In today’s class lecture we discussed Brazil’s progress towards mitigating climate change. Brazil has made an enormous effort in reducing tropical deforestation,“Brazil has kept 3.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere since 2004″ (Atkin, 2014). Brazil once had the highest deforestation rate in the world mainly due to livestock and logging. Rainforests are an important carbon sink, however deforestation emits large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, thus changing the climate. Although Brazil’s 70 percent decline in deforestation has helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions, other parts of Brazil are still feeling the effects of climate change. Sao Paulo is suffering from one of the worst droughts to have hit Southern Brazil in several decades. The water scarcity is causing violent conflicts between residents. As the climate continues to change, and droughts become more prevalent we can expect to see more violent conflicts and citizens protesting for access to resources like water, which are necessary for survival. Rainy seasons in Brazil have shown a pattern of less rainfall each year, “The Sao Paulo metropolitan area ended its last rainy season in February with just a third of the usual rain total only 9 inches” (Gomez-Licon, 2014). The government is being blamed for the issues of water scarcity, which shows that as the climate keeps changing and water becomes more limited there must be systems implemented for distributing water equally. Otherwise the world’s poor will be exposed to more vulnerabilities, and violent conflicts will increase.
Atkin, Emily. “Brazil Has Done More To Stop Climate Change Than Any Other Country, Study Finds.” ThinkProgress. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2014. <http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/06/06/3446097/brazil-cuts-carbon/>.
Gomez Licon, Adriana. “Sao Paulo Drought Leaves Brazil’s Biggest City Desperate For Water.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 07 Nov. 2014. Web. 10 Nov. 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/07/sao-paulo-drought_n_6118888.html?utm_hp_ref=green>.
Within the Mosaic courses, we focus mainly on the UNFCCC and, thus, almost exclusively on CO2 emissions. However, in ECON-222: Environmental Economics, a group of us from the Mosaic had the opportunity to research and learn about another greenhouse gas, one that is far more potent and dangerous to climate change: methane. CH4 is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted through anthropocentric sources, has an atmospheric lifetime of twelve years, and has a one hundred-year global warming potential twenty-one times that of carbon dioxide. So, while it only accounts for fourteen percent of total greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, it is still a critical factor in the climate change realm; unregulated at its source, and methane emissions could undermine the work that the UNFCCC facilitates on carbon-dioxide emissions.
We focused on three main sources of methane emissions (agricultural sources, the oil and natural gas industry, and landfills) and employed various tools of economic analysis that we had learned previously in the course to critically analyze various policy options and make a recommendation as to which we believe is the most effective and cost-efficient. My main focus was on the oil and natural gas industry, which accounts 37 percent of global methane emissions. Natural gas is seen as a transition fuel away from fossil fuels for many economies that is both cleaner and readily available; while it may be cleaner in terms of carbon-intensity, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily better for the environment, as between 80 to 90 percent of each cubic feet of natural gas is comprised of methane. Thus, most of the emissions in the industry come from natural gas processes, which is fraught with inefficiencies and opportunities for emissions to escape into the atmosphere. Thus, many of the major policy suggestions I evaluated in this research project focused on increasing efficiency along the natural gas supply chain. These policies further fell under two umbrella categories under increasing efficiency, one being the retrofitting and upgrading of existing equipment along the supply chain to mitigate emissions escaping in the first place, and the second being the capture and sale of those emissions that do escape. Policies under both umbrella categories are currently being employed, and have proven to be cost-effective in both achieving emissions reductions and increasing revenues for the industry as a whole
This project offered an exceptional opportunity to complement what I’ve learned in the Mosaic classes and to delve into the intricacies of my chosen field of study (economics) and how it relates to climate change generally.
For more information on methane emissions specifically in the US, visit the EPA website.
I came across a recent collection of photos by aerial photographer Bernhard Lang. This collection is that of an aerial shoot above the Hambach Mine in Germany. This lignite open pit mine is the deepest (in relation to sea-level) on the planet, being 931 feet below sea-level. Currently the mine is about 35 square kilometers large with a planned ending size of 85 square kilometers, roughly the size of Manhattan. All of this in a country that plans to be 80% renewable by 2050 and currently is the solar energy capital of the world. Some argue this is a result of the shutting down of nuclear facilities after Fukushima, as well as a result of the way emissions trading schemes are set up in the EU. The mine is still open and churning out coal everyday. Lang has done an excellent job of showcasing it, much in the way Balog has represented glacial melt and the impacts of anthropogenic global warming. This is not the first time Lang has been up in the air, attempting to capture the scale at which our society operates, much of his aerial work has taken on an environmental twist. As I find more artists looking to use their talents and passion to raise awareness and enact change, I wonder what else we might see in the coming decades.
