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Report: Action on Climate Change Boosts Economic Growth

  • Rosanne Skirble

A landmark report released Tuesday at the United Nations finds that taking action on climate change is compatible with economic growth.

The report comes one week before the U.N. Climate Summit on September 23 that is expected to bring together 125 heads of state with business and civic leaders to begin discussion about a new global climate treaty.

The report from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate makes the economic case for taking bold action now on climate change. At the report launch, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said that with polluting climate changing gases at record levels, the world can no longer afford to burn its way to prosperity.

“We need a structural transformation in the global economy," he said. "This report argues for a new model where economic growth and climate action are mutually reinforcing and it shows how we can build it.”

​Former Mexico president Felipe Calderon chaired the commission, which is composed of two dozen scientists, politicians and business professionals from every part of the world. They noted that by 2030, an additional one billion people will have moved into cities.

File - Solar panels at a factory in Baoding, in northern China's Hebei province. China, the world's largest polluter of climate changing emissions, is aggressively adopting solar energy to cut its dependence on fossil fuels.

File - Solar panels at a factory in Baoding, in northern China's Hebei province. China, the world's largest polluter of climate changing emissions, is aggressively adopting solar energy to cut its dependence on fossil fuels.

Exactly how governments manage the projected $90 trillion that will be invested in energy systems, urban development and land use over the next 15 years, Calderon said, will shape future growth, productivity and living standards.

"If we don’t take action in the coming years, it will be every day more expensive and more difficult to shift towards a low carbon economy at the global level," he said.

According to the report, more compact urban centers built around mass transit could grow the economy while producing less pollution and ultimately prove healthier places to live.

The report also says restoring degraded farm land could feed millions of people. According to Jeremy Oppenheim, the Commission's Program Director, dramatic price drops are already making investments in renewable energy more attractive.

“The cost of solar has come down by 90 percent in the last half-dozen years," he said. "We find in parts of the world ranging from Brazil to Texas that renewable energy in both of those cases, wind, can compete in auctions and win the right to produce energy versus new build up in coal.”

Smoke rising from the stacks of the La Cygne Generating Station coal-fired power plant in La Cygne, Kansas.

Smoke rising from the stacks of the La Cygne Generating Station coal-fired power plant in La Cygne, Kansas.

Among the steps the Commission recommends to avoid a warmer world are phasing out subsidies for fossil fuels, putting a price on carbon and scaling up innovation in low-carbon technology.

Commissioners say success at next week's Climate Summit will depend on whether leaders adopt the idea central to their report: taking action to reduce climate change as an investment, not an expense, and that economic growth and responsible climate policies go hand in hand.

The outcome could be at the core of a new climate treaty, says economist and report advisor Nicolas Stern with the London School of Economics.

“So it is very important that the presidents and prime ministers recognize the challenge is to combine the two and that actually the only sensible route to combine the two is feasible and it’s attractive.”

The new climate agreement will be finalized at a United Nations conference in Paris at the end of next year. Stern says the Climate Summit is an opportunity for leaders to announce ambitious actions that can help avoid the catastrophic impacts of climate change.

Some information for this report comes from AP, AFP and Reuters.

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