Climate change presents serious and growing risks to the global economic system, with a number of recent studies showing the impact that climate change is already having on livelihoods and business models. For example, extreme weather, which can be exacerbated by climate change, caused economic losses of US$2.6 trillion from 1980 to 2012.
Addressing these risks is an economic and societal imperative. At the same time, it presents opportunities. Climate-smart investments in efficient, clean infrastructure, clean energy, resilient agriculture, and water resources offer stable, attractive returns for investors and communities when the conditions are right.
This week, I was in Lima at the Peruvian government’s Climate Finance Week and found many reasons to be optimistic that we can turn the climate challenge into an economic opportunity. This blog post shares some key themes that I took away from the event.
We’re about 16 months away from the 2015 UN climate meeting in Paris, intended to reach an ambitious global agreement on climate change. Now, more than ever, there is a need for innovation to scale up climate action.
The Bank’s Carbon Partnership Facility (CPF) is helping blaze that trail.
The role of the CPF is to innovate in scaling up carbon crediting programs that promote sustainable, low-carbon economic growth in developing countries. In its first set of programs, the CPF moved past the project-by-project approach to larger scale through the Clean Development Mechanism’s Programme of Activities, catalyzing investment in methane capture from landfills, small-scale renewable energy, and energy efficiency.
Someone once told me that all it takes is that first visit: once you have the dust of Africa on your feet, it will pull you back, again and again. This was before I knew that I would one day be part of the team leading delivery of the annual Africa Carbon Forum.
And so, it has come to pass: every year, and this was the sixth edition, the forum pulls its stakeholders together to build capacity on issues of climate change, and to help raise a voice for Africa on issues like the UN climate negotiations or policy discussions on the revision of the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).
Since it was established, the Africa Carbon Forum has grown into what is often described as the leading event in Africa for players in energy and carbon markets. In the last four years, we have met in Marrakech, in Addis Ababa, in Abidjan, and now in beautiful Windhoek, where the splendid weather last week reminded me of just what we stand to lose if our mitigation efforts are not successful. I was not as fortunate, but a wonder-struck colleague spoke about the family of cheetahs that ran past the car as he drove in from the airport. Are we one of the last generations that will see these beautiful creatures in the wild because their habitat will change due to new climate patterns?
At the Forum's opening plenary (pdf), the Namibian Minister for Environment and Tourism, the Honorable Uahekua Herunga, urged us to work together to make carbon markets work for Africa and prepare the continent for future carbon trading. But, he insisted that developed countries need to act first and that mitigation actions should be taken within the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). He asked that the forum sends a powerful message from Africa to the 2015 UN climate meeting in Paris about mitigation opportunities in Africa.
The call for a price on carbon is growing louder in the corridors of business and government. Last week, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson wrote in The New York Times that climate risks are perhaps the biggest “known unknown” that we face, and he asked “farseeing business leaders” to demand a price on carbon—it’s the quickest, most efficient way to manage these risks.
Paulson was previewing the Risky Business report, which calculated the economic impact of climate change on U.S. businesses’ balance sheets. A few days later, CDP released a report on corporate use of internal carbon pricing.
CDP surveyed executives to find out why leading businesses are already valuing carbon to future-proof their business plans. It is interesting to note that some of the largest U.S. utilities, including American Electric Power and Exelon, price carbon in an effort to avoid stranding large fossil-fuel-fired power plants and to reassure investors. Other less carbon-intensive businesses use internal prices to help achieve corporate sustainability goals—TD Bank aims to go carbon neutral, and Walt Disney Corporation (as well as Microsoft) uses internal pricing to encourage employee innovation while delivering profits. The value of encouraging more sustainable growth like this came through this week in the World Bank Group’s new Adding Up the Benefits report, which calculated the value of climate-smart development in lives, jobs, and economic growth, as well as the climate.
Packing an extraordinary amount of energy in little space, fossil fuels helped propel human development to levels undreamed of before the Industrial Revolution, from synthesizing fertilizers to powering space flight. But alongside energy, they produce health-damaging air pollutants and greenhouse gases.
Today, greenhouse gas emissions are higher than at any time in at least 800,000 years and rising, causing climate changes that threaten to reverse decades of development gains. Disruption of livelihoods, loss of food security, loss of marine and coastal ecosystems, breakdown of infrastructure, threats to global security: these are just a few of the risks identified in recent scientific reports.
In the absence of technology to permanently remove greenhouse gases and restore atmospheric concentration to safe levels, there is only one realistic solution: limiting additional emissions. It is estimated that to avoid the most damaging effects of climate change, over the next few decades we can at most emit a quantity equal to about 20 percent of total proven fossil fuel reserves.