In the World Watch Report, Renewable Revolution: Low-Carbon Energy by 2030 there are several topics about renewable energy sources discussed including future US scenarios, future global scenarios, policies, ways forward, etc.. Another important area of focus is the huge potential of renewable energy sources in helping reduce levels of emissions. (Sawin and Moomaw) This brings to the table a significant debate over whether or not the best approach to stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations is through mitigation implemented by policy instruments such as cap and trade systems or carbon taxes or if the best approach is a global transition to renewable energy sources. The evidence of previously successful transitions to renewables is strong enough to support the idea of an entire energy transformation.
There is enormous potential for all sectors of the economy to improve by investing in renewable sources of energy such as wind, hydro, tidal, and solar among others. “No one benefits from the release of greenhouse gas emissions, but developed and developing nations alike will benefit in numerousways from the transition to an energy-efficient and renewable world”(Sawin and Moomaw) To ensure the largest emissions reductions, both improvements in energy efficiency and renewables will be required however, this essay will focus on renewables. Advanced technologies can already be seen in several success stories including Germany, Denmark, Sweden, among several others.
Germany, for example, went from using essentially no renewable sources of energy to being one of the world’s leaders in the transition within just a decade. In eight years the amount of the country’s electricity coming from renewables, has increased from 6% to over 15%, leaving them well on their way to achieving their aggressive national targets for 2020. Also in the last decade, their wind and solar industries have accelerated tremendously, and the contribution of renewables to the overall final energy demand has tripled. The benefits of this movement has been not only in heavy carbon emissions reductions, but also in jobs, industry saving from fuel imports, and less pollution in the environment. The example of Germany’s noble efforts is “proof that, with a clear sense of direction and effective policies, rapid change is possible” (Sawin and Moomaw) In 2008,Germany emitted about 748 million tons of CO2 from energy use, it is estimated that if not for renewable sources, total emissions might have been about 860 million tons or 15% higher.
Furthermore, illustrations can be seen Denmark, Sweden, China, Brazil, and Isreal. First, in Denmark, their “economy has grown 75%since 1980, while the share of energy from renewables increased from 3 percent to 17 percent by mid-2008. In 2007, the country generated 21 percent of its electricity with the wind (Sawin and Moomaw). The Danes have set a target of 30% of their energy coming from renewable sources by 2020. Next, a significant shift away from fossil fuels can be seen in the heating industry in Sweden. They are now using biomass and waste as alternatives, because of heavy energy and carbon taxes, accounting for over 61% of total district heat production.
Also in the forefront of renewable action is China, hopefully setting a strong example for other nations by leading in the use of solar water heating, small hydropower, production of solar cells and wind (explosive growth rates). “A 2007 national plan aims for renewables to meet 15 percent of China’s primary energy demand by 2020. The government has tripled its 2020 wind target,from 30 gigawatts to100GW, and recently pushed its 2020 solar target from 1.8 GW to 20 GW” (Sawin and Moonmaw). Other models include Brazil who is thriving by using ethanol as a non-diesel fuel in vehicles and Israel who is a world leader in solar water heating.
As all of these examples show, over the past several decades renewable technologies have seen significant cost reductions and a real ready helping to avoid energy-related CO2 emissions. Estimates such as this one, “On a world wide basis, the Global Wind Energy Council estimates that wind power avoided 123 million tons of CO2 in 2007” (Sawin and Moomaw) among others should be reason enough to see the potential of pushing for a quick revolution to renewable sources. Examples of places such as Germany show the great potential that can be unlocked.
Check out this chart of leading countries in the renewable revolution.
Sawin & Moomaw, Renewable revolution: low-carbon energy by 2030, Worldwatch Institute, 2009.
