$1 Trillion to Fight Climate Change… is only the beginning

An outfit called The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate has released a report called ‘Seizing the Global Opportunity.’ I like people who think big, so I went straight to the report. Or tried to…


It identifies six opportunities to accelerate the trend to low carbon ‘growth and prosperity’:

  1. Rapid innovation and declining costs of clean energy technologies
  2. Using the fall in oil prices as an opportunity to advance carbon pricing and fossil fuel subsidy reform
  3. Growing international attention to infrastructure investment, particularly in the context of low interest rates
  4. Heightened awareness of climate risks in the financial sector
  5. Rising interest in low-carbon growth pathways in emerging and developing economies
  6. An acceleration of the decline in the carbon intensity of the global economy

A report they published last year, Better Growth, Better Climate showed how countries at different levels of development can achieve stronger economic growth, reduce poverty, advance development goals, and reduce climate risk at the same time. Guess I’d better read that too.

Confusingly, their first chapter does not follow their first opportunity, being instead focused on ‘accelerating low carbon development in the world’s cities.’ They write,

“We live in an urban era. Cities are growing at an unprecedented rate, particularly in the developing world, with 1.4 million people added to urban areas each week. By 2030, around 60% of the global population will live in cities.91 Cities are engines of economic growth and social change, expected to produce about 85% of global GDP in 201592– and they generate 71–76% of energy-related global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.93” 

Hmm. I don’t know how they define energy-related GHG emissions, but that seems a bit higher than I would have guessed. I’ll have to check their footnoted documents. Sigh…

They note that 80 cities have joined a ‘Compact of Mayors’ (is that a collective noun?) to promote tracking and reducing GHGs. But for concrete policy measures they pass us off to another website with a Gaggle of Papers. The report does not offer one single proposal. I find that very strange.

Strange enough that I halt my reading of the report to actually find out what The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate and who are its members.

Which brings me to the Stockholm Environment Institute website, which explains, “The Commission is a partnership of seven economic and policy research institutes –  of which the Stockholm Environment Institute is one – located in the US, China, Europe, India, Korea and Ethiopia. The project is overseen by an International Council comprising former heads of government and finance ministers and leaders in the fields of economics, business and finance.” But there is also a link to the Commission’s website.

The project team for this report is 24 strong, led by Helen Mountford, who also is Director of Economics at WRI (World Resources Institute, Larry Brown’s outfit). The other 23 include  a Head of Communications, a strategic advisor ‘focused on funding’, an Administrative Coordinator, a Strategic Engagement Director, a Research and Engagement Coordinator, a Communications Assistant, a Project Coordinator, a Communications Officer, an Engagement Coordinator, a Stakeholder Engagement Coordinator, a Grants and Finance Coordinator, a Chief of Staff and 11 researchers. Kind of a Chiefs/Indians thing going on there, it seems.

All to provide a report saying good things can happen if we pursue policies developed by… another organization they link to. Hmm. (Actually it’s to a partner organization–but it’s on the partner’s website…)

Which their footnotes don’t actually link to, just giving the title in a cute little balloon. The first one I found, footnote 98, says to look for ‘Advancing Climate Ambition: Cities as Partners in Global Climate Action.’ It was produced by the Stockhom Environment Institute “in support of the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change and C40.” And the address they give is the Stockholm Environment Institute… in Seattle, Washington.

The SEI website returns no results for that title. But that’s okay, I can use da Google. Which actually finds the page on the SEI website that links to both a briefing paper with that title and ‘a more detailed analysis and methodology’ published separately as SEI Working Paper No. 2014-06.

So what does it say? That if cities aggressively pursue efficiency programs in certain areas those cities will emit less CO2. The sectors they single out are:

• urban passenger transport, whether due to land use planning for compact urban form, expansion of public transit, measures to improve vehicle efficiency (including electrification), or transport demand and flow management (such as variable speed zones and better signal timing);

• urban road freight transport, due to better urban freight logistics management, and measures to increase urban road freight vehicle efficiency;

• urban building energy use, due to building energy codes, standards, and retrofit programs or requirements, including for lighting and appliances, as well as provision of district energy or incentives for solar PV, in both residential and commercial buildings; and

• urban waste management, due to increasing waste collection, recycling, and landfill management for methane capture.

