A major new report finds that if infrastructure investments during the next 15 years follow the current path of high carbon dioxide emissions, the world will sail well past the threshold of what world leaders consider to be dangerous amounts of global warming.
But the report also argues that it's possible to foster economic growth and tackle climate change at the same time, in nations both rich and poor.
“Yes, it is possible to have better growth and better climate,” said Felipe Calderón, the former president of Mexico, who co-chaired a commission of 24 leaders from government, business, finance and economics in 19 countries. “We need to make some fundamental changes and tough choices.”
To put it more bluntly, Calderón said Tuesday, the next 15 years of development decisions will “determine the future of the world."
“If we don’t take action in these coming years it will be every day more expensive and more difficult to shift towards a low carbon economy,” Calderón said, speaking at a press event with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The comprehensive economic analysis, which comes one week before more than 120 heads of state will meet for a daylong climate summit in New York, finds that investments of $90 trillion will be needed over the next 15 years in energy systems, cities and land use — regardless of climate goals.
What's $270 billion when you're already spending $6 trillion per year?
That translates to about $6 trillion per year. Investments in energy efficiency and low-carbon infrastructure will add only about $270 billion a year to this price tag, the report says, and without them, a business as usual path may prove to be a disaster. Carbon dioxide emissions are a leading cause of global warming.
“This scale of investment is itself a huge opportunity to change the future,” Calderón said.
How the global community directs these funds — either toward sprawling, vehicle-intensive cities, or toward denser, more efficient urban areas — could make or break the global climate, the report finds.
“If we are going to invest $90 trillion one way or another, let’s do it in the right way. Let’s invest in low-carbon infrastructure instead of the current carbon-intensive path,” Calderón said.
The commission calculates that if its recommendations are fully implemented, they could potentially achieve 50% to 90% of the emissions reductions scientists say are needed by 2030 to avoid dangerous climate change.
Lord Nicholas Stern, co-chair of the commission and the author of a widely-cited 2007 study on the economics of climate change, said in a press release that continuing down “the high-carbon route” will yield “severe risks to long-term prosperity.”
This finding has been echoed in several recent reports, including a bipartisan report by U.S. business leaders released in June.
The new report states that “if climate change is not tackled, growth itself will be at risk,” which sends a strong message to business leaders, who are increasingly active in the climate policy process. The commission included the chairman of Bank of America, the vice-chairman of Deutsche Bank Group, and the CEO of Bloomberg LP, and the report likens climate change to a "systemic" risk similar to what led to the financial crisis of 2008.
A world of cities
According to the report, during the next 15 years, an additional one billion people will move to urban areas, most of them in the developing world. And the amount of urbanized land in 2030 could be triple that of 2000, the equivalent of adding an area larger than Manhattan every day.
Calderón called the current model of building low-density cities with poor mass transit systems “no longer viable.”
Instead, the report finds that building more compact cities with mass public transport could save more than $3 trillion in investment costs during the next 15 years while improving economic growth and public health.
How to feed a growing population?
As the global population grows by at least another billion during the next few decades, a key challenge will be figuring out how to grow more food without wiping out more of the world’s rain forests, which store planet-warming carbon dioxide. To do this, the report recommends restoring 12% of the world’s degraded lands, saying this can feed another 200 million people.
Shifting quickly to renewables
The report finds that more than half of new electricity generation during the next 15 years is likely to come from renewable resources like solar and wind, and that removing $600 billion in fossil fuel subsidies would unlock more funds to invest in energy efficiency and poverty reduction.
Like many others before it, the report also calls for scaling up investments in energy research and development programs, which in some countries, like the U.S., have fallen or flatlined. Global energy research and development spending is half of what it was in the 1970s.
“It’s an extraordinary mistake,” Stern said.
The report was funded by the governments of seven countries, including Colombia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Norway, South Korea, Sweden and the UK. However, the report’s conclusions do not reflect the views of those nations, since the commission worked independently, Calderón said.
Clarifying the goals for the U.N. Climate Summit
The report is aimed at framing the debate ahead of the U.N. Climate Summit in New York on Sept. 23, when more than 120 heads of state, along with business leaders and philanthropists, will meet to discuss global warming and kick off the next round of climate treaty talks that will come to a head in Paris in 2015. “This is going to be a real defining moment for all of us,” Secretary-General Ban said.
During the Tuesday kickoff event at the U.N. for the “New Climate Economy Report,” Ban discussed the goals of the summit in greater detail than he has publicly to date.
Ban said the summit would be aimed at laying the “framework” for putting a price on carbon emissions, as well as filling in details on financing global warming aid to developing countries. In addition, he said the summit would be directed toward “removing policy ambiguity” that can discourage businesses from investing in low-carbon infrastructure. This could be accomplished through a new global climate treaty, among other actions.
Lastly, he said the summit “will generate momentum for joint initiatives that will decarbonize key sectors of the economy.”
Tags: CITIES, CLIMATE, CLIMATE REPORT, CLIMATE SUMMIT, CLIMATE TREATY, DEVELOPMENT, ENERGY, POLITICS, U.S., US & World, WORLD