Sustainable Cities and Communities

Living Edition
| Editors: Walter Leal Filho, Anabela Marisa Azul, Luciana Brandli, Pinar Gökcin Özuyar, Tony Wall

Low Carbon City: Strategies and Case Studies

  • Abubakar  Ismaila RimiEmail author
  • Bununu Yakubu Aliyu
Living reference work entry

Latest version View entry history



Low carbon city is a sustainable urbanization approach that centers on curtailing the anthropogenic carbon footprint of cities by means of minimizing or abolishing the utilization of energy sourced from fossil fuels. It combines the features of low carbon society and low carbon economy while supporting partnerships among governments, private sectors, and civil societies.


Humanity has been facing extraordinary risks and challenges related to climate change, such as extreme weather events, sea level rise, water stress, desertification, biodiversity loss, and conflicts over limited resources (Abubakar and Aina 2016; De Jong et al. 2015). The leading cause of climate change is anthropological expansion of greenhouse gases (GHGs), including carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide, and methane, in the atmosphere. About 70% of global CO2 emission is associated with urban areas because they cluster socioeconomic activities that generate climate change-related emissions (Hoornweg et al. 2011); which are expected to increase significantly as forecasts show that 68% of the global population would reside in urban areas by 2050 (UN 2018). As such, cities are central to any efforts for combatting climate change and achieving sustainable development (SD). This requires comprehensive transformations in building design and operation, urban land use patterns, energy production and use, transportation systems as well as the infrastructure and services that support daily living, including water and waste (Abubakar and Doan 2017; Bulkeley et al. 2014; Gu et al. 2009; Liu et al. 2009). Urban areas, especially cities, are thus acknowledged among the key contributors to climate change, yet they offer important opportunities for mitigating climate change and transition to low carbon societies (Bununu 2012; Abubakar and Dano 2018).

The notion of low carbon city is drawn from national aspirations to shift toward the creation of low carbon communities and economies that systematically incorporate measures for mitigating and adapting to climate change to allow cities respond to global warming by means of efficiently planned and managed built environments (Chen and Zhu 2009; De Jong et al. 2015; Heiskanen et al. 2010). The concept is gaining significant popularity in the literature and policy discourse, and it is now associated with diverse and related concepts like eco-city, green cities, and sustainable communities (Chan and Lee 2009). Building low carbon cities entails encouraging the utilization of renewable energy resources while preserving an optimum connection between economic efficiency and social equity. According to Caprotti (2017), low carbon urban development specifically aims to achieve two key goals: (a) to ensure that urban areas are developed to be more environmentally friendly with low-impact and (b) to stimulate the growth of a low carbon economy operating within low carbon projects. Although the concept is nascent, low carbon city projects have emerged among the highly noticeable and capital-intensive sustainable urban developments for two decades. Similarly, studies in the field are limited but emerging.

This entry, therefore, contributes in this bourgeoning but globally important field of low carbon cities. Based on desk study of relevant secondary documents (journals, technical reports, agency websites), the paper discusses key strategies and challenges of achieving a low carbon city, highlights the role of low carbon city in fostering sustainable development (SD), presents two exemplary cases of low carbon cities, and concludes with future research direction.

Strategies for Achieving a Low Carbon City

To attain low carbon societies, long-term goals that require certain initiatives following sustainability trajectory should be taken at individual and community levels. These initiatives range from simple personal decisions on what to consume, how to travel from one place to another, and to complex community-wide decisions including how urban areas are organized and powered in terms of land use, urban form, infrastructure, buildings, as well as waste and environmental management (Zhou et al. 2015). This section highlights four key elements for achieving a low carbon city, adapted from low carbon city framework (LCCF) developed by Malaysia’s Ministry of Energy, Green Technology, and Water (Fig. 1): (i) low carbon energy; (ii) green and energy-efficient buildings; (iii) low carbon transportation and sustainable land use patterns; and (iv) sustainable waste management.

Low Carbon Energy

Energy production and consumption support socioeconomic development. However, burning of fossil fuels for electricity generation to power homes, industries, as well as other anthropogenic activities is a key source of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. More than 90% of energy consumed in Europe comes from fossil fuel sources (Uhel and Georgi 2009), and same can be said for most of the industrialized countries. This contributes to global contemporary challenge of climate change and the severe threats its effects pose. To effectively address this challenge, our energy production and consumption patterns must change by shifting from fossil fuels with their attendant CO2 emissions to zero-emission renewable sources like wind, solar, biofuels, recycled waste, and hydro powered systems (Gazzeh and Abubakar 2018; Hoornweg et al. 2011; Minx et al. 2013). Although global expenditure on energy infrastructure will reach around US$20 trillion by 2030 with China alone accounting for a third of the share of the developing countries (estimated at a little over 50% of global total), 16% emission reductions or 6.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e) is achievable without additional spending based on a different modeled scenario (IEA 2008). Realizing this potential requires emphasis on the energy sector investing more on energy efficiency than on supply expansion.

