Climate and economy can improve together

17 September 2014

Economic growth and a reduction in carbon emissions can co-exist, according to a new report by the Global Commission on Energy and Climate issued ahead of the UN Climate Summit in New York next week.

The commission's chairman, former Mexican president Felipe Calderón, launched the report - Better growth, better climate: The new climate economy - in the presence of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The aim of the report is to contribute to global debate about economic policy, and to inform the policies pursued by governments and the investment decisions of the business and finance sectors.

The commission comprises former heads of government, finance ministers and economics and business leaders from all over the world. Over 100 organizations have actively contributed to the project, with research supported by economic and policy research institutes.

According to the report, rapid technological innovation and opportunities for structural change mean that all countries, regardless of their level of wealth, now have the opportunity to build lasting economic growth at the same time as reducing climate change risks. The capital for the necessary investment is available and the potential for innovation is vast, but strong political leadership and credible, consistent policies are needed, it said.

"Climate change caused by past greenhouse gas emissions is already having serious economic consequences … Without stronger action in the next 10-15 years, which leads global emissions to peak and then fall, it is near certain that global average warming will exceed 2°C, the level the international community has agreed not to cross," the report said.

A transition to a low-carbon economy lies at the heart of the 10-point action plan set out by the commission. Climate should be integrated into all economic decisions, supported by a "strong, lasting and equitable" international climate agreement with "strong, predictable" carbon prices. More efficient uses of resources, substantial support for low-carbon infrastructure developments and a shift away from unabated coal use also feature in the plan.

Nuclear is a proven technology

Renewable and other low-carbon energy sources could easily account for more than half of all new electricity generation over the next 15 years, the report said. The commission recommends raising ambitions for renewable and other zero-carbon energy. While particular attention is paid to the rapid development and deployment of renewables, especially wind and solar, over recent years, nuclear is recognised as a proven low-carbon technology. Carbon capture and storage, in contrast, is seen as an "early stage" technology needing massive investment and support if it is to become a realistic option.

If fully implemented, the commission says its recommendations could potentially achieve up to 90% of the emissions reductions needed by 2030 to avoid dangerous climate change, although this would require "decisive and early action by economic decision-makers."

The commission is co-chaired by economist Nicholas Stern, author of a landmark review of the economics of climate change published in 2006, who said decisions made by the world today would determine the future of both the economy and the climate.

"If we choose low-carbon investment we can generate strong, high-quality growth - not just in the future, but now. But if we continue down the high-carbon route, climate change will bring severe risks to long-term prosperity," he said.

Ban Ki-moon said the report's release ahead of next week's summit was "timely".

"There is no time to lose. Greenhouse gas emissions are at record levels. The effects of climate change are already wide-spread, costly and consequential," he said.

Over the next six months the commission intends to discuss the report with economic decision-makers across the world, aiming to stimulate "stronger action" from both governments and business to drive growth and emissions reductions together.

"The message to leaders is clear," said Calderón. "We don't have to choose between economic growth and a safe climate. We can have both."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News