The 2009 edition of the UN’s World Economic and Social Survey — it’s subtitle is “Promoting Development, Saving the Planet” — is an important document, for a number of reasons. For one thing, it fundamentally and comprehensively takes a development approach to solving the global climate crisis. In particular, according to its authors at DESA, the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs, it:
sees little benefit in ad hoc incremental actions, spelling out instead the potential of a big investment push to deliver on both reducing greenhouse gas emissions and helping communities to cope with climate change, and calling for more truly integrated policy responses to development and climate challenges. It does not shy away from describing the enormity of the adjustments that will have to be undertaken by countries at all levels of development if progress is to be made; or from insisting that the advanced countries will have to deliver resources and leadership on a much larger scale than has been the case to date.
The overall analysis of the 2009 Survey is excellent. But it’s the frank approach with which it approaches the costs of the climate transition that have made it so significant. In particular:
There are widely varying estimates for how much additional financing is needed to address the mitigation and adaptation aspects of climate change, often depending on any number of factors, including the range of the greenhouse gas reduction target. These estimates can range anywhere from as little as 0.2 to about 2 per cent of World Gross Product (WGP), or between $180 billion and $1.2 trillion per year. However, in most projections the big spending would not be required until 2030. The report goes against conventional wisdom by suggesting that significant additional investments in mitigation and adaptation need to take place sooner rather than later, to the tune of at least 1 per cent of WGP annually, between $500 billion and $600 billion. A failure to think in these bolder terms runs the real danger of locking in dirtier investments for several more decades. But by continuing in the present business-as-usual scenario, or making only marginal changes, the permanent loss of projected WGP could be as high as 20 per cent.
The significance of this approach will not escape anyone who has been watching the climate negotiations closely. For, clearly the “low ball” approach to cost estimates that the northern negotiators are taking will –even in the best case — prolong the transition, and by so doing increase the chance of true catastrophe.
Greenhouse Development Rights enter into the analysis in a number of places, which should be read in context. Clearly, the authors have done their homework, for the references and citations include not only GDRs proper, but also the “revised” version of GDRs that was recently released by an influential team of Chinese researchers. (Though, to tell the whole truth they also make a significant mistake — at one point they imply that the GDRs framework is partially based on per-capita emissions rights. It is not).