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OPINION: Greater political imagination is vital in order to face climate challenge

Also posted in Spanish

In this blog, Mónica Araya, Director of Costa Rica Limpia y Nivela.Org and former negotiator of the Climate Change Directorate, Costa Rica, discusses why greater political imagination is vital in order to address climate change.

Efforts to reduce global warming are gaining political ground at the international level, despite systematic resistance to change. This global dynamic should renew the economic and political debate in our countries.

Finally, Obama has decided to put the brakes on domestic emissions from electric generation plants despite the resistance from said industry, Republicans and even from some Democrats. This energy and climate decision, the most ambitious ever adopted by an American president, could in turn push China to issue a “reflex” announcement, particularly given its own increasingly contaminated air and alarmed citizens. Whatever the USA and China do will have global implications because the two countries emit close to 45% of the world’s carbon emissions.

The European Union’s commitment to climate change still holds, despite its difficult economic situation and the anti-climatic lobbying of industry, particularly coal. It should also be pointed out that the number of developing countries, especially in Latin America, that currently have climate and renewable energy goals would have been unheard of 5 years ago. Businesses and cities – large and small – adopt climatic measures because they feel the effects of climate change in their every day activities. Even religious leaders are now talking about climate responsibility.

Nevertheless, what we are doing is still not enough. In its most recent report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) explains that we are moving towards a climatically insecure world because the sum of current actions will not limit greenhouse gas emissions to a degree that is necessary. Also, even if emissions were safely limited, risk management will be indispensible since the world will have to face global warming due to the emissions accumulated over centuries of industrial activity and global population growth.

To communicate the complexity of the carbon emission limits to the non-scientific public, a global carbon budget concept is used to illustrate the number of carbon emissions that can be “consumed” between 2011 and 2100 before crossing that dangerous climate threshold. If we use current data, we have some 25 years left before we finish it up.

A rational line of thought would be to accelerate the de-carbonisation of the global energy matrix and to adopt an energy model that allows for new models of transportation, cities and industry. At a day-to-day level, the biggest opportunity lies in the reconsideration of the “city”. It is no coincidence that this year, 22,000 people beat attendance records at the World Urban Forum in Medellin. Even if there were no climate change, sustainable cities would generate great benefits.

No single country or city will be able to resolve the climate challenge on its own. The Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon, has insisted on gathering the heads of state in New York in September, in order to consider climate momentum. France will host the Climate Summit in Paris in 2015, where a global climate agreement with obligations for all should be signed. Lima COP will be the precursor to Paris, as the participating governments should agree upon a draft of said agreement in December of this year.

Resistance

Let there be no doubt, resistance to the climate agenda continues. The public is being told:

“It has not been proven that climate change exists or that it is caused by humans”

This is untrue as we are talking about a scientific argument that has been resolved. 97% of the scientific community, made up of thousands of scientists, agrees. that climate change is happening. The worst part of this claim is that climate change is not only real, but it has also been proven that emissions from human activities are at the root of the problem. This information comes from the IPCC’s most recent report.

“Climate actions would be too expensive”

The opposite is true. It is more expensive to evade the problem today and act tomorrow. The IPCC has calculated that the loss in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at a global level as a result of climatic impacts would be between 0.2% and 2%. The cost of action on climate change is lower than the cost of not adapting to the change. In September, a detailed study (“New Climate Economy”) prepared by a commission of international economists and ex-presidents will be released.
“Climate action hurts growth and the poor.”

The impacts of climate change are precisely what damages growth and the poor in particular. A country that has to use 1% or 2% of its GDP to deal with the impacts of destructive climate change will have to re-direct its investment in the social sector. The World Bank’s report “Turn down the Heat”, informally known as “A 4 degree world”, details the impacts upon poor countries in a scenario where climate changes reach dangerous levels.

We must insist upon the benefits of a transition, from the health benefits of clean and respectable transportation to the creation of jobs with a future. Investing one million euros in energy efficiency interventions generates between 17 and 19 jobs. In 2013 alone, 6.5 million jobs worldwide were created in the renewable sector. The expansion of the renewable industry has contributed to the systematic lowering of its cost and has lead to an 80% reduction in solar energy prices in five years.

Renewal

Preparing our countries for a century marked by climate change calls for a revamping of political perspectives. We need new experts in energy that will not reduce the potential adaptation measures to a few well-known ideas regarding the “price” of electricity and gasoline. Maybe it involves showing why countries need better urban and transportation models and new citizen platforms to create demand for said models.

The energy debate is not an end in and of itself. It has to be part of a national infrastructure plan through to 2030, with intermediate goals, a financial track and open door negotiations. A new infrastructure vision – included in its bidding model – will be the backbone that will sustain us or let our countries collapse. Are we aware of how much others are advancing in the renewable direction? According to the Inter-American Development Bank, ten Latin American countries, among them Chile and Nicaragua, already effectively promote renewables. Many of our countries – mine for example, Costa Rica – appear to lag in comparison, just when we are in need of more public and private investment in industry of the future.

We cannot allow what is urgent to take the place of what is important. We need a vision that will garner the support of politics, business and the citizenry, and is anchored in a modern, clean and safe society.

Modern, because it has an efficient energy matrix, decentralised electrical network and 21st century transportation.

Clean, because it diversifies through renewables, invests in public transportation and is not distracted by projects that tie us to the past.

Safe, because it is guided by regional order and a climate compatible construction that protects production, natural capital and what is most precious: our people.

This would be fair. It is time to expand our imagination and convince ourselves that we can have a viable economic model for all countries in the face of the great challenges of the 21st century.

 

Director of Costa Rica Limpia y Nivela.Org / Former negotiator of the Climate Change Directorate, Costa Rica. Information originally published on www.IntercambioClimatico.org. This article was published on the Open Page of the Diario Extra (Costa Rica June 10th, 2014) and on CostaRicaLimpia.Org

Occasionally, CDKN invites experts from different parts of the world to give their opinions on a variety of subjects. Nevertheless, the opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the opinions of CDKN or the member organisations of the Alliance.

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