“How do you engage a country that may not agree with your climate agenda?”
The question came last week, as I was sharing the findings of our recent report, Climate-Smart Development: Adding up the benefits of actions that help build prosperity, end poverty and combat climate change with students from the Williams College Center for Development Economics. I hope my talk answered her question. I pointed out that increasingly, decision-makers want to know if there are investment decisions they can make that address urgent development priorities and, at the same time, address the challenges of a rapidly warming world.
Three articles in the news this week reinforce the messages in our report and shed further light on the answer to her question. A pair of research papers point out that black carbon and ground-level ozone – air pollution associated with so-called short-lived climate pollutants, or SLCPs – are already reducing Indian agricultural yields by up to half, and that coal-fired power – a large source of air pollution including CO2 – is costing China 670,000 deaths each year. These are both prime examples of local development issues that present climate-smart investment choices. As governments search for solutions to their health and agriculture problems that are exacerbated by air pollution, they have two options: invest in smoke stack controls and other interventions that eliminate the air pollution causing crop loss and mortality, but keep churning out CO2, or invest in alternative energy sources and efficiency measures that will also reduce both forms of climate pollution.
We all know that the quality of the air we breathe has an immense impact on the health of the people and the economies of developing countries. Poor air quality can also threaten the economic competiveness of cities. Increasingly global companies consciously chose to locate in livable cities. We’re already seeing that in Asia. A 2006 survey by the Hong Kong’s Chambers of Commerce showed that worsening air quality was beginning to affect investment decisions of corporations.
I spent two days last week at the Suntec Center in Singapore attending the Better Air Quality conference. This year’s theme was Air Quality in a Changing Climate. The link between the two – improved air quality and reducing climate change is sometimes not so apparent and I am glad the conference was making the link clearer. Climate change impacts all countries but the World Development Report 2010 estimates that some 75-80 percent of the damages caused by a changing climate will be borne by developing countries. If we are to limit global warming to about 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level, we will all need to invest massively in energy efficiency, renewable energy sources, and more efficient transportation.
Combating air pollution is one area where it is possible to capture important co-benefits with respect to climate change. By taking specific measures, we can simultaneously achieve local health and welfare benefits (including related to air quality) while also reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. While it is important to strive for a global deal on climate change, there are a number of things that cities can do in the interim to simultaneously reduce local environmental impacts and reduce carbon emissions. And by demonstrating on the ground some things that can work in this regard, cities can position themselves to access any global carbon financing that might become available as part of a global deal.