The amount of CO2 that could be saved by 3.7 GT by 2030 and 8.0 GT by 2050. That’s if all cities globally participate.

There is no price tag. There are no specific measures of what the efficiency levels are now and what they will have to reach by 2030 and 2050 to realize these gains.

So, we move on to their SEI Working Paper No. 2014-06. Surely the answer will be there, right?

“further reduce heating energy consumption, in dramatic ways – down to “passive house” levels for new buildings in most areas: 15 kWh of heating energy per m2 of floor space.”

“The urban action scenario also envisions an aggressive building retrofit program, starting in 2015, that upgrades all existing buildings by 2040, reducing their energy intensity by 30–40% compared with the reference scenario.”

“Lastly, both the reference and urban action scenarios include a gradual transition from traditional biomass to modern fuels for cooking and heating, especially in cities in sub-Saharan Africa and developing Asia (IEA 2010). Should this transition free up low-GHG biomass for other, more efficient uses in industry and power, other GHG benefits may result that are not considered here.”

“In the urban action scenario, city governments, especially those in developing countries, increasingly plan compact, pedestrian- and transit oriented communities. These actions considerably slow the trend of increasing personal vehicle use in these countries, yielding equal (or greater) mobility by providing proximity to local services and greater availability and convenience of public transport (including rail, subways, buses, and bus rapid transit), cycling (including e-bikes) and walking.”

“Furthermore, the urban action scenario sees cities increasingly using their vehicle licensing authorities to support – or even extend – planned national vehicle efficiency standards, especially for vehicle efficiency technologies that are particularly well-suited to the urban environment, such as hybrid and electric technologies for both personal vehicles and buses.”

“In our urban action scenario, cities reduce GHG emissions from solid waste by collecting and managing refuse in ways that limit methane release and maximize recycling. In developing cities, this starts with higher rates of centralized refuse collection to limit disposal in informal dumps. In all cities, methane releases can be limited by choosing landfill destinations that operate highly effective methane capture systems and, where possible, use that methane (biogas) to generate electricity that otherwise would have been generated at power plants using fossil fuels. Similar GHG reductions can also be achieved via systems that convert waste directly to energy, whether through combustion or other processes.”

Hmm. Quite ambitious. I’m in favor of almost all of that, although I doubt much could be achieved by 2050, let alone 2030.

But again, no price tag.

The original paper called for a $1 trillion investment. I think they just spent it all in Chapter 2 of their paper.

Chapter 3: Restore and protect agricultural and forest landscapes and increase agricultural productivity

Chapter 4: Invest at least a trillion dollars a year in clean energy

Chapter 5: Raise energy efficiency standards to the global best

Chapter 6: Implement effective carbon pricing

Chapter 7: Insure new infrastructure is climate smart

Chapter 8: Galvanize low-carbon innovation

Chapter 9: Drive low-carbon growth through business and investor action

Chapter 10: Raise ambition to reduce international aviation and maritime emissions

Chapter 11: Phasing down the use of hydrofluorocarbons

Well, I did Chapter 2. Some hardy soul who wants to look at the rest can tell me how the story ends.

The sad thing is that I like a lot of what they say. But they hide all the bad news and talk about the hard costs as if they are an investment.

If the only return on that investment is a CO2 free atmosphere, that’s okay–just tell us. But sending us to five different websites just to discover you haven’t costed your dreams is really, really rude.





5 responses to “$1 Trillion to Fight Climate Change… is only the beginning

  1. Thanks for sharing your summary.

  2. Hmmm, Tom, a “CO2 free atmosphere” is a life free planet. Perhaps a wee bit of editing is called for?

    • C’mon, hunter–don’t you know hyperbole when you see it?

      • Tom,
        The authors are trying to turn their climate spin into a fungible resource. They seem to implicitly know that there is no need for actual *data* or *facts*, much less *attribution* needed to gain social standing or finance.

  3. Greenpeace is the best environmental money machine, but starting the Stockholm Institute in Seattle is a great idea! I’m going to copy their concept, found the Trömso Gôterdamerūng Center, with offices in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and start releasing all sorts of creepy end of the world studies. That ought to work.

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