Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Climate change: Action is affordable

Last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the second part of its Fifth Assessment report, showing the dire future we faced if we did not act to reduce emissions. Over the weekend, the IPCC released the third part of the report, showing that such action would be perfectly affordable:

Catastrophic climate change can be averted without sacrificing living standards according to a UN report, which concludes that the transformation required to a world of clean energy is eminently affordable.

“It doesn’t cost the world to save the planet,” said economist Professor Ottmar Edenhofer, who led the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) team.

The cheapest and least risky route to dealing with global warming is to abandon all dirty fossil fuels in coming decades, the report found. Gas – including that from the global fracking boom – could be important during the transition, Edenhofer said, but only if it replaced coal burning.


Diverting hundred of billions of dollars from fossil fuels into renewable energy and cutting energy waste would shave just 0.06% off expected annual economic growth rates of 1.3%-3%, the IPCC report concluded.

(And that's ignoring the benefits of cutting emissions, for example in reduced deaths from air pollution).

To put that in context: it would mean that the average cost of adapting to climate change next year(calculated by comparing per-capita GDP with a growth rate of 1.5 vs 1.44%) is less than $30. Remember that next time Bill English stands up in Parliament threatening economic Armageddon if we try and do anything about it.

Of course, the costs will not be equally distributed. They will be substantially higher if you are a shareholder in Genesis Energy (which runs on fossil fuels), or in English's case, a dairy farmer. Which makes it clear what arguments against emissions reduction have always been about: protecting dirty established industries. But the price of protecting those industries and the wealth of those who have invested in them is to dump enormous costs on our children. Bill English, John Key, and numerous other government Ministers have kids; I really wonder how they can look them in the eye over this.