Transition to a Climate Smarter World

A  2°C increase in temperature due to global warming is the maximum acceptable limit that our planet can take without irreversible damage. That is the clear message from the just-released World Bank Development Report 2010, which this year focuses on climate change.

“From the perspective of development, warming much above 2°C is simply unacceptable,” is the World Bank’s formal position.

That would mean limiting global emissions to 450 particles per million (CO2e) and this would only be possible through a very ambitious agreement at COP15 in Copenhagen this December.

“Stabilizing at 2°C will require major shifts in lifestyle, a veritable energy revolution and a transformation in how we manage land and forests,” warns the report.

In order not to exceed this limit, we will need to reduce emissions by 70% by 2020. However, there is nothing even close to this on the negotiation table at the moment.

The other major conclusion from the report is that poverty alleviation and responding to climate change do not run counter to each other.

Today the number of extreme poor in the developing world is half what it was 30 years ago, and growth and poverty alleviation remain big priorities for developing countries. Climate change has begun to intensify that challenge, with impacts already being felt and promising to become more severe in the near future, requiring substantial adaptation.

Nonetheless, the developing world understandably wants to keep up this pursuit of prosperity. And it is quite obvious that the rich world has no right to hinder this quest, since high income countries are overdue to start chopping the amount of climate-changing emissions they continue to spew an unfair share of into the “atmospheric commons”.

Figure-3-(large)

In this comprehensive report, the World Bank suggests that the answer to climate change is not a choice between high-growth/high-carbon and low-growth/low carbon. But rather a matter of fixing existing inefficiencies while also finally beginning to adopt mitigation actions that actually have many co-benefits to outweigh their cost. This would be the first step in becoming “climate smart”.

The report aims to show that today, greater wealth and prosperity do not “inherently produce more greenhouse gases” as in the past, but rather that “particular patterns of consumption and production do”. To illustrate the point, the authors (Marianne Fay, the Chief Economist of the Sustainable Development Network and Rosina Bierbaum, a respected US environmental policy expert) note that per capita emissions in rich countries vary dramatically: from 7 tons in Switzerland to 27 in Australia.

Though changing such patterns is politically and scientifically complex, we are capable of acting differently than how we have been, the World Bank maintains — and we are intelligent enough to realize that we need to do so as soon a possible. (Hopefully we can count on the Bank to take its own advice.)

In the run up to Copenhagen, it is widely known that developing countries do desire to take lower-carbon paths but that they require (and should feel entitled to) financial and technical assistance from richer countries. Same goes for their adaptation needs. Such equity is key to dealing with the climate change challenge, the authors say.

Though these things amount to such a tall order as to have kept the world frozen in metaphorical headlights, they are all possible, the report argues. It is simply a matter of recognizing and ending the inertia, and quickly and earnestly pursuing equity, as well as utilizing our ingenuity.

The challenges are immense (and this is well-documented in the report) and reversing all that we have done is now impossible. Nevertheless, there really is a route to a carbon smart future, and with this report, the World Bank has helped to map it out.

Amongst an extensive list of recommendations, the Bank argues that:

→ Existing low-carbon technologies and best practices can be used to reduce energy consumption significantly (and save money). Doing so could, for example, cut energy consumption in industry and the power sector by 20–30 percent, helping reduce carbon footprints without sacrificing growth.

→ The added value of emission reduction measures must be appreciated. Avoided deforestation, for instance, preserves watersheds and protects biodiversity, while forests can effectively serve as carbon sinks.

→ A transformation of the world’s energy systems is required (and in order). Research and development investments on the order of US$100 to $700 billion annually will be needed — a major increase from the modest $13 billion a year of public funds and $40 billion to $60 billion a year of private funds currently invested.

However, what the report makes abundantly clear is that we need to hit the road immediately and we have about ten years to turn things around.

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Transition to a Climate Smarter World by Carol Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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Author

Carol Smith

Carol is a journalist with a green heart who believes that presenting information in a positive and accessible manner is key in activating more people to join the search for equitable and sustainable solutions to global problems. A native of Montreal, Canada, she joined the UNU communications team in 2008 while living in Tokyo and continues to collaborate from her current home in Vancouver.

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  • http://www.gm.com/ GM

    Ten years isn’t long. That’s actually a worse scenario than that being posited by the IPCC? I do take issue with the World Bank inset showing the longitudinal development of the share of globla emissions. I imagine this is almost impossible to represent fairly given that definitions of middle-income, developing and industrialised countries etc. are so difficult to define even today with more extensive economic metrics than were available in 1850. Given that I don’t see how one can show this development over such a long period of time. A nice try though although I’m not sure it helps particularly to be in the ‘blame game’. Further, technological solutions and other ‘quick fixes’ will help a little (and quite obviously everything should be tried at this point) but the fundamental problem is our behaviour. How do we change our intrinsic motivation to be going about our lives in such a different way. How do we change the habits of our cultures formed over millennia now ingrained in such endemic, deep-routed ways. I’m not entirely sure a long list of recommendations from the World Bank will acheive this. I think we all pretty much know what needs to be done now and plenty of solutions have been on the table for years. But you’re right in your article that political (and let’s not forget the ‘social’ – that’s me and you) needs to be there too. I think this is the challenge for Copenhagen: to finally realise that the patterns of economic growth have to date been unsustainable, a cancerous blight upon our planet. I do believe the key lies in education, very astute education at that, as a means to digging deep into each of our individual psyches – from ‘world leaders’ to ‘beggars’ in the streets – so tha tthe important change comes from within not from external pressure of clever reports of mis-timed legislation. In short, nice try World Bank but shouldn’t you have been thinking about this some time ago? Regards.