However, energy technology research and development spending have been declining in the past decades because of liberalization of the sector, unclear indicators, and a poor regulatory environment. Also, global CDM (Clean Development Mechanism) projects delivered in 2012 were projected to reduce 2 billion tCO2e of emissions valued at $4 billion per annum (Acquatella 2007). Yet, this amount represents just a tiny proportion of the predicted $20–30 billion per annum worth of low carbon investments needed in the Global South. Also, the existing energy efficiency programs face many challenges, including limited financing by users, substantial subsidies, lack of coordination among many individual actors, and inadequate information on energy performance of end-use appliances and the likely savings from demand-side investments (Skea and Nishioka 2008). Low carbon energy investments require well-defined, firm, and enduring signals from global carbon price. Other market mechanisms like carbon taxation and emissions trading remain very important considerations, however, energy subsidies as well as tariff barriers should be removed. Removing obstacles like expensive operation costs, technology adoption risks, and uncertain policy environments can foster investments via the CDM platform. The World Bank estimates that more investment is required to sufficiently fund a strategic global plan that supports reducing the price of low carbon technologies.

Green and Energy-efficient Buildings

The key objective of green buildings is low energy consumption and energy efficiency in primarily cooling, heating, and lighting systems. The relatively higher population densities in cities ensure the best use of available land, and save land for other uses such as infrastructure development, green spaces for recreational purposes, biodiversity, and ecosystem services (De Jong et al. 2015; Gazzeh and Abubakar 2018; Tan et al. 2017). Within the core of Western cities, multifamily houses and high-rise buildings constitute the largest proportion of housing, while single-family houses are the typical form of housing in sprawled areas as well as in rural areas. These different building types do not just have a different demand for land per floor area but also for energy required for heating and cooling, which is relatively higher in single-family houses than in multifamily houses and lowest in high-rise buildings in most regions around the world (Chan and Lee 2009; Seyfang 2010). As European and American cities move from being industrial production centers toward services and technology hubs, the housing stock’s share of energy consumption and related emissions continues to rise accordingly (Minx et al. 2013).

Given that urban areas account for around 70% of global CO2 emissions, implementing energy efficiency measures in buildings could significantly reduce energy consumption and associated CO2 emissions (Abubakar and Aina 2016). Simpler and somewhat well-known measures like the greening of facades and roofs have the capacity to reduce not only energy consumption but can contribute in balancing local climate extremes, increase the aesthetics and attractiveness of places, and make up for the usual deficit in green spaces in cities. These measures are at present experiencing a renaissance in new ecological urban design as evidenced in the development and growing popularity of vertical or roof gardens and retrofitting of buildings to make them more energy efficient. For example, in Nyiregyhaza, a Hungarian city of approximately 120,000 inhabitants, 26.8 TJ of energy per annum was saved by modernizing the heating systems in 12,800 apartments, which achieved overall energy saving of up to 68% (Uhel and Georgi 2009). In some cases, there are urban farms for growing food right in the middle of cities. It is the cumulative effect of many of these small but creative measures that reduce overall energy demand. Although building designs influence energy demand per floor area, even the most environmentally friendly building could still cause additional demand for transportation and infrastructure which can result in GHG emissions, air pollution, noise, and land take when it is located distant from common services and facilities and when convenient public transport is not available (Chan et al. 2017). The more compact and denser an urban area is, the lower the energy demand for water supply and sewage disposal (Abubakar 2017).

Low Carbon Transportation and Sustainable Land Use Patterns

Low carbon city is also concerned with the integration of transport systems with land use to enable a modal shift from private automobile to public transit and non-motorized modes of travel (Bununu 2016). In developed countries, urban development policies and built form initiatives are informed by empirical research that shows that excessive land use zoning and urban sprawl as environmentally untenable (Abubakar and Aina 2016; Bununu 2016). There is an increasing recognition of the association between travel behavior and land use patterns or urban form and travel behavior which resulted in the emergence of postmodernist concepts such as smart growth, new or green urbanism, compact cities, eco-cities, low carbon cities, and transit-oriented development (Abubakar 2013; Bulkeley et al. 2014). These initiatives are guided by urban development principles and concepts that have been inspired by the desire to achieve greater sustainability of cities (Pan et al. 2008). In the UK, carbon footprint of urban areas is largely determined by socioeconomic rather than geographic and infrastructural drivers, and the footprint rises with increasing car ownerships, education, income, as well as decreasing household sizes (Minx et al. 2013).

