Press Conference on World Economic and Social Survey 2009

1 September 2009

Press Conference on World Economic and Social Survey 2009

1 September 2009
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on World Economic and Social Survey 2009


Launching The World Economic and Social Survey 2009: Promoting Development, Saving the Planet at Headquarters today, a high-level official of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs said that pursuing the two goals of fighting climate change and simultaneously meeting development demands would require a global public policy agenda, as market mechanisms were not the most effective instruments to drive change.

Briefing correspondents, Rob Vos, Director of the Development Policy and Analysis Division in the Department, said the huge adjustments needed to pursue the two goals could not be left to individual countries.  The public policy agenda would have to encompass a global investment programme for both mitigation and adaptation, as well as new mechanisms for developing and transferring technologies, among other things.  International political support needed to be rallied in order to come to a “global green new deal”.  Not only was climate change a threat to development, it was also a threat to international peace and security.  Rich countries were not immune to climate change either.  Investing in a stable climate was, therefore, in everyone’s interest.

Existing approaches fell short of meeting the challenges, he said.  The national emissions commitment approach was moving too slow to meet the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  Marginal price changes and self-regulation, advocated by economists, were like “using an outboard motor to manoeuvre an ocean liner away from a pending collision with an iceberg”.  Big changes were needed, in which fair burden-sharing was key.  The historical responsibility for that rested with developed countries.  Convincing developing countries to cut emissions without also offering a broader development plan would be “inappropriate, unworkable and not acceptable to developing countries”.

He said that reconciling economic growth and poverty reduction in developing countries with climate objectives could only be achieved if the investments needed to drive growth assumed a different technological profile, which would use cleaner energy.  As many developing countries did not have the capacity to achieve that goal, a fair sharing of the burden would have to be based on the principle that advanced countries must ensure adequate support for adaptation and mitigation.

As history had shown, a big push in public investment could provoke dramatic changes, he said, for example the New Deal in the United States in the 1930s, and the Marshall Plan after the Second World War.  The use of coal and oil had to be reduced in favour of other energy sources.  Renewable energy technology needed to be scaled up to drive the cost of those energies down and make them affordable to developing countries, whose energy demands would rise.

More mitigation now would mean less adaptation needed in the future, he said.  While there was now $21 billion available to address the climate challenge, there was a need for $500 billion to $600 billion per annum -- or 1 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP).  Ideas for financing included expansion of carbon credits from developing to developed countries and an international tax on carbon emissions.  According to estimates, a $50 levy on 1 ton of carbon dioxide could generate $500 billion.  The obstacle to such ideas was the difficulty in convincing politicians and their constituencies of the need for such measures.

In conclusion, he said there was a need for a globally funded public investment programme that would promote equity by enabling catch-up growth while cutting emissions.  That programme should include a new “Marshall Plan”, with additional resource flows from North to South starting by 2010, targeted at renewables, energy efficiency and forest management, in combination with strong development programmes.  Mobilizing sufficient resources was feasible if the political will was there.  It was possible to promote development while saving the planet, but that would require enormous adjustments in the economy.

Jan L. McAlpine, Director of the United Nations Forum on Forests, pointing to some positive developments in “changing the mindset”, said that forest management could contribute some 17 per cent to the objectives of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  Most of the world’s forests were in developing countries.  The idea of front-loading investments for forestation, reforestation and protecting existing forests had started with the “ Bali road map”.  Before that, there had been hardly any investments in forest management.  Now, however, there was $3.5 billion committed by donors, the biggest of which was Norway.  According to some estimates, forests might contribute to one third of the abatement efforts for greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

Answering a question about indigenous people, she said the World Bank had developed a programme for forest investments, in which indigenous people had been part of the discussions from the very beginning and sat at the table beside their own Governments.

Answering correspondents’ questions regarding the feasibility of changing a mindset, Mr. Vos said that part of the deadlock in the Copenhagen negotiations was the focus on targets.  Developing countries were asked to do their bit in cutting emissions, but they needed assurances that they would be helped in making a transition to reduce emissions while at the same time growing.  That was part of the needed change in mindset, in which rich countries should realize that such assistance was also to their own benefit.  It was a common problem that needed a common solution.

Imran Habib Ahmad, Senior Economic Affairs Officer of the Development Policy and Analysis Division, added that there had been progress in changing in the mindset after Bali.  With the progress in the science of climate change, there was now a global understanding that the issue was a real challenge.  Money was not real a problem.  Without front-loading investments, the climate challenge could not be solved.  Significant emission reductions had to peak by 2015.  To do that, there was a need to change the mindset.

Asked how realistic it was to expect Governments to provide the required finances, Mr. Vos said that during the financial crisis, the public actions to bail out banks and stimulus packages had amounted to 20 per cent of the world’s GDP.  That was significantly higher than the 1 per cent needed for the climate challenge.  Money was not the issue; it was the political will and conviction that, if investments were not made, systemic risks would be faced.

Answering a question about whether big emitters like China and India were doing enough in cutting carbon emissions, Mr. Vos said that China was indeed a big emitter.  Burden-sharing, however, also required a look at their historic contribution.  The levels of China’s emissions over one century fell far behind those of rich countries.  China and India, moreover, were stronger in the start-up of renewable energies.  It was, therefore, necessary to support them in those investments and give them the necessary access to the required technologies.  That should be the emphasis in the negotiations.

Asked who would administer the $500 billion a year, he said the report did not make any specific proposals, but there was a need for major reform of existing mechanisms.  The mechanisms now managed by different United Nations agencies and the World Bank had too much of a project-based approach.  There was a need for systems where the recipient countries had a say in how the money was spent, as had been done in the Marshall Plan.  It was necessary, however, first, to agree on how to fund and how to allocate funds, before addressing who would manage the fund.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.