We have 12 years to make changes and keep the temperature rise under 1.5 °C. This was the message from the IPCC, which is the UN’s international scientific body on climate change. Economist John Roemer shares his blueprint on how to head off climate catastrophe. With Clara Young.

©Austrian Police Handout Jan 2019/AFP

Natural hazards can lead to costly disasters, which is why public authorities must work hard to reduce risks and to be prepared financially. What can governments do to strengthen their fiscal resilience?

Dustin Hoffman (left) in The Graduate, 1967 ©Alamy

“I just want to say one word to you. Are you listening? Plastics.” This infamous advice, delivered to Ben, played by Dustin Hoffman in the 1967 film, The Graduate, foresaw a great career in plastics. 

Marine experts in Tornio, northern Finland, drill holes on February 5, 2016 in the sea-ice and inject dye into the water to study how it flows, to model how an oil spill would behave underneath the arctic ice. ©Sam Kingsley/AFP

If you think the ice looks a little greyer in the Arctic, your eyes are not deceiving you. A five-year study by international researchers has found that diesel-engine vehicles, coal-burning factories and other such fossil-fuelled activities spew out soot, which circles around in the cold air before landing on the snow, turning it from white to sometimes black.

©Shutterstock

Climate change appears to be gathering pace, with the four years since 2015 being the hottest on record. Of course, 2015 was also the year the Paris Climate Agreement was signed by 195 countries, with the goal of holding the rise in the global average temperature to well within a maximum of 2°C above pre-industrial levels over the long term. But that goal is in peril, which means efforts to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions must be stepped up.

Extreme weather is now par for the course worldwide thanks to climate change. While everyone may enjoy a day off work due to transportation troubles, extreme temperature and rising sea levels can damage infrastructure. Heat exposes it to a higher risk of fire, storms and precipitation can cause physical asset damage, and rising sea levels endanger low-lying systems. We must change our existing systems and Adapting Transport to Climate Change and Extreme Weather: Implications for Infrastructure Owners and Network Managers provides a wealth of information about why and how we can best do this.

A street destroyed by the earthquake in downtown Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on 3 February 2010. ©Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

Last year, actor Sean Penn called on world leaders to help Haiti deal with the "looming existential threat" of climate change. 

©David Rooney

Moving beyond a petroleum-based economy is not just about choosing alternative sources of energy. It is about rethinking almost everything around us. The fleece you’re wearing, for example, is made from the same oil-based chemical as antifreeze or engine coolant. This is where green chemistry comes in. Advances in biotechnology are allowing us to manufacture fabrics, plastics, fuels and chemicals from bio-based resources using renewable resources.

©2016 by NASA/ZUMA/REA

The Paris climate summit in November 2015 was a great diplomatic success but aviation, like shipping, was not included in the final agreement. International air transport currently represents about 1.5% of all man-made emissions, though with a projected doubling of demand for air travel over the next 10-20 years, up from approximately 3.5 billion in 2015, action had to be taken. 

©IMAGINECHINA/AF

“We are not in the future. The rest of the world is in the past.” Swiss innovator Bertrand Piccard whose round-the-world flight in a solar-powered plane absorbed the world’s attention and imagination in 2015-16, does not mince words. Piccard proved that solar-powered transport is technically possible. What is needed now are investors and policymakers to help make it happen, not least by providing legal frameworks and cutting back on bureaucracy, he told a packed audience at the Big IdEAs distinguished speaker series, organised by the International Energy Agency and hosted by the OECD in September 2017.

Mike Hutchings/Reuters

Trade is on the rise again globally, and ships are back trawling our seas, connecting places and people. But ships don’t just drive trade, they unfortunately contribute to climate change too. In fact, global shipping is responsible for about 2.5% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and these are projected to rise by between 50% and 250% by 2050 if nothing improves. And yet, maritime transport was excluded from the Paris Climate Agreement struck two years ago.  

©Marcelo Del Pozo/Reuters

Two years after the historic Paris Climate Agreement was struck at the UN COP21 conference, there are encouraging signs of progress, but there is a huge amount left to do. 

(from left) Nicolas Hulot, Minister of the Ecological and Inclusive Transition, France; Stéphanie Antoine, compère from France 24; Rafael Pacchiano, Environment Secretary, Mexico; Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the OECD ©Damien Valente/MTES/DICOM

Our response to the climate challenge will define our collective future for generations to come. We must act. We must act swiftly, collectively, and decisively. Some fear that decisive climate action may have a high price tag in economic and social terms. Strong climate action is not a threat to, but instead the very foundation of our economic well-being in the long run. At the OECD we are rolling up our sleeves to make this happen.

Cultura/Janie Airey

There is enough capital out there and renewable energy technologies have become more cost-competitive, so why is investment still wanting? Policymakers hold the key.

Wherever in the world they are emitted, greenhouse gases have a global impact. Narrow national agendas are inadequate to deal with global climate change disruption. Without vision and resolve, more countries may yet retreat further into their national bunkers. We would all suffer in such a bleak scenario.