The interaction between transportation systems and land use is vigorous, involving changes over space and time between the two systems. For example, the evolution of transportation system produces new levels of accessibility that stimulate transformations in land use patterns. While urban form significantly impacts travel behavior, there is considerable influence of transit on urban form and the interactive impacts of transit on urban form. As stated earlier, the key concern is to organize the city in such a way as to reduce private automobile dependence and encourage the use of public transportation, cycling, and walking (Crawford and French 2008). Private automobile use has been associated with rising GHG emissions. In Europe, between 1990 to 2006, GHG emissions from transportation have steadily grown by 28% on average, with urban transportation accounting for 40% of the CO2 emissions from road transportation (EEA 2009). However, low carbon footprints from transportation are achievable. Urban design and development patterns can play a vital role in reducing transport demand and can facilitate an efficient organization of the required urban transportation system. Public transport can be organized more efficiently in a denser and compact city, and the short distances between destinations and activity areas encourage walking and cycling (Abubakar and Aina 2016; Joo 2008). In contrast, a dispersed city is more likely to be automobile dependent. While journey lengths are somewhat dependent on urban design, trip frequency is mostly shaped by the socioeconomic characteristics of a city’s inhabitants. Modal choice and transport demand on the other hand are determined by the built environment, socioeconomic characteristics, travel behavior, and lifestyle. However, the city’s structure and socioeconomic factors such as income, car ownership, family size and structure, as well as employment, influence travel behavior and need to be taken into consideration in land use and transportation policy decisions (Bannister 2007).

Sustainable Waste Management

Sustainable waste management refers to efficient waste handling to reduce the quantity of generated waste and recover materials and energy for fostering environmental and socioeconomic goals of sustainable cities (Abubakar 2017). It provides valuable co-benefits that include energy and inorganic fertilizers production and raw material demand reduction, with indirect implications for GHG emissions. There is a strong relationship between solid waste generation and GHG emissions, specifically methane that is released from landfilling of biogenic carbon (Mohareb and Hoornweg 2017). Current approaches to sustainable waste management include (a) low carbon landfill design and operation; (b) organic waste diversion; (c) thermal treatment of waste; and (d) source reduction, reuse, and recycling.
  1. (a)

    Low carbon landfill design and operation

    The dominant solid waste disposal method in most countries around the world is landfilling, due to its low cost. Proper design and operation of landfills provide a means of waste disposal that is considered environmentally friendly compared with open dumping practice. Designing and operating low carbon or sustainable landfill involves many technologies to control and improve the degradation of waste materials to achieve a variety of potential advantages throughout or soon after the landfill’s operating phase. Controlling and treating leachate via collection systems and liners can cut subsurface emissions, prevent water resources contamination, and improve the operating life of the landfill. In recent decades, several alternatives to landfilling which include recycling, composting, and waste-to-energy approaches have been gaining prominence globally.

  2. (b)

    Organic waste diversion

    Using anaerobic bioreactors and composting techniques to turn away waste from landfills and avoid biogenic methane emission is a widespread practice in many municipalities of the Global North (Mohareb and Hoornweg 2017). Several types of composters provide aerobic environments for decomposing waste to avoid the production of methane. Anaerobic digesters on the other hand generate methane in a controlled environment so that the biogas that is derived can be used as a source of energy. Implementation of municipal solid waste composting can be done at varying scales ranging from centralized industrial-scale facilities to home-scale systems. Whatever the scale, composting functions can reduce the volume of waste and at the same time provide a valued soil amendment coproduct.

  3. (c)

    Thermal treatment of waste

    Waste is also traditionally disposed through thermal treatment including open burning. Historically, incineration was the leading approach for disposing municipal solid waste but has been recently opposed because of health concerns. A more environmentally sustainable approach is the waste-to-energy (WTE) iterations. The advantages of WTE thermal treatment are electricity generation, lower GHG emissions, improving recycling rates, and less land requirements due to 90% and 75% reductions in volume and mass, respectively (Arena 2012). Most recently, gasification has become a substitute to WTE option that appears to address the limitations of incineration (Astrup et al. 2009). A major shortcoming of WTE and gasification is their high operating expenses relative to landfilling. Typically, expenses are 3–4 times higher for WTE and ten times higher where gasification is involved. Generally, these higher costs are not reconcilable in terms of commensurate environmental benefits (Manfredi and Christensen 2009).

