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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

UN report: Cities crucial catalysts for climate action as emissions rise

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CITIES can become catalysts for climate action, according to the latest report released by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Unescap).

According to the “Crisis Resilient Urban Futures” report, cities are crucial, given that emissions from developing and emerging economies and markets in Asia, including the Philippines, grew 4.2 percent between 2010 and 2020.

The report said emissions from natural gas globally declined by 1.6 percent due to the crisis in Ukraine and 1.8 percent in Asia and the Pacific in 2022. However, emissions from coal reached 15.5 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent (Gt CO2e), and oil emissions spiked 2.5 percent.

“It is, therefore, critical that cities in Asia and the Pacific are not only at the center of efforts to decarbonize the existing urban systems but also that their local governments and associated national agencies are able to adapt urban growth rapidly to become compatible with zero carbon urban futures,” the report stated.

However, Unescap said some countries have undertaken reforms at the city level to bring down emissions, mainly from transportation.

Countries such as Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Nepal, and Pakistan have introduced incentives for electric vehicles.

Some cities, such as those in the Philippines and China, have also introduced alternative transportation facilities, such as those for cycling.

The report said more sustainable efforts can be undertaken through local revenue sources obtained from various taxes, fees, user charges, penalties, planning and building-related charges, and land-use conversion charges.

One of these sources is property taxes. However, Unescap said these taxes have not been extensively used by local governments across the Asia and the Pacific region.

In the Philippines, the share of local governments in total government revenues is only 19.4 percent. However, the share of property taxes in local revenue is only 8.2 percent in the country.

In the Asia Pacific, the share of property taxes in local revenues was the highest in New Zealand at 46.3 percent followed by Australia at 39.5 percent; Japan, 12.5 percent; Cambodia, 10.1 percent; and China, 9.9 percent.

“The share of property tax in GDP was much lower for countries in the Asia-Pacific region compared to other regions, implying there is significant potential to enhance the collection of property tax in the Asia-Pacific countries,” the report stated.

The collection of property taxes can also be boosted through digitalization. Unescap, however, noted that a city in the Philippines is a good example in this regard.

Quezon City, Unescap said, faced financial distress in 2001 with a budget deficit of P1.4 billion or $25.2 million in statutory claims and other loans.

However, the city government was able to turn this around by 2006 with its own-source taxes doubling to P5.7 billion from P2.7 billion. Property taxes rose by 75.1 percent.

“Digitization played a key role. It helped improve service quality, reduced individual discretion, and enabled revenue collection to be monitored in real time. Using this computerized information, the city cross-checked property transfer tax payments with the Land Registration Authority,” the report said.

The report stated that a geographic information system (GIS)-based inventory of taxable properties was prepared, and coordination of land and building information across departments was improved.

The GIS maps have also been used in Punjab province in Pakistan and Surat in India. The GIS maps were also used to improve the collection of property taxes, indicating that this method can be adopted in multiple contexts.

Image credits: Anna Ivanova | Dreamstime.com

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