused on energy resources, energy production/distribution and energy consumption in all sectors.  However particular focus was given to transport as it accounts for 60% of Oslo’s carbon emissions.


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