Column for European Security – OSCE Review – 28 November 2007
What is the biggest challenge for global economy? This was asked from Bill Clinton, when he visited my home town in Finland one and half years ago. “Climate change”, answered the ex-President, “because it can change everything.”
The answer may have surprised the businessman who had asked the question. But roughly 6 months later Sir Nicholas Stern, the former chief economist of the World Bank, published a report with a message that an accelerating climate change would cause economic collapse which can only be compared to the world wars and the great recession of the 1930ies. In fact this is an understatement, because the wars stop and the reconstruction begin. But if the climate change will spiral out of control, it will not stop.
During the last year the understanding has spread rapidly that climate change is much more than an environmental issue, it is about the fundamental security of our societies. This was reflected e.g. by the UK government which lifted climate on the agenda of the UN Security Council.
For me one of the most frightening scenarios is melting of the Himalayan glaciers, because the big rivers of South Asia start in the Himalayas. Melting of the glaciers would affect the flow of the big Asian rivers, which would affect the lives of people from India to Vietnam and China. One can just imagine the instability which would follow.
The message of science has become tougher and tougher during the years. In 1995 IPCC said it is “possible” that human activity is changing the climate. In 2001 they used the word “probable”, in 2007 “highly probable”. In November 2007 Rajendra Pachauri, the President of IPCCC, said that global emissions should peak by 2015, to prevent dangerous climate change. This means that we have less than 10 years to change the course.
The goal of EU is to limit global warming below 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial times. Recent scientific research confirms that it would be very dangerous to overshoot this limit. By 2050 we should reduce global emissions at least by 50 %. On the other hand IEA, the International Energy Agency forecasts that global emissions will grow by 60 % by 2030.
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was agreed 1992, and ratified also by USA, promised to prevent “dangerous anthropogenic climate change”.
Kyoto Protocol, which was agreed in 1997, is the first climate agreement with binding emission caps. Caps were given only for the industrialized countries for two reasons. First, they (or we) are the main culprits for the accumulation of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere so far. Second, they (we) have more resources to start the necessary technology change.
But Kyoto, which expires 2012, is far from enough. The governments should agree on the second step, on much deeper and much more rapid emission cuts after 2012. Both the necessity and the difficulty of climate negotiations can be compared to the nuclear arms limitation talks of the 1980ies.
As in the nuclear arms negotiations, power game also plays a role in the negotiations of sharing the emission reductions between countries. Many governments believe that their countries have better situation in the economic competition, if their emissions are not limited, or if limited, then as little as possible. This might not be true, but this widespread belief is anyway a reality.
How to share the emission reduction task in a just way? On one hand the emissions per capita in the rich countries are much larger than in emerging economies. But on the other hand if emissions from rich countries would go to zero by 2050, the global emissions would still grow, if emissions from emerging economies like China and India continue growing like now. Thus, it is not possible to prevent dangerous climate change without limiting at least the growth rate of emissions in emerging economies. It is clear that for this the rich countries must give some compensation.
It is still far from clear what this compensation could be. But this Gordion knot simply must be solved, and soon. This is maybe the biggest challenge ever for global diplomacy.
There are positive messages also. A growing number of people, from the EU Commission to CEOs of big companies, have started to speak of a new industrial revolution. In fact we do already have the necessary technology for the necessary emission cuts for the next 10-20 years. And new technologies are in the pipeline. Solar energy experts say that electricity for the whole Europe could be produced in an area of 200 times 200 kilometers by concentrated solar power. Biofuel experts say that in 5-10 years we could have algae farms producing over 30 000 litres of biodiesel per hectare.