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20-01-2015 The World Moves Forward

Climate change a major development Issue

Climate Talks spoke with Lord Nicholas Stern, former Senior Vice-President and Chief Economist of The World Bank, and former chief economic advisor to the UK government about the impacts of climate change on development and the importance of our actions for the future.

Climate change a major development Issue

Lord Stern mentioned that the risks associated with climate change can be seen already with problems with water, problems of heat, problems of desertification, cyclones, hurricanes, all becoming more intense. “But we have to recognize that what we seen now is very small relative to what we risk. The global average temperature is still less than 1 degree Celsius above the second half of the Nineteen Century, which is the usual point of comparison….We could be, if we fall out of track now, around 4°C, we don’t know for sure, but around 4 means there is risk of 5°C or 6°C.”

An average temperature four degrees Celsius higher than the one we have had is something that our planet hasn’t experienced for 20 or 30 million years, and it could completely transform all of our living conditions. Lord Stern states that “the reasons we live where we live, that all could change”. This would have an impact on hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of people that will have to move to more livable areas and abandon cities and fields, no longer habitable, which will also lead to intense conflicts. As is usually the case, the poorest places and the poorest people will be hit the earliest and the hardest. But everyone will be affected by this. Our society is only about 10,000 years old, and temperature has always been in a very narrow + or -1 degree band than what it was at the beginning of the industrial age. “It took a few thousand years to warm up from the Ice Age where you were 5 or 4 degrees lower than now…. We could go 4 or 5 degrees higher in just one hundred years!

Lord Stern emphasized that many people, institutions and governments don’t really fully understand the scale of those risks and plan economic growth policies without considering the challenges faced. If we keep ignoring climate change when “… thinking about development (….) we risk destroying all we have done in the last 50 years, as a world, on poverty reduction, perhaps permanently or at least for a very long time.”

What we can do

Based on the IPCC reports, and his own investigative work, Lord Stern mentioned that we have to cut back emissions strongly and get to zero net emissions by the end of this century. This will involve making cities much more efficient, easier to get around, less congested, less polluted, managing agriculture and grassland in much better way, protecting our forest and building energy systems based mostly on renewable energy.

“There are a lot of things we have to do on the way. We have to think about grids and storage and managing the systems, how we make our cities much more compact, how we increase productivity in agriculture, lots of things to do.” Planning and implementing all of these changes at the same time will not be an easy task, however “going nothing is deeply deeply negligent, reckless.”

Better Growth Better Climate

The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate has overseen the New Climate Economy project. Chaired by former President of Mexico Felipe Calderon, the Commission comprises former heads of government and finance ministers, and leaders in the fields of economics, business and finance. Lord Stern, Vice-Chair to the Commission, led the panel of Economic Advisors, produce the document “Better growth better climate, The New Climate Economy Report”

“We had this long term view on where we need to go this century, to cut by 60% emissions between now and 2050 and go down to zero by the end of the century”, he mentioned.

The Commission realize that what we may do on the next fifteen years will shape fundamentally our future.

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“Why is it so important how you start now? Because the majority of the investments that are going  to come in the coming years will be in the emerging markets in developing countries.  In a fifteen years or so there will be another billion people in cities, by the middle of the century probably the number of people in cities will close to double.”

The expert mentioned that in the next fifteen years, many places in the world will be designing and building new cities, and it will be very important how cities decide to invest in energy systems, this will define what we can do in the rest of the century.  The way we invest in cities will cause a shadow for centuries.

“The cities and how you invest in cities, how you organize your cities, cause a shadow for centuries. Many of the roman roads have shaped London and they shaped the London underground. Atlanta is about the same income per capita and about the same number of people than Barcelona. And it emits more than 10 times emissions because it is so spread out.”

“That is why the next fifteen years is so important because of the long shadow it causes to future and how much we can discover. Because if we push very hard on those investments, we are going to learn and discover in a really rapid way as we have done in past industrial revolutions. So we need to launch that because we have to change very strongly by the middle and end of the century, we have a very long strong path to go.”

Sustainable development in developing countries

“There are many different types of small countries, you have some very poor small states; Sub-Sahara in Africa has got 48 / 49 states, many of them have 5 or 10 million people, you have Mauritius in the middle of the Indian Ocean, you have Singapore, which is a very small place but has become very reach, some of them have natural resources and some of them no, some of them have hydropower and some of them no. So you have to be very careful about generalization but what you can said is that there are always strong options from doing what you do much more efficiently”

He pointed out that each country has a big margin for rising incomes, saving resources, reducing emissions, by looking efficiency in the use of everything they do.

“… So I said resource efficiency, investing very strongly in people, and working to protect land use in a very strong way, as well as, increase productive in agriculture, protecting and using much better the forest, or land use in cities and towns. (…) There are so much we can do to make them much more efficient, much more attractive.”

He emphasized that every country has to look it on his own position… “But I think those principles can be very helpful where ever you are and there are quite good examples now”.