  4. (d)

    Source reduction, reuse, and recycling

    Low carbon waste management aims to reduce resource consumption thus less waste generation and to promote resources reuse and waste recycling. Resource consumption reduction is at the center of the sustenance of humans, ecosystem protection, and sustainable urban development (Abubakar 2018a). While reuse implies the repetitive use of a resource or product, recycling often targets waste products that are not easily degradable through natural processes such as plastics and other synthetic wastes. Recycling can be done through open-loop approach which entails using the material in a product that is different from its original purpose or closed-loop approach where the material is used in the same process continuously (Mohareb and Hoornweg 2017, p. 121). Reduce, reuse, and recycle approaches to sustainable waste management are dependent on lifestyle choices, tastes, preferences, and level of environmental awareness and consciousness of the citizens of the city. This can be enhanced through sustained advocacy and public awareness campaigns by community-based organizations, nonprofit organizations, and public institutions.


Challenges to Achieving a Low Carbon City

The challenges to achieving a low carbon city are many and diverse. While some challenges are peculiar to certain cities because of their specific circumstances, others are generic to all cities around the world irrespective of socioeconomic and political circumstances. The impacts of climate change on cities and the needed mitigation and adaptation actions do not seem to match data availability and general awareness of existing challenges. In the Global South, reliable data on energy consumption, GHG emissions, and their sources are available for only some cities, which makes climate action target setting very difficult. A European opinion survey revealed that only about half of the people are truly aware of climate change causes and effects (Uhel and Georgi 2009).

While most of total global energy savings will occur in urban areas through low carbon city policies, cities are most often complacent in acting on climate change issues by implementing little, isolated efforts that are inadequate to produce required changes. Another challenge is that most of the required activities for reducing energy consumption and curbing CO2 emissions are under the purview of local governments (IEA 2008) where the tasks are too daunting to be overcome given the enormity and scale of the challenge. In addition, the multiple dimensions and sources of GHG emissions and their diverse effects on climate change make climate action and response a multi-scale and multidimension decision issue, and city administrators in developing countries do not appreciate this complexity. Indeed, low carbon measures taken by cities rely on nationwide activities and activities by cities elsewhere and other regions globally. The sources of GHG emissions are widely distributed, so are they related to multiple stakeholders and actors at various levels and strata of societies, and their effects are not confined within local, regional, or national borders. Therefore, climate change-related problems and challenges should be addressed in a comprehensive and integrated manner not just implementing few interventions at one administrative level.

Another challenge is that in several countries, the contribution of urban centers in climate change mitigation is yet to be integrated into existing policy documents especially those within the framework of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and is often excluded from national climate change response strategies and plans. Current approaches aimed at tackling fossil fuel dependency and climate change are mostly top down from the national and global levels and emphasize big measures that cannot be adequately steered at these levels (Burch 2010). These approaches negate the diverse factors driving energy consumption and climate change that are present at all levels but particularly at neighborhood level. Certainly, GHG emissions can differ remarkably among the same inhabitants of a city or country. Inhabitants of compact cities can emit half the emissions of residents of sprawling cities, and emissions are less for low-income cities and very less for the urban poor (Hoornweg et al. 2011). This makes the challenge too complex to be handled at higher administrative levels only.
Fig. 1

LCCF (adapted from Lojuntin 2012, p. 10)

Roles of Low Carbon City Principles in Fostering Urban Sustainability

In recognition of the roles that cities play in both causing and mitigating climate change, the principles and actions for low carbon cities have now been integrated into urban planning and design. Policies and planning for low carbon city can specifically reduce carbon emissions and stabilize GHG emissions and achieve climate neutrality. The chief principle of low carbon city is climate neutrality, defined by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) as “living in a way which produces no net GHG emissions which can be achieved by reducing your own GHG emissions as much as possible and using carbon offsets to neutralize the remaining emissions” (UNEP 2009). According to Chan et al. (2017), Crawford and French (2008), and Xin and Zhang (2008), the low carbon city design incorporates the following modern and ecologically friendly principles and strategies.
  • Compact and mixed-use development that support optimum building density and vertical structures.

  • Smart growth and green buildings and infrastructures to reduce urban sprawl.

  • Large deployment of renewable energy and resource efficiency.

  • Integrated water management system that safeguards supply sources and maintains effective delivery and waste water disposal systems.

