By Izabela Delabre, University of Reading
On the eve of the UN Climate Summit in New York on 23 September, the city saw an estimated 400,000 people take to the streets in the largest climate change march in history. Marchers gathered in cities across the world to call for ambitious action on climate change policy: 40,000 in London, and 30,000 in Melbourne. In Tanzania, the Maasai marched across their traditional lands to draw attention to the protection of their homelands in the Serengeti from climate change impacts.
These marches indicated the public’s frustration of political failure to reach, and implement, effective climate deals, and this anxiety is compounded by stark warnings from the academic community. In Nature Geoscience, Friedlingstein et al. (2014) write that global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production have, on average, grown by 2.5% per year over the past decade. Two thirds of the CO2 emission quota consistent with a 2°C temperature limit has already been used, and it is predicted that the total quota will likely be exhausted 30 years from now, using 2014 emissions rates. Friedlingstein et al. find that carbon intensity improvements of emerging economies have been lower than anticipated, and warn that without more strict mitigation measures, these trends will continue. Therefore, they stress, a break in current emission trends is urgently needed in the short term, to keep within the 2°C temperature limit.
The Global Carbon Budget 2014 found the top five CO2 emitters to be China, USA, EU, India and the Russian Federation. In a BBC article, Professor Corinne Le Quéré from the University of East Anglia stated that a significant proportion of China’s emissions were driven by demand from consumers in Europe and the USA: “In China, about 20% of their emissions are for producing clothes, furniture even solar panels that are shipped to Europe and America.” Writing in Geography Compass in 2008, Kaplinsky stated that the distribution of income in China moved from being one of the world’s most equal to one of the world’s most unequal economies in a couple of decades. Kaplinsky argued that China and other Asian emerging economies must be included in discussions of global governance. Six years later, during this week’s Climate Summit, China for first time pledged to take action on climate, with the aim for reducing its emissions of carbon per unit of GDP by 45% by 2020.
Given the impacts of globalization on climate, poverty, and inequality, and considering the scale of the impacts of climate change, the report New Climate Economy: Better Growth, Better Climate puts forward areas in which international co-operation has the potential to make a significant impact on the prospects for low-carbon and climate-resilient growth, as well as a ten-point action plan. The report states that national economic policies will need to be significantly revised in the next 15 years, when the global economy is expected to grow by more than half. On the day of the report’s release, President Obama tweeted, “This study concludes that no one has to choose between fighting climate change and growing the economy”.
Writing for The Guardian Sustainable Business, Professor Tim Jackson argues that the report is framed around the “dubious claim that we can have our cake and eat it,” and highlights how improving our prosperity might not be at all synonymous with growing the economy. Lord Stern, one of the authors of the New Climate Economy report states that in order to prevent runaway climate change, we need to develop broader measures of success, widen our vision of prosperity and return to core values, but it is critical that growth is included as an objective. The two defining challenges of this century are poverty and climate change, and “if we fail on one, we fail on the other.”
P. Friedlingstein, R. M. Andrew, J. Rogelj, G. P. Peters, J. G. Canadell, R. Knutti, G. Luderer, M. R. Raupach, M. Schaeffer, D. P. van Vuuren and C. Le Quéré 2014. Persistent growth of CO2 emissions and implications for reaching climate targets. Nature Geoscience. Advance online publication doi:10.1038/ngeo2248
R. Kaplinsky 2008. Globalisation, Inequality and Climate Change: What Difference Does China Make? Geography Compass 2(1): 67–78.
C. Le Quéré, R. Moriarty, R. M. Andrew, G. P. Peters, P. Ciais, P. Friedlingstein, S. D. Jones, S. Sitch, P. Tans et al. 2014. Global carbon budget 2014 Earth Systems Science Data. Discussion Paper, 7: 521-610.
The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate 2014. Better Growth, Better Climate: The New Climate Economy Report
China’s per capita carbon emissions overtake EU’s BBC News, September 21
Hundreds of Thousands Converge on New York to Demand Climate-Change Action Time, September 23
Lord Stern: global warming may create billions of climate refugees Guardian Sustainable Business, September 22
The dilemma of growth: prosperity v economic expansion Guardian Sustainable Business, September 22
UN climate summit: China pledges emissions action BBC News, September 24