OECD sees grim future if governments don’t tackle greenhouse gas emissions

November 28th, 2011 by Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development

According to OECD’s latest analysis, global greenhouse gas emissions are projected to double in the next 40 years. This would result in a 3 to 6° Celsius increase of the average global temperature by the end of the century unless governments take decisive action.

(click on report cover to go to OECD report download page)

The OECD’s Environmental Outlook to 2050 (full publication in March 2012) paints a grim picture of the Earth in 2050 if we do not change our policies and behaviour to accommodate the 9 billion people it will have to support in the coming decades.

For example, without new government policies, the mix of energy technologies will not change significantly by 2050, with the share of fossil fuel-based energy remaining at 85%. By 2050 the concentration of warming gases in the atmosphere could reach 685 parts per million (ppm) CO2-equivalents (CO2e).

This is well above the level of 450 ppm CO2e that scientists say is needed to have at least a 50% chance of achieving the 2°C goal.

“The economic costs and environmental consequences of political inaction on climate change are significant”—said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría—“Governments have to break out of their national mind-sets and look at the global picture. They must speed up negotiations in Durban if we are to meet the internationally agreed goal to limit the global temperature rise to 2°C”.

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It is still possible to change the grim prospects for 2050 if governments opt for a greener growth path. But the window of opportunity is closing fast.

The Environmental Outlook’s mitigation scenario estimates that, with ambitious policies, global greenhouse gas emissions could be cut by 70% (or 52% below 2005 levels). Our latest estimates show tackling climate change would slow the world GDP average annual growth between today and 2050 by a mere 0.2 percentage points (from 3.5% to 3.3% GDP growth on average per year ), reaching a cost of about 5.5% of global GDP in 2050, by which time GDP is projected to have quadrupled. This cost of tackling climate change pales alongside the potential cost of inaction.

The Environmental Outlook suggests that a wide range of technology options will need to be applied to curb GHG emissions to meet the 2°C goal at least cost. Without policies to promote these options, the cost of mitigation will be higher.

For example, the global cost of meeting the 2°C goal would increase by about one third if carbon capture and storage (CCS) does not become available; by about 50% if nuclear energy is phased-out; and it would more than double if energy efficiency options and renewables develop less quickly.

Similarly, delaying mitigation action and limiting emission cuts to the insufficient pledges made in Copenhagen and Cancun would raise the global cost of mitigation by about 50%. Governments have to ramp up their mitigation and adaption policies now if they want to keep costs down.

Financing mechanisms to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change will be debated and negotiated in Durban by governments already facing huge deficits. The Environmental Outlook suggests that curbing GHG emissions by putting a price on carbon through carbon taxes or emission trading schemes can help raise significant revenues.

For example, if industrialised countries implement the emission reduction actions they pledged in Copenhagen through a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade scheme with fully auctioned permits, they could generate more than US $250 billion extra revenue.

The Environmental Outlook is intended to inform discussions at Durban on the urgency of the climate change problems. That discussion, however, must be followed by bold action on the part of leaders.

 

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