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Green Economy Isn?t Rocket Science ? And It?s Not Even Costly

Sep 22 2014

Analysis by Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Sep 22 2014 (IPS) – Acting on climate change will not hurt domestic economic growth, and in fact is more likely to boost growth, most analyses now show.

The latest to confirm the dictum that swift action is eminently affordable is the recent report by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, released on the eve of the Sep. 23 U.N. Climate Summit in New York.

?There is no reason to fear that more ambitious action to reduce carbon emissions will have a high economic cost,?said economist Robert Repetto, an International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) fellow and former professor at Yale University.

?Those claiming the costs of climate action will be high represent the economic sectors that will be adversely affected,?Repetto told IPS.

These include the fossil fuel industries and others that profit from burning carbon including railroads, pipeline and other industries.

Repetto was not involved in the Global Commission?s report by the U.N., the OECD group of rich countries, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and co-authored by leading climate economist Lord Nicholas Stern.

Repetto agrees with their findings that the costs of acting on climate now will not hurt economies but delaying action will be extraordinarily costly.

?The costs of burning fossil fuel are enormous even without factoring in climate impacts,?he said

Air pollution costs China 10 per cent of its annual GDP due to increase health costs from particulate pollution and smog damage to crops and buildings. In India, pollution costs are up to six per cent of GDP. Germany also loses six percent of its GDP to pollution because it and neighbouring countries like Poland continue to rely on coal, Repetto told IPS.

?Those costs alone are way more than additional costs of installing renewable energy,? he said.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon notes that, ?Domestic economic growth and acting on climate change are two sides of the same coin.?

Too many governments and leaders don?t understand this reality and that must change, Ban said at the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate press conference.

However, the U.S. government, among others, continue to rely on a high-profile but deeply-flawed economic model called DICE. Developed by well-known Yale economist William Nordhaus, the DICE model claims that action on climate will cost more than the damages from climate change.

Repetto and Robert Easton, professor emeritus of applied mathematics at the University of Colorado, have just completed a ?sensitivity analysis?of the DICE model. They found that DICE has many questionable assumptions, including that damages from climate impacts will increase at a modest level no matter how high the global temperature rises.

It also assumes improvements in renewable energy will be far slower than they actually have been over the last decade.

When these and other dubious assumptions are corrected, the DICE model shows that ?much more aggressive policies to reduce emissions are warranted?because economic growth would continue to be robust. The actual costs of keeping global temperatures below 2C are far less than previously estimated, they conclude.

Staying below 2C means that by 2018, no new electrical power plant, factory, school, home or car can be built anywhere in the world unless they are replacing old ones or are carbon-neutral.

That?s the shocking implication of a recent study looking both CO2 emissions and CO2 commitments. Build a new coal or gas power plant and it will emit CO2 every year for the 40- to 60-year lifespan of the plant. That?s a CO2 commitment.

The study ?Commitment accounting of CO2 emissions,?is the first to total these commitments.

Last year, the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report established a global carbon budget in order to stay below 2C. Adding up current CO2 emissions and commitments, in less than five years that global carbon budget will be fully allocated with business as usual.

Carbon commitments should be a fundamental part of any decision to build most things. Instead, hundreds of billions of dollars are invested in new infrastructure that will make climate change worse.

?We?ve been hiding what?s going on from ourselves: A high-carbon future is being locked in by the world?s capital investments,? said Princeton University?s Robert Socolow, a co-author of the commitment study.

Any plan or strategy to cut CO2 emissions has to give far greater prominence to those investments. Right now the data shows ?we?re embracing fossil fuels more than ever,? Socolow previously told IPS.

The time has long passed where ?we can burn our way to prosperity,? said Ban Ki-moon. ?A structural transformation is needed.?

A framework for this transformation includes a price on carbon, green investment funds, and strong policies to decarbonise energy and land use.

Time is not on our side; the urgency grows with each passing day.

?We?ve already waited too long?significant climate impacts are now unavoidable,?Repetto said.

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