Recession is the time to build a low-carbon future
Sir Nicholas Stern, author of the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, has a good article in the U.K.’s Guardian, “Green routes to growth.” The former chief economist with the World Bank offers up “two crucial lessons we must learn from the financial turbulence the world has been facing”:
First, this crisis has been 20 years in the making and shows very clearly that the longer risk is ignored the bigger will be the consequences; second, we shall face an extended period of recession in the rich countries and low growth for the world as a whole. Let us learn the lessons and take the opportunity of the coincidence of the crisis and the deepening awareness of the great danger of unmanaged climate change: now is the time to lay the foundations for a world of low-carbon growth …
High-carbon growth — business as usual — will by mid-century have taken greenhouse gas concentrations to a point where a major climate disaster is very likely. We risk a transformation of the planet so radical that it would involve huge population movements and widespread conflict. Put simply, high-carbon growth will choke off growth. To manage the climate, we must cut world emissions by at least 50% by 2050, as recognised by the G8 earlier this year. Given that rich countries’ emissions are far above the world average, their cuts should be at least 80%, acknowledged in Europe and the UK, with the adoption of that target last week.
Stern notes that spending is needed to promote growth at this point, but equally important, “We must promote growth that can be sustained.” He argues it is time to accelerate the inevitable spending on energy infrastructure, but make sure it is low carbon:
The coming period of growth can be firmly based in the low-carbon infrastructure and investments that will not only be profitable, with the right policies, but also allow for a safer, cleaner and quieter economy and society. And if, as we must, we halt deforestation — the source of 20% of greenhouse gas emissions — at the same time we can also protect and enhance our biodiversity and water systems …
The International Energy Agency estimates that world energy infrastructure investments are likely to average about $1 trillion a year over the next 20 years. If the majority of this is low-carbon, and some of it is brought forward, it will be an outstanding source of investment demand. So too will be the investments for energy efficiency, many of which can be labour-intensive and are available immediately …
It is surely clear that a programme can be put together which both boosts demand in the short term and prepares for efficient, strong and sustainable growth in the medium term. It must be structured carefully with the public and private sectors working together. It will be the private sector that makes most of the investments, but the public sector must shape the incentives and the investment climate that allows the investment to take place. That will mean working with the EU and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen to sustain a price for carbon, by use of carbon trading and taxation. It means regulation, for instance, on car emissions to give clear signals that allow economies of scale and reduce uncertainty.
This sustainable growth strategy is crucial not just to end the recession but as a model for the whole world in the decades to come:
The next few years present a great opportunity to lay the foundations of a new form of growth that can transform our economies and societies. Let us grow out of this recession in a way that both reduces risks for our planet and sparks off a wave of new investment which will create a more secure, cleaner and more attractive economy for all of us. And in so doing, we shall demonstrate for all, particularly the developing world, that low-carbon growth is not only possible, but that it can also be a productive and efficient route to overcome world poverty.
Indeed, if the rich countries won’t aggressively pursue sustainable, low-carbon growth, why should the developing countries?