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Monday, September 29, 2014

Economic growth and climate action are compatible

Keep the ice caps frozen. Fossil free. Not politicians, but you will save the world. Creation is sacred, stop destroying our world. These were some of the messages on the banners carried by nearly 400,000 people – men and women, young and old – who participated in the “Peoples Climate March” in New York City, ahead of the UN Climate Summit held on September 23, 2014.

The New York march was the largest of 2,646 events in 156 countries, which provided a strong platform for ordinary made it clear that urgent action is needed to combat climate change. But something else of notable consequence emerged ahead of the UN Climate Summit. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund has announced that it eliminated investments in coal and tar sands was in the process of unwinding the broader realm of investments fossil fuels while increasing investments in alternative energy sources.  

About $4.2 billion in assets held by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and 50 other foundations will no longer be invested in fossil fuel companies. In all, philanthropies, faith-based organizations, universities and pension funds have pledged to divest assets worth more than $50 billion from portfolios. In the grand scheme of things, this is not huge, but it is a significant signal, especially to countries such as Kenya that are on the cusp of the hydrocarbon bonanza.

At the UN Climate Summit, politicians affirmed that of all the immediate challenges facing the world today, the urgent and growing threat of climate change was the most profound. The strong growth of the global economy before the financial meltdown was characterized by massive surge in greenhouse gas emissions from an exponential increase in the use of fossil fuels. It is estimated that the world pumped an estimated 36 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere last year, a 2.3 per cent increase from 2012. 

India’s emissions grew by 5.1 per cent in 2013. China’s emissions grew by 4.2 per cent, while US emissions grew by 2.9 percent. For many years, these top three carbon dioxide emitters have maintained that cutting global emissions and transitioning to cleaner energy would undermine economic growth. Groups opposed to climate change action argue that the only way to cut emissions substantially is to eliminate economic growth. Nothing could be more simplistic and naïve.

A new study, “The New Climate Economy”, argues that efficient investments could deliver at least half of the emission cuts needed by 2030 to keep global temperatures in check, while delivering extra economic gains. The report further argues that putting a price on carbon would have large co-benefits, positive benefits beyond reducing climate risks, like reduction in the number of people sickened and killed by pollution from fossil fuels.

Our generation will be the first to bear the brunt of climate change. But ours, backed by unprecedented advances in science and technology, is also the only generation that has the capacity to act boldly to slow global warming and heal the planet. As noted by US President Barack Obama in his address to the UN Climate Summit, “we cannot condemn our children and their children to a future that is beyond their capacity to repair”.

When it comes to combating climate change there can be no such thing as common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR). All of us – industry, individuals or countries – must recognize our role in creating the carbon problem and accept responsibility to clean it up. We afford the luxury of waiting for an international agreement to combat climate change.

Nothing captures the essence of our common and undifferentiated obligation to our planet better than the words sang by Natasha Bedingfield at the closing of the UN Climate Summit. “Looking down from up on the moon; It’s a tiny blue marble; Who would have thought the ground we stand on could be so fragile; This is a love song to the earth; You’re no ordinary world; A diamond in the universe; Heaven’s poetry to us; Keep it safe, keep it safe, keep it safe; Cause it’s our world, it’s our world”.

Africa can skip the dirty phase of development. The notion that economic development and action to combat climate change are incompatible is short-witted and unconscionable. Moreover, if we truly believe in free market economy, we must trust that it is adaptive and creative enough to respond to carbon pricing. Do we have the courage to act? 

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