Towards zero greenhouse gas emissions

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

A world of zero net greenhouse gas emissions “will be needed to achieve climate stability,” argue Christopher Flavin and Robert Engelman, president and vice-president of the Worldwatch Institute, in a 2009 publication.

To attain this objective, the world “needs to develop and disseminate technologies that maximise the production and use of carbon-free energy while minimising cost and optimising convenience,” the authors argue. 

Indeed, the “opportunities for quick and inexpensive emissions reductions remain vast and mostly untapped,” they claim. 

Flavin and Engelman also believe it is essential to “promote policies and programmes that can help slow and eventually reverse [population] growth by making sure that women are able to decide for themselves whether and when to have children”. 

Therefore, a comprehensive climate agreement would have to acknowledge “the long-term contribution that slower growth and a smaller world population can play in reducing future emissions under an equitable climate framework,” they assert. 

Reaching zero greenhouse gas emissions also requires wealthy and developing countries to “share the burden of costs and potential discomforts,” the paper states. 

Given that industrialised countries have emitted more CO2 than others, an effective climate change agreement will have to acknowledge the “co-optation of Earth’s greenhouse gas absorbing capacity by the wealthiest countries” and “the corresponding need to reserve most of what little absorbing capacity is left for countries in development”. 

In light of the current economic downturn, the experts also insist that mechanisms will have to be designed that “operate consistently in anemic as well as booming economic times”. But they admit that doing so may be difficult given the “vast costs of reducing emissions”. 

The “global economy fundamentally drives climate change” and “economic strategies will need to be revised if the climate is ever to be stabilised,” the paper declares. 

But rather than seeing this as an insoluble problem, Flavin and Engelman conclude by highlighting the “breathtaking opportunity” presented by the need to address the climate problem, which will see the creation of “the largest wave of new industries and jobs the world has seen in decades”. 

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