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New global commission to study economic risks, opportunities in combating climate change

Source: Tue, 24 Sep 2013 19:14 GMT
Author: Lisa Anderson
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A worker inspects solar panels in Dunhuang, China. The country is pumping investment into wind power, a more cost-competitive option than solar energy which is partly able to compete with coal and gas. China is the world's biggest producer of CO2 emissions, but is also the world's leading generator of renewable electricity. Sept. 15, 2013 REUTERS/Carlos Barria
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NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation)—Economic prosperity and good climate policy need not be mutually exclusive, the head of a new global commission said on Tuesday in announcing plans for a study to put hard numbers behind that assertion.

 “We hope to be able to demonstrate that working on climate change is in line with economic growth,” said former Mexican President Felipe Calderon at a breakfast briefing to introduce the commission and its work.

Launched at the start of Climate Week NYC and the convening of the United Nations General Assembly, the newly formed Global Commission on the Economy and Climate is an independent initiative created by seven countries: Colombia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Korea, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Calderon chairs the commission, whose members include current and former heads of state, ministers and business leaders from 14 countries. Its first report on the economic impact of climate change measures will be released one year from now, in September 2014.

Calderon said that some countries fear that taking a responsible approach to climate change, such as reducing emissions, necessitates a trade-off between sustainable development and thriving economies.  “We believe the trade-off is a false dilemma,” Calderon said, although he said the commission is open to research findings to the contrary.

Calderon and other members of the commission acknowledged that some countries not only question the reality of climate change but are concerned that taking action, such as reducing fossil fuel use, will sap their economies and discourage business investment.

“We often hear that environmental action is socially uncomfortable and economically painful,” said Swedish Minister for the Environment Lena Ek. However, she pointed out that Sweden has cut carbon emissions by 20 percent since 1990 and seen a 60 percent growth in its gross national product.

There is also a potential social benefit for countries to consider, one that will be addressed in the report, said Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of Norway. 

“The world faces two great challenges. One is to fight poverty and at the same time fight global warming.  You can’t have one without the other. We need strong economic growth to fight poverty and we need dramatic cuts in emissions to fight global warning,” he said.

“The cost of not doing anything is much higher than not acting,” he added.

Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, Minister and head of the President’s Delivery Unit in Indonesia, said “climate challenges can also be opportunities.”  He said that Indonesia has set a goal of a 60 percent reduction of emissions from better handling of its forests and peatlands by 2020.

Once the report is published, he said, the hardest job will be selling world leaders on the value of acting on climate change. “Setting people free from myopia is difficult because our leaders only see things within the electoral cycle,” he said.

The economic, rather than purely scientific, focus of the report may be persuasive, said Calderon. “All this time we have talked about emissions and that’s right.  But, this time we will talk about profits and that could change the equation.”

“The best way to battle to the skeptics,” said UK Minister for Energy and Climate Change Gregory Barker, “is with hard facts and robust analysis that is peer-reviewed.”

To that end, the commission has assembled a team of some of the world’s leading economic experts, led by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, to assess how strong economic performance can be enhanced by good climate policy.

The research institutes involved in the study include Climate Policy Initiative, Ethiopian Development Research Institute, Global Green Growth Institute, Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, Stockholm Environment Institute, Tsinghua University and the World Resources Institute.

In addition, the commission will consult with finance ministers, business leaders and organisations such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

The New Climate Economy report is scheduled to be published in September 2014 in advance of an expected new international climate agreement in Paris in 2015.

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