The efficiency with which the United States and China can move their economies off fossil fuels is key to stemming global warming, shaping global cleantech markets, and inducing other major emitters – like India, the Indonesia, Russia and Brazil – to do their part.
Inger Andersen, head of the United Nations Environment Program, who released the annual emissions gap report, urged world leaders to invest their post-Covid stimulus funds, saying “a resumption of the green pandemic can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help slow climate change. “
The report recommends, among other things, reducing, but not eliminating, fossil fuel subsidies, stopping the construction of new coal-fired power plants and restoring degraded forests.
Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute, a research and advocacy group, described the trillions of dollars spent on post-pandemic economic recovery as “the greatest opportunity in history.”
“If we invest this in yesterday’s economy,” he said on a phone call Wednesday, “we are committing a mortal sin for our grandchildren, quite frankly.”
But as the latest United Nations report makes clear, we are not all the same and we do not all need to do the same to protect future generations.
The richest 1 percent of the world’s population produces more than double the greenhouse gas emissions of the combined share of the poorest 50 percent of the world’s population. Rich pollutants, the report concludes, will need to reduce their ecological footprint by a factor of 30 to avoid the worst damage from a warming planet. This can be done, the report adds, by reducing food waste, making buildings more energy efficient and using public transport rather than cars, and trains rather than planes, for short distances.
“The rich bear the greatest responsibility,” the report says.