Security Studies since the early 90’s have been looking at the connection between the environment and violent conflicts. Looking back we can see a history of violent conflicts in certain countries, many of which of LDC (Least Developed countries). The security community has come to agreement that environment factors are rarely causes of conflict but rather catalysts and drivers. But what about the future? There is now a new field of study beginning, climate change and violent conflict. A new review of 55 research papers shows that there is an increase in violent conflict related to climate change. The National Bureau of Economic Research http://envirocivil.com/climate/climate-change-supplementing-violence-women/ conducted this review and has a working paper that is also saying that these two factors are linked. Although most people can agree that with a changing climate may cause stress on certain systems that we need to survive, and will there fore cause some sort of violent reaction. However what is really interesting is that environment issues as drivers and catalysts change in these predictions of climate change caused violent conflict. This new form of conflict would be the cause, driver, and catalyst of violence. In past conflicts, environmental stresses help to exacerbate conflict, but do not usually act as the core reason. However, if climate threats increase enough they will become the sole cause of conflict. If there is simply not enough water for everyone, there will be conflict. Furthermore this shifts the priorities of the Security community, placing climate change threats as the top. If there is not enough water for people to survive it doesn’t really matter what the economic or political climate is.
Climate change does pose significant threats to prospects for sustainable development. It impacts our environmental, economic, and social development. With climate change in our radar, our ability to meet basic needs to sustain life would be difficult. The behavior that we are carrying out currently may allow or disallow our use of planet earth by future generations. It is also very difficult for developing countries to develop sustainably due to lack of government policy, finance and adaption plans.
In “Renewable Revolution: Low-Carbon Energy by 2030” by Janet L. Sawin and William R. Moomaw, the focus is on sustainable development but by the reduction of energy usage by using it more efficiently and using mostly renewable energy resources. “Humanity can prevent catastrophic climate change if we act now and adopt policies that reduce energy usage by unleashing the full potential of energy efficiency in concert with renewable energy resources” (Sawin & Moomsaw, 2009). This is a valid statement because climate change is first and foremost a challenge to development. Climate change is not just a pollution problem. In Sawin and Moomsaw’s article, they also stated that “A combination of political will and the right policies can get the world on track to mitigate climate change in the near term while also meeting demand for energy services, providing energy access for the world’s poorest, boosting the global economy, bolstering energy security, and improving the natural environment and human health” (Sawin & Moomsaw, 2009).
According to “Integrating Development in Climate Change: A Framework Policy Discussion Paper on Key Elements for the Development of the Post-2012 Global Climate Policy Regime” by the South Centre, global cooperation to reduce developed countries’ climate footprint and support developing countries’ adoption and implementation of low carbon sustainable development methods should be a priority. In context of the climate change negotiations, there is hope for developing countries to form policies that would promote and aid sustainable development objectives. The South Centre proposed that the post-2012 framework should support the creation of an international economic system that supports and promotes economic development of developing countries (South Centre, 2007). However, certain aspects need to be accounted for such as the need of flexibility to properly determine what policies are needed for development as well as what is best for adaptation to climate change. Policy parameters for the design of economic and environmental policies that were projected by the South Centre are “…the development policy space for developing countries in the areas of tariff and non-tariff barriers, intellectual property, investment promotion and regulation, regional integration, industrial policy, and finance regulation; and the environment and carbon space to increase GHG emissions, to the extent that may be required to enable them to increase the standards of living of their peoples to levels commensurate with a decent and dignified way of life” (South Centre, 2007).
Sawin & Moomaw, Renewable revolution: low-carbon energy by 2030, Worldwatch Institute, 2009.
South Center, Integrating Development in Climate Change.Nov. 2007.
From the predicted heat waves lasting for 100 years to the Arctic Ice melting by 2080 to islands in Pacific being completely submerged, climate change’s projected future outcomes seem dire. The pressing issues generated from climate change poses serious threats for millions around the globe. However, the projected gloomy future could further the development in sustainability. Sustainable energy is often seen as alternative energy source, but in order to counteract climate change, a transition away from a fossil fuel based energy system is needed. Although climate change is inherently destructive, the dangers from climate change have furthered development in for sustainability and depending on future negotiations, the prospects for sustainable development should be accelerated due to an increased demand for alternative energy.
