The investment needs for low-carbon, climate-resilience growth are substantial. Public resources can bridge viability gaps and cover risks that private actors are unable or unwilling to bear, while the private sector can bring the financial flows and innovation required to sustain progress. For this partnership to reach its full potential, investors need to be provided with the necessary signals, enabling environments, and incentives to confidently invest in emerging economies.
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.
Looking back at 2013, the Climate Investment Funds’ (CIF) fifth year, I am encouraged by the amount of ground we have covered. Not only are we beginning to see more tangible results of CIF investments, we are also venturing into new territory both geographic and financial. New contributions of $400 million received in 2013 make us the largest source of climate finance with pledges of $8 billion, demonstrating the confidence donors have in our mission and multilateral development bank (MDB) partnership to deliver on the promise of transformative, climate-smart development.
The CIF was created to trigger investments for immediate climate action and to facilitate learning on the technologies and methods needed to promote clean technology, renewable energy, sustainable management of forests, and climate-resilient development. The clock is ticking in the race against climate change, and we are on the move.
In Mexico, for example, $45 million from the Clean Technology Fund (CTF) has leveraged over $500 million of commercial resources to help catalyze the commercialization of Oaxaca’s wind industry. In Turkey, $149.5 million in CTF financing has attracted $1.38 billion from other sources to expand national bank lending to renewable energy and energy efficiency markets to stimulate their growth. And in Morocco, $197 million in CTF financing has played a pivotal role in launching the first phase of the 500MW Ouarzazate concentrated solar power complex by raising awareness and attracting over $1 billion in additional financing.
Here is a trillion dollar question: How will the portfolios of long-term asset managers like pension funds, foundations and endowments be affected by climate change? These institutions, in contrast to commercial banks, are legally obligated to take a long-term view in managing their returns. A new report by Mercer, a leading consulting and investment services firm, provides the first look at yet another window on the complex consequences of climate change—the implications for strategic asset allocation.
A headline result of the study is the estimated increase of up to 10 % in overall portfolio risk, primarily due to policy uncertainty—equivalent to as much as US$8 trillion by 2030. Traditional equity and bond holdings—usually the most conservative forms of hedging against uncertainty –- are most at risk of underperformance. In contrast, carefully selected investments in climate- sensitive sectors may actually reduce overall portfolio risk.
The International Finance Corporation (IFC) and UK’s Carbon Trust, along with 14 institutional investors collectively managing over US$2 trillion, funded the analysis, which was carried out by Mercer. The analysis looks at impacts by sector, region, and asset category (bonds, private equity, real estate, etc.) and builds on a set of climate change scenarios out to 2030 developed by the Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics and the consulting firm Vivid Economics.
Green growth has been in the news lately with much talk about greening the fiscal stimulus for a triple bottom line. Yet there are worries and the question remains as to whether green growth means slower growth with resources diverted to cleaning up the growth process. And what would happen to countries who unilaterally decide to impose domestic environmental regulations and/or a carbon price?. Will this lead to jobs moving abroad—to poorer or less-green countries that would become pollution havens?
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Unfortunately much of the green growth discussion has been of the proselytizing or the scare-mongering kind, with not enough analysis of the potential trade-offs between greening and growing, and not enough thought devoted to ways of minimizing these trade-offs.
In this context, a new paper by Philippe Aghion, Daron Acemoglu and two Harvard graduate students, on “The Environment and Directed Technical Change” (pdf) is a much needed contribution. It also makes for a fascinating read: do not let the large number of equations scare you off! As in all of Aghion’s work, the key insights of the papers are fully captured in crisp writing in the first few pages of the paper.
In his presentation at the World Bank on March 8, Aghion explained the motivation of the paper: most economic models looking at the trade-offs between acting aggressively or not on climate change assume technical change is exogenous—i.e., does not respond to changes in energy prices (for example through a carbon tax) nor to environmental regulation (like a cap on emissions). This results in green growth being slower than dirty growth, at least if the negative impacts of climate change are small, and/or results in the need for permanent subsidies.