  • Green transportation and connectivity by extensively using public transportation, pedestrian walkways, and integrated districts for residential, commercial, and industrial use with their interlinkages.

  • Sizable people-friendly public spaces including urban park systems with extensive open spaces, green spaces, vegetation, walkways, and bicycling areas.

  • Planning approach focusing on community-based programs on low carbon living, and encouraging people to implement practical steps to reduce their carbon footprint.

These strategies influence the design and operation of the following elements of the built environment: land use, buildings form and density, vehicular movement and parking, pedestrian walkways, open spaces, activity support, signage, and preservation. Thus, they can play an important role in planning and managing efficient, livable, and sustainable settlements for humanity. If cities around the world work collaboratively to achieve carbon neutrality by implementing these principles and strategies, climate change can be substantially curbed and a sound foundation for urban sustainability established (De Jong et al. 2015).

Increasing awareness about the significance of urban sustainability has resulted in the recognition of the above principles and strategies among researchers and planning professionals as well as decision makers around the world (Abubakar 2018b). Although the design of the built environment, including buildings, infrastructure, services, landscapes, and public spaces based on low carbon city principles can foster urban sustainability, each component plays a significant role in mitigating GHG emissions (Chan and Lee 2009). Low carbon city approach also aims to promote livable cities that offer residents good quality of life with respect to green technologies, energy efficiency, improved health due to less pollution, and desirable socioeconomic characteristics. In addition, it promotes the environmental health of cities and its constituent elements, especially buildings.

The above stated principles and strategies are also aimed at ensuring future low carbon urban development by emphasizing the need to cut energy consumption and GHG emissions resulting from buildings construction and operations which are known to consume 40% of energy globally. In that light, green building, adaptive reuse, and adaptability of new constructions have significant contributions to make in global emissions reduction and climate mitigation (UNEP 2009). Going forward into the future, urban areas will lean toward smart solutions, including smart grids, efficient water systems, public safety, and intelligent buildings (European Commission 2013). To effectively respond to climate change issues, building design will aim at developing intelligent buildings with more flexibility facilitated by wireless networks, centralized energy management systems, web-enabled services, and smart appliances (European Commission 2013). Lastly, low carbon city principles can help transform the mode of industrial and commercial production and consumption in urban areas by making them less energy intensive and can also enhance the share of renewables (De Jong et al. 2015; Gazzeh and Abubakar 2018).

Case Studies of Low Carbon Cities

In this section, two of the world’s famous and most ambitious eco-city projects, the Masdar City and the Sino-Singapore Tianjin City, are presented as exemplary cases of low carbon cities.
  1. (a)

    Masdar City

    The Masdar is a new eco-city established in 2006 in Abu Dhabi through experimental approaches that focus on transitioning to a low carbon economy and diversifying Abu Dhabi’s economy from oil dependency to non-oil industries and environmental and renewable energy technologies (Nader 2009). Apart from using smart technologies, the Masdar City model also benefits from the existing, valuable human capital in Abu Dhabi for building a high-technology research, development, and commercialization center which leverages on the oil industry’s existing intellectual and technical know-how and applies same to develop a low carbon economy. As such, new educational and research institutions have been established, including the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (MIST) in collaboration with Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The MIST, opened in 2009, is about the first educational institution in the world that offers academic programs that are completely focused on clean technologies and renewable energy, and it is central to Masdar’s aim of encouraging a low carbon and highly attractive economy. Similarly, the city will operate as the pivot of an industrial-economic hub that supports a special economic zone for attracting investment by abolishing taxes and import tariffs for clean technology companies, and businesses that focus exclusively on green economy. Also, there are no restrictions on investment into the zone or movement of capital out of it, which makes investment quick, easy, and efficient.

    The development of Masdar City is guided by a master plan, and it would be completed in 2025. The site, made up of 6km2 landmass outside Abu Dhabi, is proposed to house about 50,000 residents on completion. The project is estimated to cost around US$20 billion. Among the low carbon innovations planned for Masdar are high-tech solutions that include solar energy for powering the city, utilizing wind towers to provide ventilation at street levels, and pods for private transportation running along extensive tracks covering the entire city (Caprotti 2017). Masdar is envisioned to be carless and connected to Abu Dhabi and other parts of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) through rapid rail transportation links. However, would the citizens of Abu Dhabi and that of the UAE in general be willing to use public transportation considering their access to highly subsidized gasoline? Also, the 2008 global financial crisis necessitated changing Masdar’s vision from being carbon neutral to low carbon. The city also faces the risks of turning into a large-scale gated community or a “premium ecological enclave” from aesthetic, architectural, and socioeconomic perspectives because it would have a perimeter wall that is intended to keep the desert wind out (Caprotti 2017). The extent to which Masdar City becomes not only low carbon but also socially sustainable, equitable, and inclusive remains to be seen (Cugurullo 2013).

