When the world united around the historic Paris climate agreement, in 2015, the message was clear: It’s unfair to pass the burden of climate change to future generations.
We now need to put words into action. This week, leaders from 20 of the largest economies are meeting in Hamburg to find solutions to global challenges. Climate change will be front and center.
As the co-chairs of the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition (CPLC), we want to accelerate climate action and reaffirm our commitment to carbon pricing. The discussions in Germany are a great opportunity to keep the momentum going.
Launched during the Paris climate talks, the CPLC now consists of 30 governments and over 140 businesses, all fighting for a common cause: to advocate for the pricing of carbon emissions across the world. We are calling for bold leadership from everyone – governments, companies, academia and civil society. The CPLC provides a forum for these groups to show collaborative leadership on carbon pricing.
Sitting on the train heading back from New York to Washington D.C., gazing out of the window at stressed watersheds, I had some time to reflect on a very special Climate Week. What does it all add up to? Where does it leave us as a global community needing speed and scale in our climate action?
Much is being written. Let me add a perspective. Here are three thoughts amid my swirl of memories, moments and impressions.
Climate osmosis – the street reaches the hallowed halls
It was difficult to stand in the canyon that is 6th Avenue, with a sea of people stretching in both directions – environmental activists, nurses, pensioners, business people, every possible faith community, moms, a sprinkling of celebrity and a dash of statesmen – and not be moved. On the Sunday before the Summit, more than half a million people took to the streets in People’s Climate Marches in New York and more than 160 countries across the globe. The marchers demanded climate action from their leaders, suggesting that the politics of climate action, once considered too hard to handle, might no longer be as difficult as leaders think.
The reverberations continued for 48 hours and became a point of reference in almost every speech at the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Leadership Summit. More than 120 heads of state and government came to hint and in some cases pledge action on climate change. New coalitions of governments, businesses, investors, multilateral development banks and civil society groups announced plans to mobilize over $200 billion for low-carbon, climate-resilient development. Forests and cities were big winners, landing pledges of around $450 million for forests and bringing together more than 2,000 cities in a new Compact of Mayors to help improve accounting of urban greenhouse gas emissions and the actions cities are taking to reduce them.
By Stewart Elgie, Professor of Law & Economics at University of Ottawa and Chair of Sustainable Prosperity; Ross Beaty, Chairman of Pan American Silver Corp. and Alterra Power; and Richard Lipsey, Professor Emeritus of Economics at Simon Fraser University.
We often hear claims that a carbon tax would destroy jobs and growth. Yet the evidence from a Canadian province that actually passed such a tax – British Columbia – tells a very different story.
The latest numbers from Statistics Canada show that B.C.’s policy has been a real environmental and economic success after six years. Far from a “job killer,” it is a world-leading example of how to tackle one of the greatest global challenges of our time: building an economy that will prosper in a carbon constrained world.
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.
This was not the time to discuss the science of climate change, or ways to protect coastal cities against monster storms.
The development experts, journalists, policy wonks and investment professionals who gathered at the Center for Global Development in Washington this week were there to sort out a much thornier issue: How to mobilize and spend the $700 billion or so the world will need annually – above what’s already being spent – to slow and adapt to climate change.
Their consensus: Current levels of public and private finance won’t even begin to do the job.