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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

UN Survey Says Massive Global Investment Needed to Fund Developing Clean Energy Economies

Originally posted at the Breakthrough Institute

The 1947 Marshall Plan seems to be referenced whenever it becomes clear that an overwhelming social problem can only be solved through large scale government spending. The results of the UN's World Economic and Social Survey 2009 (WESS) revealed the need for just that type of federal investment in order to manage the global climate and energy crisis. And, according to Reuters, the head of Development Policy and Analysis division at the UN department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), Richard Kozul-Wright, believes it may be time to call on the Marshall Plan framework, yet again, this time to fund a green new deal.

Regardless of past global policy, the UN's WESS enhances the climate debate leading up to the negotiations set to take place in Copenhagen this December, by pointing out the need for a global investment push in clean energy technology, energy efficiency, transportation, and forest-management. Thus far, much of the debate has centered on coercing developing nations to agree to carbon emissions targets - even as rich nations' carbon "commitments" skew towards symbolism over substance. But as WESS explains:

"[M]itigation and adaptation efforts can move forward effectively only if they are part of a consistent development strategy built around a massive investment-led transformation along low-carbon, high-growth paths."

That means giving up on Kyoto's tired call for empty promises to cut emissions. While reducing global carbon intensity was, and is, a primary goal of climate negotiations, targets are not only too narrow a focus to be a viable solution to the climate crisis, they have been shown to be ineffective. As has been explained by the Breakthrough Institute and most recently by Michael Levi, in Foreign Affairs, the Kyoto Protocol is failing because the too weak carbon emissions targets it set are not even being met by the participating countries.

Looking beyond targets, this refreshing UN survey points out the need for an enormous financial outlay - on the order of $500-600 billion annually - that will be necessary to help developing countries adapt to the consequences of climate change as well as help them continue to develop into high-growth, low-emission economies built on clean energy. According to the survey:

"The strategy to help developing countries to a low-emission, high-growth path also had to include technology transfer and more energy-related research and development"

China and India are already on the high-growth path and are calling on rich nations like the U.S. to provide the financial assistance that will allow them to develop as clean energy economies. Today, China is producing the most carbon emissions in the world but it is also making significant strides to build a clean energy economy with a proposed investment package that would inject $440-660 billion into clean energy technology RD&D over 10 years.

Africa, on the other hand, has recently issued a call to the world's richest nations for $67 billion in adaptation assistance. It will need significantly more than that in the coming years to help the continent transition to an economy structured on clean energy technology. As the UN survey's suggests, global development strategy must take these calls for adaptation and clean development assistance seriously, especially since WESS estimates that the costs of climate change mitigation and adaptation could add up to $1 trillion per year by 2030 or 2% of global GDP.

By proposing to model a green new deal on the Marshall Plan, the UN has put the onus on rich, developed nations like the United States to lead climate negotiations towards a viable global development strategy. Backed by historical evidence and WESS, large-scale investments, not emissions targets, emerge as the necessary means of ensuring a growing global economy sustainably powered by clean energy.

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