  2. (b)

    Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City

    Located between the cities of Tianjin and Binhai in Northern China, the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City (SSTEC) is presently the world’s largest eco-city project. The SSTEC is a product of a joint venture partnership between the Chinese and Singaporean governments, and it enjoys considerable political backing from the top leadership of the two countries. Although the project planning and financing are government-led, the private sector has also been significantly involved in residential real estate development. Such involvement is exemplified by the presence of major Asian real estate companies including Singapore’s Keppel Corporation, Taiwan’s Farglory, and Malaysia’s Sunway. Even though the city is being developed on a wetland site and that alone poses enormous environmental challenges, the site is significant because it houses one of China’s main ports, industrial, and cargo gateway to the rest of the world as well as in proximity to Beijing (an hour’s train journey); China’s center of political power. The eco-city is expected to be completed by 2033.

    The SSTEC’s master plan proposed a city of 350,000 residents housed in 110,000 apartments to be surrounded by special economic zones (SEZs). Just as is the case with Masdar, the SEZs favor green technologies and service industries including the production of environmental technology products that would be exported via one of the world’s largest ports, the Tianjin cargo port. In China, SEZs have been the preferred instruments of boosting industrial and economic growth since the establishment of Shenzhen as an economic hub in the 1970s. However, the SEZs to be developed around the SSTEC are an interesting experiment to support a shift towards a high-technology, low carbon economy amidst a broader regional context that puts Tianjin as the central hub in a region dominated by heavy industries – all used to and are still utilizing fossil fuel-based energy and technologies. The plan suggests incorporating low carbon innovations within the eco-city megaproject. These innovations consist of partially powering the eco-city using renewable energy such as wind and solar energy; pneumatic garbage collection; district-level heating; and the use of advanced water filtration and recycling systems in the city’s infrastructure. The plan proposed an initial start-up area (SUA) of about 8 km2 land on the site to provide 26,500 apartments that will house 85,000 residents. As at 2013, about 10,000 individuals have settled in the SUA (Caprotti 2017).

    Although SSTEC is certainly an innovative mega-project the magnitude of which was not previously seen anywhere in the world, several questions remain as to whether it goes far enough in its low carbon goals. For instance, questions are being asked about the intensity of carbon use in the SSTEC when operating, since very few of its buildings are close to attaining the highest global standards of energy conservation and efficiency. Additionally, the SSTEC’s urban design and layout evidently contain wide multiple-lane roads that separate residential blocks, leading to queries about its ability to sufficiently and effectively execute policies and strategies of using low-emission vehicles within its limits. Furthermore, the city’s apparent deficiency in spatial porosity results to issues that border on promotion or inhibiting social sustainability, which is a good indicator of the level of sustainability of urban communities. Just like Masdar, there are also concerns about the possibility of creating “premium ecological enclaves,” or the city becoming a large-scale gated community. This is because development policies including land appropriation and unaffordable prices of apartments endanger social sustainability by discouraging socioeconomic mix of individuals and groups in the city. Lastly, it remains to be seen the extent to which the SSTEC will impact the outlying, heavily industrialized, and environmentally sensitive region around it as well as the wider area of the rim of the Bohai Sea (Wong 2011).



The realities of the twenty-first century and concerns around climate change and its effects as well as rapid urbanization, urban sustainability, security, and economic efficiency have placed the city at the forefront of the development debate (Abubakar and Doan 2017). Consequently, climate change mitigation is increasingly becoming an important issue in urbanization policies, management of urban infrastructure, and efficient consumption of natural resources and environmental pollution. Globally, cities are involved in several urban planning policies and practices to develop a better environment, to improve socioeconomic situations, and to increase their attractiveness and competitiveness (De Jong et al. 2015). Low carbon city development is today a prominent feature of such practices. Given that urban areas produce about 70% of global CO2 emissions, “whether, how and why low carbon transitions in urban systems take place in response to climate change will therefore be decisive for the success of global mitigation efforts” (Bulkeley et al. 2014).

This entry adds to the bourgeoning but important literature on low carbon city by discussing some of the key elements that will facilitate urban area’s transition to low carbon future. These strategies are low carbon energy, green and energy-efficient buildings, sustainable land use patterns and low carbon transportation, and sustainable waste management. The paper also highlights some challenges faced by cities on their transition to low carbon communities. Lastly, two exemplary cases of low carbon cities have been reviewed: Masdar City in UAE and Sino-Singapore Tianjin City in China. The case studies indicate that the expectations, targets, and plans to commence purposive transition to low carbon living are evolving in diverse urban contexts.

