Low-carbon measures could increase urban poverty if a clean transition is not carefully managed, research from IIED suggests

A 2010 study by WIEGO estimated there are 1.5 million waste pickers in India (The Advocacy Project/Flickr)
A 2010 study by WIEGO estimated there are 1.5 million waste pickers in India (The Advocacy Project/Flickr)

There are over 25 million waste pickers in India.

They face serious discrimination and severe health impacts as a result of their work. Yet they provide a valuable social service.

Their efforts reduce the amount of waste in the streets, which lessens the health risks that other city dwellers face. Waste picking is also an effective form of recycling, allowing the urban poor to recover and re-use products that wealthier people have thrown away.

Yet when local governments design low-carbon strategies, they rarely recognise the important role that waste pickers can play. Too often, they focus on technological fixes such as incineration or landfill gas utilisation.

These measures can help to reduce emissions, but they are only part of the solution. If they are going to reduce poverty and vulnerability to climate change, city governments need to work closely with low-income communities.

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It is well-established that cities in the Global South are producing increasing quantities of greenhouse gases. Kolkata in India, for example, is expected to see its annual emissions grow by 54% over the next ten years.

However, new research published in Environment and Urbanization shows that these cities have significant opportunities to reduce their emissions. Many of these opportunities are economically attractive.

For instance, Kolkata could reduce its emissions by 20.7% over the next ten years, compared to ‘business as usual’ trends. These low-carbon investments would also reduce the city’s energy bill by 8.5%.

Delivering these emission reductions does require significant investment – we estimate that it would cost around $4 billion – but these measures would pay for themselves…