    • http://www.ourworld.unu.edu/ Carol S

      Thanks for your input GM.

      Yes, the latest reports are really saying things are happening much quicker than the IPCC’s predicted. Check out the “compendium” just released by UNEP, for example. As for the graphic of emission “shares” and the usefulness of the blame game, perhaps you are right if you are to put a fine point on it. However, in the end, I don’t think the habits that need changing are those “formed over millennia now ingrained in such endemic, deep-routed (an interesting sic there, BTW) ways” but rather it really is the cheap oil, cheap goods consuming frenzy (indulged in by “the few”) of the more recent past that must immediately be halted.

      And when you say “I think we all pretty much know what needs to be done now and plenty of solutions have been on the table for years”, I’m not exactly sure who you think “all” is. Again, there are so many who do not seem convinced that it is necessary and it is they who really do need educating, be it by reports such as these or by you personally. Copenhagen can hopefully convince ‘world leaders’ and you & I can should continue to focus on the individuals in the street. But I fear individual psyches will at this stage need political assistance to get things moving quick enough. Don’t you think?

  • http://twitter.com/MorrisBoyd Morris Boyd Associat

    We need to have change our accounting policies to Life-Cycle accounting for construction and operations. We also need to understand the costs of externalities caused by corporate, government and personal decisions. We don’t count correctly, therefore we don’t know what we are losing.

  • http://www.ourworld.unu.edu/ Carol S

    Thanks for your input GM.

    Yes, the latest reports are really saying things are happening much quicker than the IPCC’s predicted. Check out the “compendium” just released by UNEP, for example. As for the graphic of emission “shares” and the usefulness of the blame game, perhaps you are right if you are to put a fine point on it. However, in the end, I don’t think the habits that need changing are those “formed over millennia now ingrained in such endemic, deep-routed (an interesting sic there, BTW) ways” but rather it really is the cheap oil, cheap goods consuming frenzy (indulged in by “the few”) of the more recent past that must immediately be halted.

    And when you say “I think we all pretty much know what needs to be done now and plenty of solutions have been on the table for years”, I’m not exactly sure who you think “all” is. Again, there are so many who do not seem convinced that it is necessary and it is they who really do need educating, be it by reports such as these or by you personally. Copenhagen can hopefully convince ‘world leaders’ and you & I can should continue to focus on the individuals in the street. But I fear individual psyches will at this stage need political assistance to get things moving quick enough. Don’t you think?

  • 4thworld

    Useful and appropriate it is to expect nations and peoples to expel into the atmosphere only a per capita share of the carbon dioxide (and equivalent greenhouse gases) the planet can handle. This means an 85% reduction for the US, Canada and Australia, roughly 75% for Western Europe, Japan, Russia and South Africa and a smaller but more challenging reduction for China. Brazil and India still have room to spare. This is without consideration for the natural sequestration of carbon in undisturbed forests and grasslands. Those still natural lands, like the atmosphere itself, are really part of the global commons in the context of climate change, reversal and management.

    The “developed” (one might say over-developed) nations have their hands full meeting the long-term target of reducing per capita emissions of carbon dioxide to about 2.8 metric tons of carbon dioxide per annum. “Punishing” countries for a profligate and uninformed past is not going to happen. “Subsidizing” reforms in economically “less-developed” countries (with the possible exception of South Africa which is so dependent on coal and therefore a profligate polluter) is a distraction from the need to “enforce” change within the developed and rapidly developing (China) economies.

    The most efficient mechanism for enforcing change in an economic system is through taxation in countries not in compliance with the per capita emissions standard. The carbon dioxide emissions intensity of fossil (and renewable carbon-based) fuels should be taxed to whatever extent necessary, by every non-compliant national government at the same rate, to largely drive fossil fuels out of the market. Governments would largely be expected to use the proceeds of the carbon tax to reduce other taxes applied to useful things (like a fair income for a fair day’s work). Such taxes could also help fund installations of non-carbon based energy systems and new fuel and power distribution systems.

    Would economic growth be slowed by all this? It depends on what is measured. There would need to be an increase in economic activity – so the accountants would see more transfers of funds between organizations and individuals. However, the unending increases in “standards of living” in some economies might appear to stall. In fact, reduced consumption of frozen beef patties comprising meat from hundreds of potentially unhealthy cattle, or loss of the daily ration of salty bacon or ham might be a good thing. Alas, if we were forced to eat fresh fruit and vegetables grown locally rather than the canned and frozen “brands” proudly displayed in markets around the world, would we be the poorer for it?

  • S8vm633

    We should have adjust our accounting policies so that you can Life-Cycle data
    processing for construction and business. We should understand the values of
    externalities a result of corporate, federal and personalized decisions. Most of
    us don’t count number correctly, therefore we are not aware of what were losing.
    Orgreenic

    • http://www.ourworld.unu.edu/ Carol S

      Yes, Orgreenic, you’re so right. This type of measure is already overdue. ________________________________________

  • http://www.facebook.com/BlazeDreamCom Hari Surendar Prajosh

    we need to understand the damages caused by ourselves to the layer and planets,we will only get affected by this not others,try to reduce the emission by avoiding burning plastic papers , and try to grow plant all around your environment,nature is invaluable gift to us , dont spoil  it by  pollution .