Green approach seen as economy rescue remedy
www.chinaview.cn 2009-02-21 12:18:32   Print

Special Report: Global Financial Crisis

    by Dongying Wang

    LONDON, Feb. 20 (Xinhua) -- Green deals designed to more efficiently use natural resources and better control pollution have been high on the global agenda because they are perceived to be solutions to the worsening economic crisis engulfing the world.

    It is unavoidable that the input for achieving sustainable development has been limited as more attention goes to getting the global economy back on track. However, some low-carbon programs are expected to expand the job market and help ease rising unemployment rates.

    This big picture has become crystal clear to many countries. Leading greenhouse gas emitters and emerging economies, in particular, are under big pressure to set their own agenda and lead the global green movement. To do so, they need to strike a balance between the cost and output of green initiatives to get through the downturn.

    UPSIDE AND DOWNSIDE OF RECESSION

    Falling business and consumption resulting from the downturn has reduced pollution, even if only slightly. The recession has had some positive effects on the environment, but the trend may stall when the economy picks up again.

    Finland represents a good example as to how the recession is having a positive effect on the environment.

    The country has seen its road traffic drop by nearly 4 percent in January. "This is a historic change. The last time traffic declined was due to the recession in the early 1990's, and it has since grown continuously," said a spokesman for the Finnish Road Administration.

    However, environmental services, including NGOs and campaigning groups, have been forced to make cutbacks.

    London-headquartered Climate Group, for example, has cancelled plans to recruit a communications manager for its Greater China operations.

    Tight funding has also forced many other organizations to streamline their operations to get through the difficult times.

    The most significant impact has been inflicted upon energy security and efficiency.

    The dramatic fall in energy prices has provided some breathing space for the sagging global economy.

    The International Energy Agency, however, has warned that the drop could cause delays in investment in new production. That, the agency said, would make supplies short of demand in the medium term, and slow progress in energy efficiency and the development of cleaner alternative technologies.

    "Whenever there has been a sharp price drop in the past, and a reasonable expectation that it will stay low, then energy efficiency plans are put on hold. This is already happening and the credit crunch -- poor availability of credit and its high cost-- adds to this effect," Dave Feickert, an independent energy and mine safety consultant, told Xinhua.

    In response, Wang Tao, a researcher at Britain's Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research, said the situation in China is somewhat different.

    The economic crisis has offered China an unprecedented opportunity to increase investment in energy efficiency and develop renewable energy programs, Wang said.

    "This is not only because investing in these programs is cheaper than before due to the resource and labor price slash, but also the country faces much less risks in raising funds to support these programs compared to the United States and Europe, where the recession has bitten harder and credit has been tightened," Wang told Xinhua.

    "It is also much easier to increase the proportion of sustainable energy sources when there is an energy surplus rather than shortage," Wang added.

    Energy-related CO2 emissions, which account for 61 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, show no sign of decline. This makes the development of clean energy and energy efficiency improvement even more crucial.

    TURNING CRISIS INTO OPPORTUNITY

    The current crisis can create new opportunities for a fast-tracked transition to green technologies through a combination of regulation, incentives and investment at a national level, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) Yvo de Boer said recently.

    His opinion was echoed by Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, who said that "the challenge today is to embed green economic policy into national economies."

    Talking about the massive economic stimulus package, de Boer warned that "bailout packages for banks and for the auto industry must be tied to strict conditions for economic and environmental sustainability, otherwise we are setting ourselves up for renewed failure further down the line."

    The importance of green stimulus plans was also highlighted in a new UN report, which was presented at the Global Ministerial Environment Forum earlier this month in Nairobi, Kenya.

    The Global Green New Deal report, part of the UNEP Green Economy initiative, has called for one third of the world's 2.5 trillion-dollars-worth of planned stimulus packages to be invested in greening the world economy.

    "This would assist in powering the global economy out of recession and onto a green 21st century path," the report said.

    The global environment industry, which includes renewable energy, waste management, pollution control, energy efficiency, nuclear energy and others, is worth 4 trillion dollars. It is forecast to grow by 45 percent over the next eight years.

    UNEP figures show that in recent years 2.3 million people have found new jobs in the renewable energy sector alone. There is great potential for job growth in the sector, with combined employment in wind and solar power expected to rise to 8.4 million by 2030.

    Investments in improved energy efficiency in buildings could generate an additional 3.5 million green jobs in Europe and the United States alone.

    CLIMATE CHANGE TO ADVANCE INDUSTRIAL RESTRUCTURING

    The G20 leaders have been urged to commit themselves during their upcoming April meeting in London to coordinated efforts in fighting the recession and in securing a global climate change agreement at talks in Copenhagen in December.

    "The Road to the London Summit", a report published by the British government this week, said that: "The world's leading economies can come together to agree a package of internationally coordinated measures to restore stability and set a course for a sustainable recovery."

    Britain has set off on a journey toward a low-carbon economy and is stepping up efforts to meet the challenging target to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.

    The United States, with President Barack Obama's green measures in his stimulus package, and China, with its ambitions to achieve sustainable development, have been urged to use this historical opportunity, created by the global economic crisis, to explore deeper collaboration in renewable energy, energy efficiency and green tech development.

    There are very few international mechanisms that might assist China with its efforts in restructuring its economy.

    However, a future climate change system that leads to a low-carbon world has the potential to help China achieve the goal, said Feng Gao, director of the Legal Department of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat.

Editor: Sun Yunlong
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