Climate policy success imperative to achieve global goals

Published in The Times, in September 2009.

Climate change transforms the landscape of risk and opportunity for countries, for companies and for citizens everywhere. This is equally true whether climate policy succeeds or fails.

Policy success means building a carbon neutral global energy system by about the middle of the century, as well as a significant reduction in the rate of loss of tropical forest and a transformation of agriculture and water management practises.

This will entail a massive change in both public and private investment patterns from those we are now on.

Policy failure compounds other global resource stresses since a changing climate is a stress multiplier. Fundamental to the achievement of a prosperous, secure and equitable world is the provision of reliable and affordable access to food, water and energy for all of today’s 6.5 billion people and the 2.5 billion more that will be added by mid-century.

Unmanaged climate change, by altering the variability of precipitation, extreme weather events and other impacts, greatly increases the cost and difficulty of meeting this daunting challenge. As publics lose confidence in their government’s ability to deliver prosperity and security, support for a multilateral, rules based global system rooted in progressive trade liberalisation will diminish.

Unmanaged climate change, by undermining food, water and energy security, threatens the internal social and political stability on which cooperative international efforts rest thus compounding existing threats to the open markets on which prosperity depends.

Climate policy thus stands at the apex of a geopolitical fulcrum. On one side lies the continuing development of a multilateral global system that has consistently improved human welfare for more than fifty years. On the other lies a return to a mercantilist and nationalist past that cannot, in any case, support the aspirations of a world of 9 billion people. This makes climate policy success an imperative not an option if other global goals are to be achieved.

About tomburke

Tom Burke is the Chairman of E3G, Third Generation Environmentalism, and an Environmental Policy Adviser (part time) to Rio Tinto plc. He is a Visiting Professor at both Imperial and University Colleges, London. He is a member of the External Review Committee of Shell and the Sustainable Sourcing Advisory Board of Unilever and a Trustee of the Black-E Community Arts Project, Liverpool.
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