Given fossil fuels’ omnipresence in our economies and lives, leaving them in the ground will have important implications, starting with the value of the very assets.
I knew there was something different about Carbon Expo this year as I looked up during the opening ceremony and noticed the room was packed, with standing room only for late arrivals.
That is when I first asked myself: I know why I am here, but why are you here? I felt like a veteran carbon warrior among a sea of young fresh-faced carbon players.
I started coming to Carbon Expo in 2004, and this year, for the first time, there are plenty of people I don’t recognize. So today I took some time to ask people what they were doing here and why there seems to be a growing interest in carbon markets.
About 80 government representatives from more than 30 countries just concluded the 9th Assembly of the Partnership for Market Readiness (PMR) – three days of rich discussions on various domestic policy instruments that put a price on carbon, such as emissions trading systems (ETS), carbon taxes, and payments for emission reductions. At the same time, private sector firms are arriving in Cologne to attend Carbon Expo which runs until the end of the week.
A timely “rendezvous” between the two sectors – public and private – took place today on the subject of carbon pricing policies. The event, hosted by the World Bank’s PMR, the International Finance Corporation, and the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA), invited leading private firm and government representatives to discuss the initial findings of a study by the PMR and the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES), which interviewed three companies – Rio Tinto, Shell, and U.S. utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) – on how they are preparing for a carbon price.
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"This meeting is going to be different. It’s going to be a turning point from the lofty, theoretical policy deliberation to real action on the ground to save our planet’s green lungs and our global climate." Those were my thoughts last week when I walked into a packed conference room in Brussels, Belgium, where a crowd of about 80 people from around the globe had gathered to learn about cutting-edge proposals from six pioneering developing countries with big, bold plans to protect forests in vast areas of their territories.
Chile, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ghana, Mexico, Nepal, and the Republic of Congo came to the 9th meeting of the Carbon Fund of the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) to convince 11 public and private fund participants to select their proposal as one of a small group of pilots intended to demonstrate how REDD+ can work.
December 2009 does not seem so long ago. The UN climate conference in Copenhagen had just come to a disappointing end, and I headed home feeling depressed. I returned to China for holiday and was surprised to see the widespread awareness of climate change and the collective sense of urgency for action. The concept of "low carbon" was discussed in all major and local newspapers. To my amazement, I even found an advertisement for a "low carbon" wedding. I finished my holiday and went back to Washington with optimism and hope: Despite the failings of Copenhagen, China, the biggest emitter in the world and the largest developing country, was going through a real transformational change. China clearly saw action on climate change as serving its own interest and as an opportunity to pursue a green growth model that decouples economic development from carbon emissions and resource dependence.
In the past five years, the world has witnessed the emergence of China as a leader for tackling climate change. A few weeks ago, colleagues at the World Bank Group heard an evidenced-based presentation by Vice Chairman Xie Zhenhua from the National Development Reform Commission (NDRC) of China, who showed what China had done in the past, is doing now, and plans to do in the future. He shared his candid assessment of the challenges, mistakes, and lessons learned from China's experience.
China’s progress is impressive. Between 2005 and 2013, average economic growth has been above 8 percent while the country’s emissions intensity has decreased by 28.5 percent compared with 2005 levels. This equates to emissions reductions of 23 million tons of CO2. These reductions were achieved through massive closures of inefficient coal fire plants, aggressive energy efficiency programs, expanding the renewable energy program, and large investments in clean technology.
While these numbers are impressive, sustaining them will be harder. Over the last 10 years, China has targeted its "low-hanging fruit" for mitigation options. The challenge today is how China will sustain annual GDP growth of more than 7 percent while continuing to reduce its economy’s emissions intensity.
Climate change is a threat to global development and to poverty alleviation. And yet, reducing greenhouse gas emissions is proving difficult because all players in an economy contribute to the problem. To make a difference, we must reduce our emissions in a coordinated manner.
This is no easy task. So where do we go from here?
One approach involves pricing the “externalities” that are contributing to climate change. Pricing externalities into the costs of production is nothing new. A classic textbook example is the paper mill that sits upstream from a fishing village.
Discharge from the mill pollutes the river, diminishing the fishermen’s catch. The mill freely uses the water of the river in its production of paper, but does not pay for the damage of the negative externality that it causes. To remedy the situation, regulations can be put in place to stop waste from going into the river – or the mill can pay a fine equivalent to the loss of the fishermen’s revenue.
The latter is an example of an externality priced into the cost of production. The same can be done to combat climate change.
In this case, carbon emissions are the externality that must be priced. Doing so provides a cost-effective and efficient means to drive down greenhouse gas emissions as the cost of such pollution goes up.