Exploring the economic case for early investment in climate change mitigation in middle-income countries: a case study of Johor Bahru, Malaysia

Sarah Colenbrander*, Andy Gouldson, Andrew Heshedahl Sudmant, Effie Papargyropoulou, Loon Wai Chau, Chin Siong Ho

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)

7 Citations (Scopus)


The assumption that climate mitigation can only be afforded at a particular level of income is implicit in global climate negotiations. This suggests that middle-income countries may reach a tipping point in their development process where low-carbon investment becomes more viable. In order to avoid dangerous levels of climate change, this tipping point needs to be brought forward in time: upper-middle-income countries are already responsible for 37.8% of global CO<inf>2</inf> emissions. We explore the scope for large-scale investment in climate mitigation in Johor Bahru, a fast-growing industrial city in Malaysia. We find that the city could reduce per capita emissions by 10.0% by 2025, relative to 2014 levels, through cost-effective investments. If the returns could be recovered and reinvested in low-carbon measures, Johor Bahru could reduce per capita emissions by 35.2% by 2025, relative to 2014 levels. This result suggests that the tipping point may be a function of political will and institutional capacity as well as income. This has substantial implications for global climate policy discussions, particularly the opportunities and responsibilities of middle-income countries. If comparable savings can be delivered across cities in middle-income countries, this would equate to a reduction in global emissions of 6.3% with the exploitation of cost-effective options and 11.3% with the exploitation of cost-neutral options. Investing in economically attractive low-carbon measures could also provide cities in middle-income countries with an opportunity to build the political momentum and institutional capacities necessary for deeper decarbonization.

Original languageEnglish
JournalClimate and Development
Early online date2 Jun 2015
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Jun 2015


  • carbon Kuznets curve
  • cities
  • climate policy
  • energy
  • low-carbon investment

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