Efforts to reduce climate change need not come at the expense of economic growth, according to a report issued Tuesday by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, which was established last year by a group of seven countries.

“The evidence presented in this report suggests that the low-carbon growth path can lead to as much prosperity as the high-carbon one, especially when account is taken of its multiple other benefits: from greater energy security to cleaner air and improved health,” concludes the 70-page “Better Growth Better Climate” report.

It comes after scientists have concluded — in overwhelming numbers — that climate change has already occurred and could become an existential threat unless actions are taken soon to reduce carbon emissions across the world.

“If the evidence is so clear, why have we not acted?” asked Felipe Calderon, who served as chairman of the group, which consulted with more than 100 institutions to create what he described as “one of the most comprehensive economic analyses ever done on the subject.”

“The real problem, in our opinion, is that there is a widespread perception that taking action on climate implies huge economic costs. Therefore, there is a common belief that we have to choose between economic growth or mitigating climate.”

But the commission members – 24 former heads of government and finance ministers, and leaders of businesses, cities, international organizations and research institutions — concluded that that scenario represents a false choice, the former president of Mexico told reporters at the United Nations, where the report was presented.

“After a year of hard work, we have reached a clear conclusion: Yes, it is possible to have better growth and better climate; yes, it is possible to create jobs and reduce poverty and, at the same time, reduce the carbon emissions that threaten our future.”

But, he added, doing so will require “some fundamental changes and hard choices.”

Calderon predicted that the coming 15 years will prove critical in blazing a path toward a low-carbon way of life. During that time, some $90 trillion will be invested in infrastructure for systems affecting the world’s cities, land use and energy systems.

That represents an opportunity to move toward a low-carbon infrastructure, he said.

“Given the long-lived nature of urban infrastructure, the way in which we build, rebuild, maintain and enhance the world’s growing cities will not only determine their economic performance and their citizens’ quality of life; it may also define the trajectory of global greenhouse gas emissions for much of the rest of the century, “ the report says.

It cites cities’ widely varying emissions as dependent on past infrastructure and planning decisions. For example, the carbon emissions per person from public and private transportation in Atlanta, Georgia – which is marked by urban sprawl and spotty mass transit service — are 10 times what they are in Barcelona, Spain – which is more compact and has invested heavily in mass transit.

Though world energy demands will grow by a third by 2030, those demands can be met without depending on technologies that emit high-carbon pollutants, Calderon said.

“We are not suggesting decouple economic growth from energy demands; but decouple from carbon emissions.”

  • In all, the report makes 10 recommendations for decision makers, many of whom plan to attend the UN Climate Summit, to be held on 23 September in New York:
  • Integrate climate into key economic decisions;
  • Enter into a “strong, lasting and equitable” international climate agreement;
  • Phase out subsidies for fossil fuels and agricultural inputs and incentives for urban sprawl;
  • Introduce predictable carbon prices;
  • Cut capital costs for low-carbon infrastructure investments;
  • Encourage innovation in low-carbon and climate-resilient technologies;
  • Encourage planners to build cities that are more connected and more densely populated;
  • Halt deforestation by 2030;
  • Restore at least 500 million hectares of lost or degraded forest or agricultural land by 2030;
  • Move quickly to phase out polluting coal-fired power generation.

The report notes that the cost of renewable energy has plummeted in recent years, and adds that a number of cities and countries have already taken action in some of the areas cited.

The authors call for a just transition, but acknowledge that it will not be painless. “Although many jobs will be created, and there will be larger markets and profits for many businesses, some jobs will also be lost, particularly in high-carbon sectors,” they say.

Still, the transition called for is a needed one, said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is hosting the Summit. “We can no longer afford to burn our way to prosperity,” he told the commission members, whose report he applauded as timely. “We need a structural transformation in the global economy.”

Investing in economic growth and investing in preventing climate change are two sides of the same coin, Ban added. “These two agendas should be addressed simultaneously. Wise investment in climate change will surely help domestic economic growth. These go hand in hand.”

The countries that established the commission — Colombia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Norway, South Korea, Sweden and the United Kingdom – represent a wide variety of incomes.