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Monday, September 22, 2014

Patterns emerging

In June, the World Bank issued a report that found that tackling global climate disruption would grow the economy.

In August, MIT researchers found that the co-benefits of decarbonizing the economy - the health benefits of cleaner air that will accompany that effort - will yield huge societal savings, pay for themselves, and perhaps dwarf the costs of those policies.

Now, two new papers from influential sources have dittoed these findings.

A new report from the New Climate Economy Project finds that once the multiple benefits of measures to reduce GHG emissions are accounted for - such as the potential health gains from better local air quality - many of the costs of those policies can be reduced or eliminated.

Better Growth, Better Climate says that, to take advantage of this opportunity, the world's response to decarbonizing the economy in the next 15 years is crucial, and makes 10 key recommendations:
  1. Integrate climate into economic decisionmaking at all levels of business and government.
  2. Enter into a strong international climate agreement.
  3. Eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels, agricultural inputs, and incentives for urban sprawl.
  4. Put a price on carbon.
  5. Reduce capital costs for low-carbon infrastructure.
  6. Scale up innovation in low-carbon and climate resilience technologies.
  7. Make connected, compact cities the preferred mode of urban development.
  8. Stop deforestation by 2030.
  9. Restore at least 500 million hectares of lost or degraded forests and agricultural lands by 2030.
  10. Phase out new unabated coal plants without CCS technology in developed economies immediately and in middle-income countries by 2025.
Similarly, a new paper from the International Monetary Fund is very much along the same lines.  It finds that strong measures to limit carbon emissions would have hardly any negative effect on economic growth, and might actually lead to faster growth.

How Much Carbon Pricing is in Countries’ Own Interests? The Critical Role of Co-Benefits also calls for a carbon price, and says that the public health co-benefits of decarbonization tip the balance well in favor of climate action. 

Sounds hopeful - if we can muster the yet-undemonstrated capacity to develop wise climate policies.  Then there's the reality.

NCE's recommendations present a tall order even for developed countries. How tall? Global emissions of greenhouse gases jumped 2.3 percent in 2013 to record levels, according to the Global Carbon Project.  As Justin Gillis writes in this New York Times piece:
Scientists said the figures show that vastly greater efforts would be needed to get the world on a course to keep long-term global warming within tolerable limits.
At this rate, according to this NYT opinion piece from Robert N. Stavins:
The world is now on track to more than double current greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere by the end of the century. This would push up average global temperatures by three to eight degrees Celsius and could mean the disappearance of glaciers, droughts in the mid-to-low latitudes, decreased crop productivity, increased sea levels and flooding, vanishing islands and coastal wetlands, greater storm frequency and intensity, the risk of species extinction and a significant spread of infectious disease.
We face an existential threat - and immense, but surmountable, political, economic, and technical challenges.  On the latter point, it's also clear from a plain reading of the NCE report and this analysis by Michael Levi that CCS/CCUS is essential to meeting our climate challenges.  

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