First of all, if climate change did not result in significant risks or simply did not exist, there would be not necessarily be a need to develop sustainable energy. Unfortunately, the human-induced green house gas emissions result in an imbalance in Earth’s climate systems. This imbalance has called for reform in many different sanctions in climate change negotiations. As policies become more restrictive with CO2 emissions, the demand for alternative energy sources should increase because there will be a need to utilize less carbon intensive energy sources. In areas where the current global energy system is lacking, renewable energy is well suited. For example, sustainable energy’s benefits range from: providing energy to some of the poorest regions to improving human health to creating new jobs. In particular, the major benefit is that it avoids adding more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which will have long-term benefits in counteracting climate change. The wide array of benefits from sustainable energy and the increase in demand for sustainable energy to achieve climate goals has resulted in climate change furthering development in sustainability.
Although the energy demand is currently concentrated on carbon emitting sources, the risks from climate changes have already resulted in a shift towards renewables and projected outcomes indicate advancement in renewables. Specifically, a trend towards renewables has already begun for renewable shares have “jumped from 5% in 2003 to 23% in 2008” (Sawin and Moomaw 2009). In addition, areas ranging in size and location are implementing sustainable developments by increasing energy efficiency and utilizing renewables. The current increasing trends are projected to extend seen in the global energy scenarios that show “a gradual shift to renewables” and hypothetically, “a transformation or step-change in how the world produces and uses energy” (Sawin and Moomaw 2009). In order to meet the suggested climate change emissions targets in the IPCC, a need for renewable energy may increase.
It is key to note that climate change will negatively impact various aspects, which includes the development of sustainability. The threats from climate change are and will cause economic, social and political strain. Due to finances, some developed nations will be less vulnerable and have the funds to further sustainability. Whereas, some developing nations do not have the funds to invest in expensive sustainable resources and need to focus available funds to alleviate climate change damage, limiting sustainable development. Fortunately, there are several strategies that can help solve the issues around implementing sustainability. One strategy is implementing a carbon tax, which would raise fuel prices and encourage the transition to alternative energy. Another possible strategy is for developed nations to provide finances for sustainable development in developing regions. An additional strategy is ratifying more aggressive short and long-term policies that will help eliminate the support for fossil fuels. Overall, sustainability has is weaknesses, but it is necessary in transitioning away from fossil fuel emissions.
The need for sustainable development would not be as pressing if our current fossil fuel energy system did not have lasting and negative impacts on the planet. Climate change could undermine economic and social goals, but if negotiations are successful there could be a development in sustainability. As conditions worsen, there will hopefully be more stringent carbon emission reductions. Hence, if future negotiations are progressive there could be a movement towards further developing suitability and moving away from carbon-emitting energy sources.
Sawin & Moomaw, Renewable revolution: low-carbon energy by 2030, Worldwatch Institute, 2009.
In the Copenhagen Accord (UNFCCC, 2010), during COP15, 114 countries agreed that “the increase in global temperature should be below 2°C, on the basis of equity”. This has been interpreted as the “dangerous” level agreed to by the parties in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992). To have a more likely than not chance at staying below 2°C, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere cannot exceed 500ppm (IPCC, 2014). Every 2.13 GtCO2 emitted will raise the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by 1ppm (Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, 2012). As of September 2014, the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere was 395 ppm (NOAA, 2014). Thus, there is approximately 224 more GtCO2 that can be emitted until there is a less likely than not chance of having warming greater than 2°C. To reach this level of atmospheric carbon dioxide, global emissions must be reduced by 40-70% by 2050 and be at zero or negative emissions by the end of the century (IPCC, 2014). A carbon tax is the most effective way to make the transformative change needed to keep emissions below the agreed upon dangerous level of atmospheric GHGs. An aggressive carbon tax will allow dangerous climate change to be avoided because it is proven to work, it can be implemented quickly, and it has the potentially to drastically reduce emissions.
A carbon tax is an effective tool to mitigate emissions in a least cost manner. Every use of fossil fuels that is worth less than the price of the emissions will not occur and thus reduce emissions. As the fee rises, more carbon intensive activities will become economically infeasible, driving down GHG emissions. Depending on the original fee and rate of increase this would be an effective tool to rapidly decrease emissions at the least cost because market forces will drive carbon reductions. By setting a tax floor, emission reductions are ensured (as opposed to a price cap in cap-and-trade systems) and increase over time with price increases (Sawin and Moomaw, 2009). A cap-and-trade system will be associated with less certain emissions reductions because an emissions cap is also an emissions floor (Burtraw and Woerman, 2012). This means that maximum emissions reductions cannot always be achieved because the number of permits issued sets the reduction amount as opposed to market forces pushing emissions with economic forces. This tax scheme allows for efficient carbon reductions.
