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Across government and private enterprise, local leaders see climate change as an opportunity to create places that are not just environmentally friendly, but also socially equitable.

It’s an ambitious goal, and it makes a daunting challenge all the more difficult. Some even question whether it’s feasible. Can both aims be achieved in the time we have? Should social justice aspirations get in the way of ecological action? Or to hit carbon reduction targets, do we just need to stop doing things, whatever the social consequences?

There are things that we’ll need to stop doing. But we should see this as a chance to tackle inequality. Green energy, technologies and ways of living can help us address issues such as economic deprivation; poor housing and access to healthcare; and disparate educational attainment.

Leaders also see the green transition as an opportunity to drive economic prosperity, enhancing our cities as places to live and work. They believe it’s a chance to create secure jobs in green industries; and promote the skills needed to perform them. That will in turn enable localities to draw in enterprise and talent. The pandemic has increased demand for housing in areas that are better connected to nature: being recognized as a ‘green city’ will be important to attracting businesses and skills.

There’s a need to build enthusiasm and demonstrate the opportunities to create new business models, products, and services that the green transition will generate. Embracing systems thinking and understanding the connections between different actions, will help them identify and quantify the benefits of the transition. Yes, they may have to spend in the short term, but green propositions should prove more profitable over the long term. And not offering them will erode investor, employee, and customer confidence. Businesses can expect a far greater emphasis on social value and carbon reduction from investors, regulators and customers. And they’ll need to anticipate larger and more frequent climate events, and a growing demand for net gains to be measured in biodiversity and environmental terms. In this context, different sorts of investment and strategic decisions will emerge.

Questions remain about whether the best decisions are being made, and how actions in one area will impact efforts elsewhere. What’s required in this context is a systems view of climate change. We need to map the complex interactions between different elements of the built and natural environment; and the impact of actions in one area on another.

Biophilic design – where the natural habitat is incorporated when designing spaces – provides a good example of this ‘systems’ effect. It not only improves physical and mental health but has also been shown to boost creativity and productivity, enhance learning outcomes, and even reduce crime levels.

Achieving the vision of green, fair and prosperous places will require high-level strategies supported by an implementation plan that recognizes – but is not constrained by – the complex web of interdependencies in which we operate. That said, we can’t wait while we develop a systems understanding of the problem. We need to start working on the quick wins now.

The excerpt was taken from the KPMG Thought Leadership publication Voices of Place: The Green City - KPMG United Kingdom (https://home.kpmg/uk/en/home/insights/2022/02/voices-of-place--the-green-city.html).