The following is a special contribution by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to The Korea Herald's ongoing series on green growth. - Ed .
These are times of great volatility and anxiety. From the melting of polar ice caps to the meltdown of financial markets, numerous challenges compete for our attention.
With every challenge that arises, however, new opportunities open. What is needed is to expand our field of vision and to act boldly to seize the moment. Now more than ever, we need to come together as a global community and expand our horizons to embrace common solutions to common problems.
This year we have an unprecedented opportunity to address two of the most vexing challenges of our time - climate change and sustainable economic growth. The good news is we can tackle both at once, as solutions to the climate crisis can catalyze the green growth that is the foundation of long-term economic prosperity. Through global green stimulus packages, coupled with a new global climate change agreement to be negotiated in Copenhagen this December, the world has its best chance in decades to make serious progress on both the climate and economic fronts.
Climate change: the defining challenge
I have called 2009 "the year of climate change." No issue better demonstrates the need for global solidarity than climate change, the defining challenge of our generation. No issue is more essential to our future survival as a species. And no issue is more fundamental to long-term national security and sustainable prosperity.
Climate change is now accelerating at a pace and scale that requires urgent attention from the highest levels of government.
Scientists say the pace of global warming is accelerating. According to evidence presented in March at a major international scientific congress, the window for action on climate change is closing perhaps even faster than had been supposed only two years ago.
According to these scientists, continued high rates of greenhouse gas emissions are now leading to trajectories at the high end of case scenarios outlined by the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which remains the scientific standard for climate science. Evidence presented at the congress on ice melt in Greenland , changing dynamics in the polar ice sheets, and increasing warming and acidification of the oceans is deeply disturbing. It heightens the already stark conclusions of the report by the Nobel-prize winning IPCC.
Unfortunately, time is not on our side. The clock is ticking and cannot be turned back. Carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere today will remain resident for decades, if not centuries. Today's energy investment decisions will lock in the world's emissions profile for years to come. That is why it is crucial we act now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Nobel-prize winning IPCC has warned that global emissions need to peak by 2015 and decline thereafter if we hope to keep the global average temperature increase within 2 degrees Celsius, which scientists say is the tipping point to avoid catastrophic damage from climate change.
Impacts and adaptation
Climate change affects us all, but it does not affect us all equally. Indeed it is the poorest and most vulnerable members of society - those who have done least to contribute to global warming - who are bearing the brunt of the impact today. For example, between 2000 and 2004, an average of one in 19 people each year living in the developing world was affected by a climate disaster. The comparable figure for OECD countries was one in 1,500 people.
Climate change is not some distant, futuristic scenario. The number of recorded disasters - where the impact of a natural hazard event overwhelmed coping capacity - has doubled from approximately 200 to over 400 per year over the past two decades. Nine out of every ten disasters recorded are now climate related. Even if no single weather event can be definitively attributed to global warming, the trends cited by the IPCC are clear.
Millions of people are already suffering from the effects of climate change, including extreme weather events, more frequent and prolonged floods, droughts, more intensive storms, and sea level rises. Hundreds of millions people could be seriously affected if we do not act immediately to reduce emissions and strengthen our resilience to climate change.
Almost two-thirds of cities with populations greater than five million are in low-lying flood-prone areas. Three-quarters of these are located in flood-prone, densely populated river deltas in Asia or in low-lying small island states. Nearly 634 million people - one tenth of the global population - live in at-risk coastal areas just a few meters above existing sea levels.
Developing nations will need increased financial support to protect the poorest and most vulnerable from these and numerous other climate-related impacts. But emerging economies and industrialized nations will also have to adapt to climate change. No nation will be immune. Adaptation cannot be seen as an additional expense.
Indeed, it is an essential investment in our collective future. While we cannot turn back the clock on GHG emissions already in our atmosphere, we can take simple measures today that will reduce their adverse impacts, strengthen community resilience, save lives, and prevent the pauperization of millions.
We must act quickly given the demands of science and the escalating cost of climate change - in both lives and livelihoods - as already evidenced today. Doing so will not be easy. It will test our maturity as nations and as a global community.
Leadership at the highest level is now needed to protect the planet, save lives, and build a more sustainable global economy for all. Climate change is much more than environmental issue. It is an energy, finance and security issue. Indeed, it is a Head of State issue.
Sealing a deal in Copenhagen
To that end, I urge world leaders to do all they can to see that climate negotiations are pushed forward and accorded top political priority so that we reach agreement on a new climate framework in Copenhagen this December.
In Copenhagen , the world's governments will meet to seal the deal on a climate change agreement that must be ambitious, fair and effective in reducing emissions while assisting countries as they adapt to the inevitable effects of climate change.
The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen will be a watershed moment in history. It is the moment where we must transform crisis into opportunity, and set the world on a safer, more prosperous path to green growth.
Two years ago in Bali , the 192 Parties of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change committed themselves to launching negotiations on strengthened action against climate change. This process is to culminate in an ambitious negotiated outcome at the end of 2009, which needs to enter into force before January 2013.
