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Challenge for The Global Green New Deal



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As governments wrestle with the current financial crisis, some familiar voices are being raised--ones that argue that combating climate is now too costly for an over-stretched over-stressed global economy.

Deal with the economic challenges of today and put climate change on the back burner for a better tomorrow--but that would be a fundamental mistake of enormous and perhaps inter-generational proportions.

While stock markets have been falling often at record rates, emissions of the principle greenhouse gas have also broken records. Figures release in November say CO2 rose 0.5 per cent between 2006 and 2007 and now close to 40 per cent higher than 25 years ago.

Science is also becoming bleaker not brighter. Surface sea temperatures and acidity is rising in the marine realm as oceans soak up ever growing concentrations of CO2 pollution.

There are now profound threats to economically-important coral reefs and fish stocks and the millions upon millions of people who depend on them for incomes and protein.

The situation is highlighted in the Sekisei Lagoon stretching between the Okinawan islands of Ishigaki and Iriomote. Here corals have plunged by 80 percent over the past two decades in part due to invasive starfish but recently linked to rising water temperatures.

Meanwhile natural disasters such as hurricane Ike that hit the Caribbean and the United States and the storms that wracked parts of Myanmar are leaving their own trail of economic mayhem and human misery.

It seems likely that 2008 will be in line with the rising, multi-billion dollar trend of insured and uninsured losses that began around 1980.

So how do we deal with the current crises and the looming climate one? Faced with the Great Depression of the 1920s and 1930s, President Franklin D Roosevelt adopted the New Deal.

Today we need a Global Green New Deal able to power the world out of recession while simultaneously dealing with climate change and the new challenges of the 21st century.

A deal that re-shapes and re-focuses markets towards innovative and low carbon investments in order to invigorate economies; stimulate employment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

It is among the central policies and platforms of UNEP’s new Green Economy initiative launched only some weeks ago with the backing of leading financial experts and economists?it is also a recovery-orientated package, focusing on areas from energy efficiency of buildings; transport and cities to investments in carbon capturing ecosystems such as forests: It is gaining traction.

The Chinese government has just announced a close to $600 billion stimulus programme of which over $140 billion will be used for environmental measures including boosting the share of renewable energy in primary energy from 8.3 per cent in 2007 to 15 per cent in 2020.

Globally the construction sector has a turnover of $3 trillion annually. Close to 120 million people are directly employed by the sector worldwide.

At the same time, buildings are responsible for about 1/3 of greenhouse gas emissions globally, 40% of resource use, 30 % of solid waste generation, and 20% of water consumption.

Parts of Australia’s stimulus package involves allocating A$ 4.7 billion out of the A$ 10.4 billion stimulus package for investment in green homes over 4 years.

It is estimated that greenhouse emissions from such improvement will be reduced by 3.8 million tons a year and that over 160,000 people will be employed in auditing and installation services.

Meanwhile, President Lee Myung-bak has announced a Green Growth strategy for South Korea including increased investment in wind power.

"Although we are now going through an economic crisis, for sustainable future growth we must not neglect common issues of humankind such as climate change and our resources crisis. We urgently need a new energy paradigm that can get us through the current energy and climate change crisis," he said.

And there and many, many more examples from the UK’s decision to invest 100 billion UK pounds in renewables to 2020--including 7,000 on and offshore wind turbines that will also generate 160,000 jobs-- to India’s 8 ‘national missions’ that puts solar power at the centre of its climate change response.

President-elect Obama’s plans for re-engagement on climate change underlines that a wind of green change is also now blowing in the world’s largest economy.

He is pledging to cut U.S. emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and by 80 percent below 1990 by 2050. The President-elect is calling for clean energy investments of up to $150 billion over 10 years which in turn could create 5 million new jobs.

The economic models of the 20th century are now hitting the limits of what is possible - possible in terms of delivering better livelihoods for the 2.6 billion people still living on less than $2 a day and possible in terms of our ecological footprint.

Trillions of dollars are being invested in bank bailouts and stimulus packages that in part will encourage the future investment decisions by the private sector.

The question is whether finance goes into the polluting, extractive, short-term economy of yesterday or a new green economy that will deal with multiple challenges while generating multiple economic opportunities for the poor and the well-off alike.

Over the next seven days, in the Polish city of Poznan , we may get a glimpse into the final answer as nations seek to move the climate change negotiations forward.

Meeting under the UN’s climate convention, countries have a chance to accelerate and embed the Green Economy en route to the big climate deal needed in Copenhagen, Denmark in one year’s time.

There will be the familiar voices raised arguing that combating climate change is right now too costly--I believe enough political leaders are coming to understand it is not.

And that in the ashes of the financial crisis the seeds of a green economic renaissance and a sustainable 21st century can and are being sowed.


Achim Steiner

Achim was born in Carazinho, Southern Brazil in 1961 of German parents. After recieving an MA from the University of London, specializing in development economics, he worked at several international environmental organizations. Before joining UNEP, he served as Director General of the World Conservation Union (IUCN, HQ in Switzerland) from 2001 to 2006. IUCN compiles the Red List of Threatened Species. He has served as the Executive Director of UNEP since June 2006. His hobbies are moviegoing and shopping in flea market. He is a father of two.