The Way Ahead on Climate Change

NEW YORK – The financial crisis has been uppermost in the minds of most world leaders. Yet, however high the price of a global bail-out, we know one thing: it pales next to the enormous costs – and profound human consequences – of delaying action on climate change.

There is a sort of beauty in this predicament: if we act wisely, we can tackle both crises at once. Climate change negotiations over the next year offer an unprecedented opportunity to build a more profitable, safer, and sustainable global economy.  

Today’s challenges – finance, food, and energy, for example – are many. Yet they share a root cause, whereby speculative and often narrow interests have superseded the common interest, common responsibilities, and common sense.

This same short-term thinking characterizes the world’s dependence on fossil fuels. We cannot break that dependence overnight. Yet we recognize that continuing to pour trillions of dollars into carbon-based infrastructure and fossil-fuel subsidies is like investing in sub-prime real estate. In essence, we are mortgaging our children’s future to pay for an inherently unsustainable and inequitable way of life.

The greatest risk we face lies in continuing down this path. So how do we begin to tackle the massive challenge of retooling our global economy, preserving the planet, and lifting billions out of poverty?

The answer is to deal seriously with climate change. And this is the time to do it – not in spite of the financial crisis, but because of it. As the saying goes, a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.

This week’s gathering in Poznan is an important step. We have only 12 short months to hammer out the elements of a global climate change accord before world leaders convene next December in Copenhagen. If we work together, guided by a sense of urgency and common destiny, these negotiations can help steer the ship of the global economy toward less turbulent, greener waters and into a safe harbor.

We believe that the best investment in our collective future is to scale up the green, low-carbon economy. It is an investment with enormous potential for prosperity and profit. But it requires us to put in place a new climate change agreement now – one that all countries can accept. It must be comprehensive and ambitious, and it must set clear targets for emission reductions, adaptation, financing, and technology transfer.

In Poznan, developed and developing nations must find a shared vision of how this will work, striking a deal whereby rich countries lead by example in cutting emissions while providing the developing world with resources and know-how to ramp up their own climate change efforts.

Energy investment decisions made today will lock in the world’s emissions profile for years to come. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. Potentially catastrophic consequences await, not just for polar bears, but for millions of people.

Adaptation must be a vital part of the negotiations. So must mitigation. In the cruel calculus of disasters, those least responsible for causing climate change will suffer first and worst from its inevitable effects. Developing nations will need increased financial support to protect the poorest and most vulnerable.

Reaching an accord in Copenhagen is critical. But the route to a greener, lower-carbon future already is being forged in countries from Brazil to Bangladesh, Denmark to Indonesia. From investments in renewable energy and flex-fuel vehicles to reforestation, countries everywhere are realizing that green is not an option, but a necessity for recharging their economies and creating millions of jobs.

For example, with the right investments, tropical countries could significantly reduce emissions from the forestry sector while also creating green jobs. De-forestation currently accounts for roughly a fifth of all greenhouse-gas emissions.

Last month, China announced a $586 billion economic stimulus package, some 25% of which is to help bolster conservation, environmental protection, and renewable energy efforts. We hope that the new stimulus package helps to move China toward greener development, and that countries follow suit.

The United States has also signaled a fundamental, abrupt shift in its global climate policy. In his first, post-election public address, Barack Obama declared that his presidency “will mark a new chapter in America’s leadership on climate change that will strengthen our security and create millions of new jobs.”

In marrying the issues of economic revitalization, energy security, and climate change, Obama has articulated clearly the benefits of any Green New Deal. We welcome US re-engagement in global climate negotiations and await its leadership in transforming words into concrete policies that promote global green growth.

As the US, China, and many other nations now realize, climate change is much more than an environmental issue. It is an energy, finance, and security issue. Indeed, it is a Head of State issue. We urge other world leaders to join us in forging a shared, long-term vision for cooperative action that is realized at next year’s conference in Copenhagen.

Global cooperation has been key to managing the financial crisis. It is no less vital to managing climate change, for which the stakes are far higher. Together, we must invest in the safest, surest option – the green economy.