Part of: Communicating climate change
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No economic reason to delay climate action - global commission

by Laurie Goering | @lauriegoering | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 29 August 2014 13:43 GMT

Windmills and a power plant are seen in the distance as beachgoers watch sunset in the city of Dongfang on the west side of China's island province of Hainan, June 18, 2014. REUTERS/John Ruwitch

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World has a 15-year window to shift onto a lower-carbon path, major report will argue

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Acting to curb climate change makes economic sense, even before counting the benefits of lower risks from climate threats, an upcoming report by leading financial, business and political officials will say.

But that action must happen soon, or the world will be locked into dangerous levels of climate change that will disrupt economies and lives for decades or centuries to come, the report will warn.

“The next 15 years are absolutely critical,” said Jeremy Oppenheim, programme director for the New Climate Economy project of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, chaired by former Mexican president Felipe Calderon.

“People always tend to make the case for urgency … But the science in this case, leaving all rhetoric aside, makes it extraordinarily clear we have a 15-year window to change the underlying current premise,” he said.

The commission, established last year, has been studying whether acting to keep global temperature rise to relatively safe levels would help or hurt the world’s economies.

Members of its council include former heads of state, ex-finance ministers from countries like Indonesia and South Africa, former heads of many major development banks, including China’s, corporate leaders from businesses such as Unisys, and trade union officials.


The group’s report, due out in September, will make the case that “it is possible to deliver between 50 and 90 percent of the emissions cuts required to get onto what could be described as the ‘2-degree path’…with measures that make good economic sense for countries and cities even before taking into account the benefits of decreased climate risk,” Oppenheim told a World Health Organization conference on health and climate change in Geneva this week.

International negotiations on a new global deal to address climate change aim to hold temperature rise to no more than 2 degrees Celsius, a level climate scientists consider relatively safe. But with climate-changing emissions continuing to rise as a result of economic growth, deforestation and population expansion, the world is currently on a path to a 4-degree rise in temperatures, scientists warn.

Efforts to tackle climate change must consider broader economic realities – particularly flagging economic growth rates around the world, the need for jobs and concerns about energy security – if they are to be taken seriously and be effective, Oppenheim said.

“There is no point in banging the climate risk drum and hoping people will pay attention without it fitting into a wider agenda,” he said. 


The commission has come up with a list of 10 “transformative actions” it believes are crucial for effective action to curb climate change. They include weighing climate risks in financial, economic and other decision making, and making sure a new global climate deal is agreed as planned in 2015.

Some of the other key changes proposed include ending fossil fuel subsidies and deforestation, building more compact cities, cutting the use of coal as a fuel, putting a value on carbon emissions, scaling up clean innovations and making it easier to get cheap capital for low-carbon investment.

 “There is no silver bullet that solves the problem. These are all necessary conditions…for better growth and a better climate at the same time,” Oppenheim said.

He noted, for instance, that government subsidies for renewable energy use, and for research and development on renewable energy and energy efficiency, amounted to just short of $100 billion globally in 2012.

In the same year, the world spent more than $1 trillion - over 10 times more - on fossil fuel subsidies and research. Eliminating or trimming these huge fossil fuel subsidies could save governments money and push investment into cleaner, more efficient energy, Oppenheim said.


As the world becomes more urban – over half of people now live in cities, and the percentage is rising – governments also need to understand the value of building compact cities, he said.

Barcelona in Spain, and Atlanta, the capital of the U.S. state of Georgia, both have about 5.3 million people. But Atlanta sprawls over 4,280 square kilometers (1,650 square miles), while Barcelona covers just 162 square kilometers (62 square miles), Oppenheim noted. 

Barcelona’s carbon emissions are a tenth those of Atlanta, with many people walking or taking public transport instead of using cars – and reaping health benefits as a result.

To spur effective action on climate change, “we have to integrate climate into the core things people care about day to day: where they live, what they eat, how they get their energy,” Oppenheim said.

That should get easier, the upcoming report will show, as renewable energy becomes cheaper, energy efficiency improves, new policies and technologies are put in place, and big emitters like China increasingly “recognise the costs of uncontrolled growth”.

But that doesn’t mean everyone will act to curb climate change, even if doing so makes economic sense.

“There are many reasons why companies will hesitate, and all kinds of political factors that could delay taking action. But there is no economic reason that should delay taking action,” Oppenheim said.

(Editing by Megan Rowling:

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