World’s Environment Ministers Meet to Mobilize Global Green Economy

A green economy is emerging worldwide as growing numbers of companies embrace environmental policies and investors pump hundreds of billions into clean technology and renewable energies, finds the 2008 United Nations Environment Programme Year Book.

The Year Book was presented here today at the opening of the largest gathering of environment ministers since the UN climate conference in Bali, Indonesia last December.

The ministers, joined by representatives of business, organized labor, science and civil society, are attending UNEP’s Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum with the theme “Mobilizing Finance for the Climate Challenge.”

“Hundreds of billions of dollars are now flowing into renewable and clean energy technologies and trillions more dollars are waiting in the wings looking to governments for a new and decisive climate regime post 2012 alongside the creative market mechanisms necessary to achieve this,” said Achim Steiner, UN under-secretary general and UNEP executive director.

Climate change, as documented in the Year Book, is increasingly changing the global environment, from the melting of permafrost and glaciers to extreme weather events.

But it is also beginning to change the mind-sets, policies and actions of corporate heads, financiers and entrepreneurs as well as leaders of organized labor, governments and the United Nations itself.

Combating climate change increasingly is being viewed as an opportunity rather than a burden and a path to a new kind of prosperity instead of a brake on profits and employment, the UNEP Year Book shows. The emerging green economy is driving invention, innovation and the imagination of engineers on a scale not witnessed since the industrial revolution of more than two centuries ago.

The report points to the growing interest in novel geo-engineering projects such as giant carbon dioxide, C02, collectors that absorb the greenhouse gas from the air as trees do.

“Based on technology used in fish tank filters and developed by scientists from Columbia University’s Earth Institute, this method called “air capture” can collect the CO2 at the location of the ideal geological deposits for storage,” says the report.

Meanwhile, scientists in Iceland and elsewhere are looking at injecting C02 into that country’s abundant basalt rocks where it is claimed the gas reacts to form inert limestone.

Similar “sequestration rocks” exist in geological formations across much of the world and may provide a safe and long term disposal option for the main greenhouse gas emissions, says the UNEP Year Book.

Some elements of a green economy are already taking shape.

Corporate social responsibility reporting, including environmental concerns, is now found among corporations in over 90 countries – with the number of such statements mushrooming from virtually zero in the early 1990s to well over 2,000 now, the Year Book states.

The Investor Network on Climate Change, launched in November 2003, now has some 50 institutional investors with assets of over $3 trillion.

And the Principles for Responsible Investment, jointly facilitated by UNEP’s Finance Initiative and the UN Global Compact in 2006, now has 275 institutions with $13 trillion of assets.

In 2007, financial transactions in the sustainable energy sector reached $160 billion – up from just over $100 billion in 2006, according to another UNEP report drafted to inform the deliberations of ministers in Monaco.

“An initiative to provide seed money for clean energy entrepreneurs has spawned close to 50 new enterprises in Africa, China and India. The Principles for Responsible Investment, facilitated by the UNEP Finance Initiative and the UN’s Global Compact, has secured the support of over 275 institutions handling assets of over $13 trillion dollars,” said Steiner.

“Among the challenges facing ministers in Monaco is how to accelerate this transformation to ensure that it is far reaching, widespread and above all speedy,” he said.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, composed of more than 2,000 scientists established by UNEP and the World Meteorological Organization to advise governments, estimates that to avoid dangerous climate change emissions need to be stabilized at between 535 to 590 parts per million, ppm, in 2050.

In order to meet the stabilization target, global emissions of greenhouse gases will need to decrease in 2050 by 18 to 29 giggatonnes of carbon dioxide with emissions peaking even earlier – somewhere between 2010 and 2030.

A variety of recent assessments such as the Stern Review; ones by the IPCC and others by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change put the costs of stabilization at between 0.3 percent and four per cent of global Gross Domestic Product, GDP.

Stern estimates it at one percent of global GDP, costing around $134 billion in 2015 rising to $930 billion in 2050.

Industrialized countries, except the United States, are abiding by the Kyoto Protocol, which requires a reduction in six greenhouse gases by an average of 5.2 percent of 1990 levels by the end of 2012.

After 2012, the Kyoto Protocol will be replaced by an global agreement now under negotiation that are expected to be completed by the climate convention meeting in Copenhagen in 2009.

Some developing countries are already committed to a green economy.

UNEP Governing Council President Roberto Dobles of Costa Rica told reporters today that his country wants to become a carbon neutral, zero impact economy by 2021.

“To change the economy, we have to become more resource efficient, the culture of consumption will have to change,” Dobles said.

Although the country enjoys a 62 percent forest cover, last year Costa Ricans planted six million trees and aim to plant seven million trees this year, he said.

Costa Rica will be reducing emissions and increasing its capacity to mitigate climate change, Dobles said. “We will be increasing our well-being through a low carbon economy.”

In a video message played at the Governing Council today, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed to the environment ministers to usher in a “new generation” of solutions to climate change.

“You can help us meet the crucial challenge of mobilizing finance to meet the climate challenge,” he said. “We must sustain the momentum, including through practical actions now.”


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