Several European countries have already put a tax on carbon. Denmark was able to do this successfully by taxing industry emissions to fund renewable energy projects (Sawin and Moomaw, 2009). Denmark proved that the carbon tax works when you tax the polluters and subsidize renewable energy (Prasad, 2008). A recent study even found that a majority of republicans, democrats and independents in the United States would support a carbon tax similar to Denmark’s in which all revenues would be returned to research and development of renewable energies (Amdur, 2014). This could make a carbon tax feasible in the US and allow for economically efficient emissions reductions.
During the last week of October 2014, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse announced his intentions to introduce a carbon fee bill to the US Senate (Pantsios, 2014). This bill would put a price on the carbon to fund social programs including helping workers transition out of carbon intensive jobs (Pantsios, 2014). Two MIT economists hypothesize that it is better for the economy to have carbon taxes than high federal taxes (specifically looking at the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts) even if those funds go towards social programs or tax cuts (Rausch and Reilly, 2012). For all these reasons, it seems like a carbon fee bill would do well in US congress; it makes logical sense, but the politics can get messy.
Australia passed a carbon tax in 2012 (Meng and others, 2013) under a pro-labor government attempting to reach across party lines to gain votes (Taylor and Hoyle, 2014). The politics around this legislation have been messy for a number of years and in 2014 the law was repealed under the notion that it hurts business and is preventing Australia from exporting its rich energy resources to countries across the world (Taylor and Hoyle, 2014). AGL Energy was cited as saying that this would cause a loss in revenue in the near term due to loss in assistance from the government/carbon tax; however, long-term profits are now looking up (Taylor and Hoyle, 2014). This could lead to backlash from citizens as the government takes away a A$500+ check, which was promised to households in the form of yearly savings (Taylor and Hoyle, 2014). Australia is the first example of a nation to pass a carbon fee and then later repeal it. A program, which gives money to the citizens, would seem to have broad voter appeal, like British Columbia’s program (2014). It appears that the politics were not set up properly for Australia to have a carbon fee that sticks. This does not mean that a carbon fee is impossible, but rather that care must be taken to set up a program that is politically feasible.
Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) are a good first step and should not be discourage amongst UNFCCC parties. To be effective, an agreement with a great deal of stringency, participation and compliance must be reached in Paris. It does not appear to be politically feasible, but if a global price on carbon could be agreed upon, this would allow for the best system to tie everyone together ensuring participation and compliance. The tax could provide increasing stringency over time to ensure effectiveness. This would allow certainty around carbon leakage out of countries with strict carbon rules and into low regulation nations. The carbon tax is a clear transformation change that would work to drive emissions down. Incremental changes and small policy reforms are unlikely to put the world in a position to mitigate warming below 2 degrees Celsius. Effective and decisive action is needed immediately to instill transformative change.
Amdur, D., Rabe, B., Borick, C. Public Views on a Carbon Tax Depend on the Proposed Use of Revenue. Issues in Energy and Environmental Policy. Number 13. July, 2014.
British Columbia. Carbon Tax. Ministry of Finance. 2014.
Burtraw, Dallas, and Matt Woerman. “US status on climate change mitigation.” Resources for the Future (RFF) Discussion Paper (2012): 12-48.
Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center. Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center – Conversion Tables. September, 2012.
