Protection of the climate and the environment is a clear example of what have come to be called global public goods, i.e. goods we must nurture and protect between us all. Assuming that the challenge for the planet is to prevent more than a 2 degree rise in global warming by 2030, the recent agreement between China and the United States on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the mid-term is a significant advance towards achieving a global consensus.
In this favourable setting, last week I had the opportunity to present the report Better Growth, Better Climate: the New Climate Economy, prepared by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate.
The study initially states that the current situation is favourable. Technological advances such as LEDs and greater economic efficiency help us to make sure that future investments can also be associated with lower emissions. Strong political leadership, then, will be decisive for organizing priorities and directing investments towards three key systems in the economy that can help to achieve environmentally friendly growth: cities; the use of the land; and energy.
Since 2008, more than 50% of the global population has lived in cities, obliging us to ask ourselves about policies of city expansion. For example, both Barcelona in Spain and Atlanta in the United States have five million inhabitants, but in the former the population is concentrated within 162 square kilometres, while in the latter it is spread across 4280 square kilometres, meaning that Atlanta emits 10 times more carbon dioxide per person than Barcelona. Consideration of the use of the land is similarly key and taking measures to prevent deforestation, which is responsible for 20% of the planet’s total emissions, is fundamental. To provide a more tangible example: 50% of the emissions produced by Latin America are due to the degradation of the forests, while what Brazil emits producing its entire GDP is less than what it emits due to deforestation. In the field of energy the challenge consists of responding to the increase in demand through unconventional renewable energies such as solar, biomass and wind energies.
To ensure that these three systems advance towards an effective reduction in emissions efficient use of the available resources, investment in low-carbon infrastructure and stimulus for cost reducing innovations are all necessary. For example, installing LED lightbulbs throughout the public lighting of Chile would save 380 megawatts and 900 million dollars annually.
Today, economic development and the battle against climate change can mutually reinforce each other and favour a change of mental and political paradigms. While the question in the last century was how we can achieve greater growth per inhabitant, in the 21st Century the measure of the civilization of a country will be how much greenhouse gas they produce per inhabitant. We are thus at a special moment in global change when agreements that can help us towards a future for better growth and a better climate have become far more likely.