Is a zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emitting economy really possible? Can we really produce electricity, meet transport needs, and ensure food security and housing needs of 9 billion people without GHGs? Scientists, economists and technical experts have concluded that the answer is yes – and that it’s cheaper and healthier for all. It is possible and the body of evidence says that it is essential to build an economy fit for the future.

The cost of achieving an economy consistent with a 2ºC/1.5ºC world is affordable
The costs of keeping warming levels below 2°C/1.5ºC by the end of this century are modest. Estimates of average global macro-economic costs over the century show that loss in total global consumption is limited compared to overall expected economic growth. It is important to note that these cost estimates do include the cost benefits of the co-benefits of climate action. A Climate Analytics report on the feasibility of 1.5ºC and 2ºC pathways has found that,

“under a cost-effective approach macroeconomic costs for holding warming below 2°C with a ‘likely’ chance equal an average annual reduction of consumption growth of about 0.04-0.14% per year. This can be compared to a baseline increase of consumption over the 21st century projected at 1.6-3% per year.

Over the 21st century limiting warming below 1.5°C by 2100 is about 50% more, so about 0.1 % of GDP p.a. This would reduce economic growth from 2.30% to 2.20% per year, resulting in only a four-year delay in reaching the same level of global wealth over the period from 2010 to 2100.”

Clean low carbon communities and cities are cheaper to build
Our cities account for 80% of global economic output and 70% of global energy use and associated emissions. The Union of International Architects (UIA), representing nearly 1.4 million architects and town planners unanimously adopted a 2050 Imperative.  UIA members from 124 countries are committed to phasing out CO2 emissions from the built environment by 2050. The Roadmap 2050 produced by Architecture 2030 confirms this can be done within affordable parameters and with many “co-benefits” to urban services, such as improved health and reduced commutes and urban congestion.

The vision for this clean, zero carbon economy is already being mapped
More evidence has been assessed by The Global Commission on the Climate and Economy, which demonstrates what the low/zero carbon economy could look like. Chaired by former President of Mexico Felipe Calderón, the Commission comprises former heads of government and finance ministers and leaders in the fields of economics and business. Their flagship project, The New Climate Economy recommends that for businesses and investors to develop action frameworks, enabling and decisive policy is required to level the playing field and create a common direction of travel that is fair and competitive for everyone. For example, the transition to a clean, zero carbon economy will necessitate a fair and equitable carbon pricing system, enabling long-range investors to direct their investments with predictability. Policy frameworks established internationally, regionally and nationally can facilitate this. Their 2016 Sustainable Infrastructure Imperative report outlines that investing in sustainable infrastructure is key to reigniting growth, delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals, and reducing climate risk in line with the Paris Agreement.

The 2015 Paris Agreement has kick started this in two major ways:

  1. Setting a global long-term goal of net zero in the second half of the century
  2. Mandating Parties to submit nationally determined contributions every 5 years and longer term plans to decarbonise and develop sustainably before 2020.

Through a combination of ‘Nationally Determined Contributions’ (NDCs) and the ‘long-term low greenhouse gas emissions development strategies’, the details of how countries will achieve the global long-term goal through national target-setting, plans and projects will give economic actors and individuals some foresight and predictability to empower better decision-making in their own sectors.

Getting on track to net zero is an economic imperative as much as a scientific one. The prize is innovation opportunities, and an abundance of technologies and ideas that fuel economic growth, create jobs and fuel the track to a bright economic future.

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