As we emerge from a global recession, climate change is once again on the global agenda. During the week of January 21 -25, many of those present for the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos Switzerland, acknowledged that climate change has very significant economic ramifications. Both President Barack Obama and UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon highlighted climate change as a top priority in Davos.
“There was mostly silence on climate change for the last two years at Davos,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense “But that has changed. The US drought, especially, has grabbed people’s attention here in Davos because that has had a real effect on prices.”
“The US has to be among the leaders in this global discussion, so it is a positive development,” Andrew Liveris, CEO of Dow Chemical, said of Obama’s inauguration speech, in which he made climate change a priority for his second term.
At the Davos summit, UN chief Ban Ki-moon indicated that he was also encouraged by Mr Obama’s speech, while warning that climate change was approaching “much, much faster than one would expect”.
Former Mexican president Felipe Calderon warned of “a climate crisis with potentially devastating impacts on the global economy”.
Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, made the point by saying: “Unless we take action on climate change, future generations will be roasted, toasted, fried and grilled.”
However, the scope of the response from politicians and businesses is nowhere near what it needs to be if we are to stave off the worst impacts of climate change. The United Nations sponsored climate talks have agreed on a mandate to draw up a climate change plan by 2015 but it will only come into force in 2020.
While renewable energy continues to grow, the rapid growth in shale gas has hampered the growth of renewables. According to a WEF study, the world will need to invest $700 billion each year to curb fossil fuel use. The International Energy Agency warned that current trends indicate the world will burn around 1.2 billion more tonnes of coal per year by 2017 than it does today
Although more businesses are getting involved with sustainability, they require a clear regulatory framework from governments if they are to effectively plan for the future. As yet, this regulatory framework is not forthcoming.
And an analysis by Ecofys for Greenpeace, presented at Davos, found that just 14 carbon-intensive projects worldwide are set to increase global CO2 emissions by 20 per cent, or 6 gigatonnes. They range from coal expansion in Asia to the tar sands of Canada.
Addressing a packed plenary, Lagarde made the case for tackling the environment. Climate change she said, is “The biggest economic challenge of the 21st century… Make no mistake: without concerted action, the very future of our planet is in peril.”
Despite the slow pace of progress, it is heartening that world leaders are once again talking about the importance of acting to protect our environment from human activity.
© 2013, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.
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