Economics is not a barrier to tackling climate change, says report

It is in a country’s best interest to commit to ambitious greenhouse gas emissions cuts, according to new research today that shows how nations will financially benefit from almost all actions to tackle climate change.

A new report released today from the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment claims that the measures required to keep global warming below two degrees will bring net economic benefits for individual countries.

Economic gains include those from improved air quality, increased energy efficiency and cross-sector benefits from clean technology innovation.

The paper also finds that investment in low-carbon energy is likely to be paid back through the falling cost of renewables and reduced spending on fossil fuels. This is the case even before the risks of dangerous climate change are taken into account.

Climate-friendly actions considered by the report include phasing out fossil fuel use, ensuring greater energy efficiency across households, vehicles and appliances and the introduction of a carbon price.

The paper aims to put the case for the national benefits of tackling climate change purely in economic efficiency terms, its author Fergus Green told BusinessGreen.

By proving that the main barriers to action are not economic, he hopes to open up a debate around the other challenges of tackling climate change, which he says are mostly at the intersection of “interests and institutions and ideas formed in the fossil fuel age”.

He said one of the main barriers to action is that investors are often put off by the high upfront costs of some clean technologies, and that those companies which need to transition to a low carbon model have little financial incentive to do so. Conversely, the benefits of reducing emissions are felt in the medium and long term, and accrue to the public at large.

“Both of those things – the distribution of cost actors and the distribution of cost time, make the politics of action very difficult,” he said. “That’s where a lot of the barriers lie.”

Identifying the net benefit of climate action relies on countries working together, Green said. He called on countries to work together at the upcoming climate summit in Paris.

“If you start with the assumption that there’s a lot of actions that bring national net benefits, then you start to see opportunities where before you might have seen barriers,” he said. “With some international co-operation we can accelerate the achievement of mutual gains.”

Evidence is mounting that tackling climate change won’t cost the earth. A report released last month from the Ellen MacArthur foundation found that Europe could enjoy a €1.8tr net benefit if it adopted a circular economy. Meanwhile, last year’s landmark New Climate Economy report reached similar conclusions about the net economic benefits that are likely to result from decarbonisation.

The challenge, as always, is getting political and business leaders to recognise that national, economic, and commercial interests extend beyond the next electoral cycle or the next quarter.




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