The realization of the urgent need to mitigate climate change and make transition to low carbon living led to the official acknowledgment of the role of cities in the climate agenda at the Paris Conference in 2015 and that has now led to different city-level schemes such as the C40 Cities, the Covenant of Mayors, and most recently the CitiesIPCC – an arm of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which held its first conference in March 2018 with the aim of assessing “the state of academic and practice-based knowledge related to cities and climate change and to establishing a global research agenda based on the joint identification of key gaps by the academic, practitioner and urban policy-making communities.” Indeed, the comprehensive and sustained application of low carbon city principles can lead to urbanized areas becoming more environmentally friendly, economically efficient, and competitive for investments that can contribute toward climate change mitigation and achieving a more sustainable future.



  1. Abubakar IR (2013) Role of higher institutions of learning in promoting smart growth in developing countries: University of Dammam as a case study. In smart growth: organizations, cities and communities. In: Proceedings of the 8th international forum on knowledge assets dynamics. Zagreb, Croatia, pp 591–608Google Scholar
  2. Abubakar IR (2017) Household response to inadequate sewerage and garbage collection services in Abuja, Nigeria. J Environ Public Health 2017:5314840CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Abubakar IR (2018a) Applications of crowdsourcing in sustainable urban development planning in developing countries. In: Crowdfunding and sustainable urban development in emerging economies. IGI Global, Hershey, pp 77–96CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Abubakar IR (2018b) Exploring the determinants of open defecation in Nigeria using demographic and health survey data. Sci Total Environ 637:1455–1465CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Abubakar IR, Aina YA (2016) Achieving sustainable cities in Saudi Arabia: juggling the competing urbanization challenges. In: Population growth and rapid urbanization in the developing world. IGI Global, Hershey, pp 42–63CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Abubakar IR, Dano UL (2018) Socioeconomic challenges and opportunities of urbanization in Nigeria. In: Urbanization and its impact on socio-economic growth in developing regions. IGI Global, Hershey, pp 219–240CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Abubakar IR, Doan PL (2017) Building new capital cities in Africa: lessons for new satellite towns in developing countries. Afr Stud 76(4):546–565CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Acquatella J (2007) How finance can enable a low-carbon society. In: DEFRA (ed) Achieving a low-carbon society: symposium and workshop, 13–15 June 2007. DEFRA, LondonGoogle Scholar
  9. Arena U (2012) Process and technological aspects of municipal solid waste gasification. A review. Waste Manag 32(4):625–639CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Astrup T, Møller J, Fruergaard T (2009) Incineration and co-combustion of waste: accounting of greenhouse gases and global warming contributions. Waste Manag Res 27(8):789–799CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bannister D (2007) Cities, urban form and sprawl: a European perspective. European Conference of Ministers of Transport, ParisGoogle Scholar
  12. Bulkeley H, Castán Broto V, Maassen A (2014) Low-carbon transitions and the reconfiguration of urban infrastructure. Urban Stud 51(7):1471–1486CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Bununu YA (2012) Improving the planning and management of urban green spaces in Zaria, Nigeria. Unpublished Postgraduate Diploma Project Report, Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam, NetherlandsGoogle Scholar
  14. Bununu YA (2016) Connecting urban form and travel behaviour towards sustainable development in Kaduna, Nigeria. Unpublished PhD Dissertation, Universiti Teknologi MalaysiaGoogle Scholar
  15. Burch S (2010) In pursuit of resilient, low carbon communities: an examination of barriers to action in three Canadian cities. Energy Policy 38(12):7575–7585CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Caprotti F (2017) Emerging low-carbon urban mega-projects. In: Dhakkal S, Ruth M (eds) Creating low-carbon cities. Springer, Berlin, pp 51–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Chan EH, Conejos S, Wang M (2017) Low carbon urban design: potentials and opportunities. In: Dhakal S, Ruth M (eds) Creating low carbon cities. Springer, Switzerland, pp 75–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Chan EH, Lee GK (2009) Design considerations for environmental sustainability in high density development: a case study of Hong Kong. Environ Dev Sustain 11(2):359–374CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Chen F, Zhu DJ (2009) Research on the content, models and strategies of low carbon cities. Urban Plan Forum 182(4):7–13Google Scholar