This leaves just nine months to conclude one of the most complicated international negotiating processes ever. In order to get all parties to seal a deal, five key political issues must be resolved. First, there must be ambitious, mid-term emission-reduction targets for industrialized countries. Without such targets, developing countries will not have confidence that industrialized countries are willing to take the lead on solving a problem that they did most to cause.
Second, major developing countries will need to define the extent of mitigation actions they are willing to undertake beyond what they are already doing. Third, coming to resolution on the question of finance is crucial. We need clarity on how the significant financial resources will be generated to help developing countries both limit the growth of their emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change. A variety of tools can be used, including emissions trading and market-based mechanisms as well as inter-governmental assistance. Fourth, there needs to be an efficient institutional mechanism for disbursing these funds and an equitable, accountable governance structure.
And lastly, an ambitious adaptation framework must be established that will bolster the climate resilience of vulnerable countries and protect lives and livelihoods.
The benefits of sealing a deal in Copenhagen will last for generations. With an agreement in hand, governments and businesses will have the signals needed to unleash investments in green technologies and clean energy. By sealing a deal, we can power green growth today and protect our planet for our children and their children to come.
National stimulus packages: Catalyzing green growth
Of course, the climate crisis is not the only challenge confronting us. The economic crisis has sapped our confidence and caused millions to fear for their jobs, their homes, and even their next meal. The global recession unfortunately has caused some to cast doubt on the wisdom of tackling climate change with the urgency and resources required.
I take precisely the opposite view. Today's financial crisis is not an excuse for inaction on climate change. To the contrary, it represents an unprecedented opportunity to redirect government stimulus packages into green energy options and to fundamentally retool our global economy so that long-term, sustainable growth is accessible for all.
In my travels, I am heartened to see that the path to a greener, lower-carbon future already is being forged in dozens of countries, including the Republic of Korea . From investments in renewable energy and flex fuel vehicles to reforestation, countries everywhere are realizing that green is not an option, but an imperative for recharging their economies and creating millions of jobs.
Fiscal stimulus packages now being proposed to jumpstart economic recovery are a critically important tool for greening the global economy.
No nation has shown more commitment to pursuing this low-carbon path via national stimulus packages than the Republic of Korea . Some 80 percent of its $38 billion fiscal stimulus package is dedicated to green measures, the highest percentage in the world. Under full implementation, this represents an investment equal to some 3 percent of gross domestic product. The Republic's commitment to greening its economy represents nothing less than a fundamental shift in its approach to building the nation's prosperity.
In total, nearly one million green jobs will be created over the next four years, including:
- A $7 billion investment in mass transit and railways is expected to generate 138,000 jobs.
- The $5.8 billion in energy conservation in villages and schools - 170,000 jobs
- More than $1.7 billion in forest restoration stimulus - over 130,000 jobs
- $690 million in water resource management stimulus - over 16,000 jobs
- $10 billion investment in river restoration will generate nearly 200,000 jobs
The world is also looking to the Republic of Korea to demonstrate leadership in another key area of climate action: emission reductions. As a powerful emerging economy, the Republic of Korea can serve as bridge between industrialized and developing countries by setting ambitious emission reductions goals for itself.
In this way, the Republic of Korea will again serve as an influential model for other emerging economies and help pave the path toward an agreement in Copenhagen .
Of course, the Republic of Korea is not the only nation to jumpstart green growth through its national stimulus packages. China , Japan , the United States , Brazil and others have launched similar efforts.
China is expected to spend $586 billion on a fiscal stimulus package, of which an estimated $140 billion is earmarked for green investments. Its green investment package is likely to boost further its $17 billion renewable energy sector, which already employs some one million people.
Of the more than $800 billion in stimulus spending in the United States , some $100 billion is directed toward greening the economy, including investments in public transport and energy efficiency, nearly $20 billion for renewable energy and $11 billion to modernize the electrical grid. An estimated 2.5 million green jobs will be generated.
All this and more is needed. These stimulus investments represent a once in a generation opportunity to power green growth today and to move toward a lower-carbon, resource efficient society tomorrow.
While the amounts invested may seem large, when set against the $300 billion a year the world currently spends on energy subsidies - the vast majority for fossil fuel sources - it is clear we have a long way to go. By far the largest amount is spent by developing economies with subsidies in 20 non-OECD countries totaling $220 billion.
Cancelling these subsidies would reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally by as much as 6 percent and add 0.1 percent to global GDP, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. The financial savings could also be redirected to investments in clean energy R&D, renewable energy development and energy conservation, further boosting economies and employment.
Power green growth, protect the planet
We can transform the climate crisis into a catalyst for launching the green economy of the 21st century. Given the quickening pace of global warming, we may not have another chance.
The recent economic crisis has shown we need a new path - a more sustainable, energy efficient, and lower-carbon path. The United Nations will do its utmost to help Member States along this path, and is fully committed to supporting countries as they implement both existing and future climate agreements. We must work together to seal a deal in Copenhagen and catalyze the green economy of the future. The science demands it, the world economy needs it, and the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people depend on it. Together, we can power green growth and protect the planet.