IPCC, 2014: 5th Assessment Synthesis Report, Summer for Policy Makers. [Myles R. Allen (United Kingdom), Vicente Ricardo Barros (Argentina), John Broome (United Kingdom), Wolfgang Cramer (Germany/France), Renate Christ (Austria/WMO), John A. Church (Australia), Leon Clarke (USA), Qin Dahe (China), Purnamita Dasgupta (India), Navroz K. Dubash (India), Ottmar Edenhofer (Germany), Ismail Elgizouli (Sudan), Christopher B. Field (USA), Piers Forster (United Kingdom), Pierre Friedlingstein (United Kingdom), Jan Fuglestvedt (Norway), Luis Gomez-Echeverri (Colombia), Stephane Hallegatte (France/World Bank), Gabriele Hegerl (United Kingdom), Mark Howden (Australia), Kejun Jiang (China), Blanca Jimenez Cisneros (Mexico/UNESCO), Vladimir Kattsov (Russian Federation), Hoesung Lee (Republic of Korea), Katharine J. Mach (USA), Jochem Marotzke (Germany), Michael D. Mastrandrea (USA), Leo Meyer (The Netherlands), Jan Minx (Germany), Yacob Mulugetta (Ethiopia), Karen O’Brien (Norway), Michael Oppenheimer (USA), R.K. Pachauri (India), Joy J. Pereira (Malaysia), Ramón Pichs- Madruga (Cuba), Gian-Kasper Plattner (Switzerland), Hans-Otto Pörtner (Germany), Scott B. Power (Australia), Benjamin Preston (USA), N.H. Ravindranath (India), Andy Reisinger (New Zealand), Keywan Riahi (Austria), Matilde Rusticucci (Argentina), Robert Scholes (South Africa), Kristin Seyboth (USA), Youba Sokona (Mali), Robert Stavins (USA), Thomas F. Stocker (Switzerland), Petra Tschakert (USA), Detlef van Vuuren (The Netherlands), Jean-Pascal van Ypersele (Belgium)]. November 1, 2014.
Meng, S, Siriwardana, M., and McNeill, J. “The environmental and economic impact of the carbon tax in Australia.” Environmental and Resource Economics 54.3 (2013): 313-332.
Monica Prasad, “On Carbon, Tax and Don’t Spend,” New York Times, 25 March 2008.
NOAA. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Earth Systems Research Laboratory Global Monitoring Division. Trends in Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide. October, 2014.
Patsios, Anastasia. Sen. Whitehouse Proposes Carbon Tax to Repay Citizens for Pollution Costs. Eco-watch. October, 2014.
Rausch, S., and Reilly, J. Carbon tax revenue and the budget deficit: A win-win-win solution?. MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, 2012.
Sawin, J., and Moomaw, W.. Renewable revolution: low carbon energy by 2030. Worldwatch Institute, 2009.
Taylor R. and Hoyle R. Australia Becomes First Developed Nation to Repeal Carbon Tax. The Wall Street Journal. July, 2014.
UNFCCC. Copenhagen Accord. “Report of the Conference of the Parties on its fifteenth session, held in Copenhagen from 7 to 19 December 2009.” UNFCCC/CP/2009/11/Add.1. March 30, 2010.
UNFCCC. United National Framework Convention on Climate Change. UNFCCC/INFORMAL/84. 1992.
President John F. Kennedy once remarked that, “when written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters; one represents danger, and the other represents opportunity.” The crisis of climate change poses many threats to the current global economic status quo, especially as many nations are developing at a rapid rate of speed. Their predecessors, the developed nations, experienced growth under the mantra of “grow fast, clean up later;” this second group of nations, however, doesn’t have that same luxury due to the threats posed by climate change. But, while it poses threats to the old economic ways and development paths already taken, there are also a plethora of opportunities presented through the climate crisis, which could carve a new development path that is more economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable.
The current system at the core of the global economy emerged as a result of the development paths taken by the Annex-I nations, which gave very little weight to environmental costs and degradation; this economy is still the one currently installed. Central to its philosophy and functionality is a “growth fetish” or “growth imperative” that places absolute focus upon GDP and whether or not it is increasing as the main indicator for development and growth. However, GDP doesn’t represent the full picture of economic growth, as it doesn’t indicate whether there is a fair or equitable distribution of benefits or an increasing or decreasing environmental quality. These two factors are an inseparable part of the threats climate change poses to society, and, if not taken into account as economies grow, could lead to “a lot of people [being] poor and polluted – the worst of all possible worlds.” With uncontrolled economic growth as has been seen historically, the world and global economy will be a great departure from what is currently enjoyed, with higher social inequality, lower environmental quality, and potentially severe climate change, all of which will make sustainable development increasingly more difficult to achieve.
Without making drastic changes to the current economic system and philosophy in response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development will be out of reach for developing countries. The effects of anthropogenic climate change will directly and negatively affect many of the essential drivers of sustainable development, namely food, water, and infrastructure, among others. These pose considerable economic threats to emerging and developing economies; it was estimated that the “total annual damage to China’s economy from environmental degradation is the equivalent of 9% of GDP…[and] bad sanitation and water pollution cost India 6% of national income,” to name a few examples. That is a crippling cost for an economy to absorb year after year, and, if perpetuated and extended, would have the potential to halt any growth that nations plan to achieve in the future.