  20. Crawford J, French W (2008) A low-carbon future: spatial planning’s role in enhancing technological innovation in the built environment. Energy Policy 36(12):4575–4579CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Cugurullo F (2013) How to build a sandcastle: an analysis of the genesis and development of Masdar City. J Urban Technol 20(1):23–37CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. De Jong M, Joss S, Schraven D et al (2015) Sustainable– smart–resilient–low carbon–eco–knowledge cities; making sense of a multitude of concepts promoting sustainable urbanization. J Clean Prod 109:25–38CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. European Commission (2013) A view of Smart Grids projects in Europe: lessons learned and current developments. 2012 Update. Joint Research Centre Scientific and Policy Report. Petten, The NetherlandsGoogle Scholar
  24. EEA (European Environment Agency) (2009) Transport at a crossroads – TERM 2008: indicators tracking transport and environment in the European Union EEA Report 3/2009Google Scholar
  25. Gazzeh K, Abubakar IR (2018) Regional disparity in access to basic public services in Saudi Arabia: a sustainability challenge. Util Policy 52:70–80CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gu C, Tan Z, Liu W et al (2009) A study on climate change, carbon emissions and low-carbon city planning. Urban Plan Forum 3:38–45Google Scholar
  27. Heiskanen E, Johnson M, Robinson S et al (2010) Low-carbon communities as a context for individual behavioural change. Energy Policy 38(12):7586–7595CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hoornweg D, Sugar L, Trejos Gómez CL (2011) Cities and greenhouse gas emissions: moving forward. Environ Urban 23(1):207–227CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. IEA (International Energy Agency) (2008) World Energy Outlook 2008. Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Paris, FranceGoogle Scholar
  30. Joo J (2008) A dynamic model of land use transition to achieve sustainable outcomes for urban travel behavior. PhD dissertation, Arizona State University, Phoenix, USAGoogle Scholar
  31. Liu ZL, Dai YX, Dong CG et al (2009) Low-carbon city: concepts, international practice and implications for China. Urban Stud 16(6):1–7Google Scholar
  32. Lojuntin S (2012, March 29) General info on Low Carbon Cities Framework (LCCF) Malaysia. Ministry of Energy, Green Technology & Water. Accessed 02 May 2018
  33. Manfredi S, Christensen TH (2009) Environmental assessment of solid waste landfilling technologies by means of LCA-modeling. Waste Management 29:32–43CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Minx J, Baiocchi G, Wiedmann T et al (2013) Carbon footprints of cities and other human settlements in the UK. Environ Res Lett 8(3):035039CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Mohareb E, Hoornweg D (2017) Low-carbon waste management. In: Dhakkal S, Ruth M (eds) Creating low-carbon cities. Springer, Cham, Switzerland. pp 113–127CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Nader S (2009) Paths to a low-carbon economy – the Masdar example. Energy Procedia 1(1):3951–3958CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Pan HX, Tang Y, Wu JY et al (2008) Spatial planning strategy for “low carbon cities” in China. Urban Plan Forum 6:57–64Google Scholar
  38. Seyfang G (2010) Community action for sustainable housing: building a low-carbon future. Energy Policy 38(12):7624–7633CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Skea J, Nishioka S (2008) Policies and practices for a low-carbon society. Clim Pol 8(1):S5–S16CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Tan S, Yang J, Yan J et al (2017) A holistic low carbon city indicator framework for sustainable development. Appl Energy 185:1919–1930CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Uhel R, Georgi B (2009) Key to low carbon society: reflections from a European perspective. ISOCARP Rev 5, pp 18–37Google Scholar
  42. UN (2018) The 2018 revision of the world urbanization prospects. The Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), New York, USAGoogle Scholar
  43. UNEP (2009) A case for climate neutrality: case studies on moving towards a low carbon economy. UNEP, NairobiGoogle Scholar
  44. Wong TC (2011) Eco-cities in China: pearls in the sea of degrading urban environments. In: Wong T-C, Yuen B (eds) Eco-city planning: policies, practice and design. Springer, Dordrecht, pp 131–150CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Xin Z, Zhang Y (2008) Low carbon economy and low carbon city. Urban Stud 4:98–102Google Scholar
  46. Zhou G, Singh J, Wu J et al (2015) Evaluating low-carbon city initiatives from the DPSIR framework perspective. Habitat Int 50:289–299CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Architecture and PlanningImam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University (formerly, University of Dammam)DammamSaudi Arabia
  2. 2.Department of Urban and Regional PlanningAhmadu Bello UniversityZariaNigeria

Section editors and affiliations

  • Luciana Brandli
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Passo FundoPasso FundoBrazil