©Roy Philippe/HEMIS.FR

In September 2017, the United Nations (UN) adopted a dedicated Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on water. For years water had been under-valued, under-priced and too often taken for granted, so Goal 6 on water and sanitation was a momentous recognition of water’s crucial policy importance. Though just one of 17 SDGs, this goal also sits at the heart of many of them: water is essential for food security, health, cities, sustainable consumption and production, and terrestrial ecosystems. 

shutterstock.com

With new business models emerging, competition in the electricity sector is beginning to stir.

At the 2009 UNFCCC negotiations, developed countries committed to mobilising US$100 billion each year for climate action in developing countries by 2020. As negotiations on a new climate agreement intensified in the lead-up to COP 21 in 2015, an understanding of the progress made towards this commitment was important in keeping everyone around the table. In this context, the OECD estimated that US$62 billion had been mobilised in 2014, up by US$10 billion since 2013. Updated estimates towards the US$100 billion commitment will be needed in the lead-up to 2020, along with new information about climate finance beyond this goal. But further progress relies on robust and transparent tracking of the different streams of climate finance. 

©Russell R. Scott/Citizenside/AFP

Pricing carbon is one of the surest policy means we know for curbing greenhouse gas emissions and meeting the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement agreed in 2015. Has there been any progress with its implementation since then? Not enough, is the verdict of some of the world’s leading experts. Read post here.

We know decarbonisation will require a massive shift of investment away from fossil fuel and into such areas as renewable energy, energy efficiency in buildings and industry, electric vehicles and public transport. A key challenge for policy makers is to understand how to make best use of available policy levers to help accelerate this shift towards low-carbon investment. This includes facilitating the financing of low-carbon investment, including financing through equity investment or – on the debt side – through bank loans and bonds. Read post here.

©David Rooney

Blended finance is not a new concept but it certainly has returned as a new buzzword. 

©Mark Blinch/Reuters

“National governments must take the lead and do so with a recognition that they are part of a global effort.” Speaking last week at the Munk School of Global Affairs in Toronto, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría urged countries not to retreat behind their national borders in dealing with climate change. A purely inward-looking approach to climate change is clearly inadequate as we see signs that short-term national self-interest is increasingly seeping into the global debate on climate action. This is especially a risk as a number of countries continue to try and escape from low growth traps. Effective climate action needs ambition and action at both national and global levels. Read post here.

The developing world urgently needs more and better infrastructure. Affordable and accessible water supply systems, electricity grids, power plants and transport networks are critical to reducing poverty and ensuring economic growth. The way new infrastructure is built over the next 10 years will determine if we meet the Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement objectives. Considering the long lifespan of most infrastructure projects, the decisions developing countries make about how they build infrastructure are critical: we can either lock-in carbon intensive and polluting forms of infrastructure, or ‘leap frog’ towards more sustainable pathways. Read post here.

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Fossil fuel subsidies keep fuel prices artificially low, and weigh heavily on government budgets and on the climate too. Phasing out these subsidies will help reduce CO2 emissions and possibly raise public revenues as well.

©AFP

Low-lying island states like the Maldives and densely populated coastal cities like New York have at least one thing in common: they are faced with the challenge of rising sea levels. In fact, close to a quarter of the world’s population lives within 100 metres of a coast. Although we cannot predict exactly the pace and upper limits of the current rise, we do know that sea levels will continue rising and that the impacts will be costly.

Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP

The world’s oceans are being damaged by a constant and unprecedented accumulation of waste known as marine debris. The waste, mostly from effluent human activities, is brought to the oceans through currents and often carried far from where it originated. 

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Demographics, lifestyle, urbanisation, farming and transport: all are facts of life and, as we try to manage our economies and our environment, are the focus of millions of policy actions around the world. We must reduce pollution and congestion. 

Following the hand-wringing, relief-sighing and back-slapping in Paris after nailing the landmark agreement on climate change in December, I took myself off to a farm in rural England to enjoy the new year driving tractors and herding small children (not with tractors). Conversations with friends typically started with remarks about the unseasonably mild weather and often ended on climate change, and unsurprisingly, COP21. As a soundbite buff, I quickly got my lines sorted: “COP21 gave governments a giant shove in the right direction, an emotional rollercoaster ride of hope, expectation and promise”. Read post here.

©James Thew/Alamy Stock Photo

Meteorology was the first scientific discipline to use space capabilities in the 1960s, and today satellites provide observations of the state of the atmosphere and ocean surface for the preparation of weather analyses, forecasts, advisories and warnings, for climate monitoring and environmental activities. Three-quarters of the data used in numerical weather prediction models depend on satellite measurements. 

Drivers complain that Paris these days is a vast construction site. Streets are being ripped up to make way for tramways, electric car charging posts, and ever more bike lanes and docking stations. The first major city to have put in a free bike-sharing system, back in 2007, Paris has now moved to phase two with more and lighter bikes, a docking system that allows overflow and the introduction of shared electric bikes. 

Economic data

GDP growth: +0.5% Q2 2019 year-on-year
Consumer price inflation: 1.6% September 2019 annual
Trade: -1.9% exp, -0.9% imp, Q2 2019
Unemployment: 5.1% August 2019
Last update: 6 November 2019

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