However, there are numerous beneficial opportunities for sustainable development that arise in response to the threats posed by the climate crisis. These opportunities must be taken in light of the new economic reality that all future growth and development must be sustainable and sensitive to its effects upon the social, environmental, and economic systems in play. A green economy, as described above, is “characterized by substantially increased investments in economic activities…such as renewable energy, low-carbon transport, energy- and water-efficient buildings, sustainable agriculture and forest management, and sustainable fisheries.” All of these create good jobs and increase investment in local, regional, and national economies, while also establishing environmentally-friendly and sustainable infrastructure that will have impacts for its entire lifespan. Infrastructure plays a major role in the future of the economy and the scale at which sustainable development is achieved; “about two-thirds of the $8 trillion need for infrastructure investment in Asia and the Pacific between 2010 and 2020 will be in the form of new infrastructure, which creates tremendous opportunities to design, finance, and manage more sustainable infrastructure.”
This is a defining characteristic of green growth, as it, by definition and in practice, “means looking for investment-hungry projects that bring high returns in broad environmental and narrow commercial terms.” Green growth or sustainable development policies incentivize the private sector to innovate and discover even better and more sustainable methods in order to maximize their profits and market share. In effect, this allows for economic growth to be sustained over time, while also protecting and increasing the value of the environment as an asset for future generations. As the Stern Report declared, “tackling climate change is the pro-growth strategy for the longer term, and it can be done in a way that does not cap the aspirations for growth of rich or poor countries.”
 Speth, James Gustave. “A New American Environmentalism and the New Economy.” Lecture, Tenth Annual John H. Chafee Memorial Lecture on Science and the Environment from the National Council for Science and the Environment, Washington, DC, January 21, 2010.
Climate change is by far one of the most pressing issues of the 21st century. Humans are creating this change in the climate; therefore humanity must take responsibility for previous actions. Developed and developing nations must switch to an energy efficient and renewable world, but it is a global effort. Climate change is expected to put pressure on natural environments as well as those constructed by humans. Therefore, in order to minimize these challenges, it is imperative to put adaptation plans into action. While the world continues to grow and develop, it is important further development is done in a sustainable manner. Sustainable development is a considerable solution towards developing in a way that lessens environmental degradation. Sustainable development is defined by the World Commission on Environment and Development as, “a mechanism for growth without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs” (Warner, 2014). Sustainable development can be achieved through climate resilient pathways, which combine methods of adaptation and mitigation. However, it is argued if climate change will pose significant threats to prospects for sustainable development.
According to the UNFCCC, “Climate change poses a moderate threat to current sustainable development and a severe threat to future sustainable development.” Climate change involves a complex interaction between social and ecological systems; therefore new approaches to sustainable development must take this into consideration. Adaptation and mitigation are both essential for minimizing the risks attributed with climate change. Currently and previously, actions on sustainable development have been delayed, which poses a threat for future sustainable development because it can reduce the options for climate resilient pathways.
On the other hand, researchers at MIT, “looked at three policies achieving the same reductions in the United States, and found that the savings on health care spending and other costs related to illness can be big” (Resutek, 2014). Policies that aim at reducing carbon emissions are beneficial to health problems because these policies lead to reductions in harmful pollutants. These emission reductions also in turn have huge cost reductions for healthcare. One of the researchers Tammy Thompson states, “If cost-benefit analyses of climate policies don’t include the significant health benefits from healthier air, they dramatically underestimate the benefits of these policies” (Resutek, 2014). These results show that climate policies not only benefit the environment, but also benefit health and the economy. The recent advances in technology for renewable energy can achieve more than just meeting the goals of emissions reductions.
While the future in respect to climate change looks entirely too bleak, humanity must use existing technology and implement policy towards continuous sustainable development. We cannot move forward without doing so in a sustainable manner. All nations must work together and assist the most vulnerable nations in taking drastic measures in order to remain under the two-degree limit. Sustainable development produces global benefits in combating climate change.
Resutek, Audrey. “Study: Cutting Emissions Pays for Itself.” MIT News. MIT, 24 Aug. 2014. Web. 02 Nov. 2014.
Warner, Koko, Dr. “Climate Resilient Pathways to Sustainable Development.” Multiple Resilience Pathways: (n.d.): n. pag. UNFCCC. UNFCCC, 19 May 2014. Web.