The greenhouse gas emission cuts advocated by the Mikhail Gorbachev’s Climate Change Task Force (CCTF) are aggressive – a stabilization of emissions in five years, a reduction of 45-50 percent in the next 10 years and a virtually carbon-free global economy by mid-century.
Those goals are in line with the cuts leading climate scientists say are necessary to avoid the worst consequences of global warming, but they are far ahead of the reductions being proposed so far by major polluters such as the United States and Europe.
The EU has committed to cut its emissions 20 percent by 2020, less than half the CCTT goal. (It has offered to raise its goal to 30 percent if other developed countries do the same, a goal endorsed this week by Britain’s Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.) http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/dec/07/gordon-brown-eu-emissions-cuts President Barack Obama has set a U.S. target that would reduce emissions only about 4 percent by 2020 – less than a tenth of the CCTT target.
But while the CCTF’s proposal is ambitious, the task force is in good company. For example:
- The International Monetary Fund announced last week that aggressive carbon cuts need not hurt the world economy. According to Reuters, the IMF report concludes: (http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE5B330320091204)
Governments can adopt more ambitious carbon pricing schemes to address the effects of climate change without harming the global economic recovery (and) the slow recovery underway should not distract countries from introducing measures to reduce emissions that cause climate change.
- In last Sunday’s New York Times, Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman concluded… (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/07/opinion/07krugman.html?_r=1&emc=tnt&tntemail0=y) :
…cutting greenhouse gas emissions is affordable as well as essential. Serious studies say that we can achieve sharp reductions in emissions with only a small impact on the economy’s growth. And the depressed economy is no reason to wait — on the contrary, an agreement in Copenhagen would probably help the economy recover.
- Informed by Mr. Gorbachev of the CCTF goals, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called them “very timely and profound, particularly as they relate to the emphasis on the urgency of global action and the need for a recalibration of the planetary response.”
The most common argument against aggressive climate action is that it would hurt the global economy, but that reasoning ignores a few important points.
For example, in developed economies that must make the biggest carbon cuts in the years just ahead, aggressive energy efficiency can help insulate consumers from higher fossil energy prices, whether those prices result from declining fuel supplies and increasing demand, or carbon pricing. President Obama pointed out during his presidential campaign that the United States has been ranked 22nd in energy efficiency among developed nations. He promised to lead an effort to make America the most efficient economy in the world. But so far, he has not made a serious effort to rally his nation toward that goal.
In Europe – far more acclimated to energy efficiency than the U.S. – there still is significant potential for reducing energy use, and therefore the cost of energy for consumers, and therefore the impact of carbon pricing.
Those efforts should begin now, in advance of 2012 when the Kyoto Protocol expires.
In addition, the hundreds of billions of dollars that must be invested worldwide in climate action, ranging from clean energy technologies to adaptation measures, can be a robust form of economic activity, creating jobs while they protect the global economy from the disruptive vicissitudes that have been, and will continue to be, characteristic of fossil fuels.
Indeed, a study by the Pew Center for Global Climate Change found that between 1998 and 2007, “green” jobs for blue- and white-collar workers in the United States grew nearly three times as fast as other employment – 9.1 percent compared to 3.7 percent. A worldwide effort to build and deploy renewable energy technologies such as solar collectors and wind turbines can put unemployed people, from steelworkers to machinists, back into the labor market.
Aggressive goals to reduce climate change and its impacts are aggressive investments in the world’s future. That’s worthy of stretch goals that inspire the international community’s very best efforts.