Economy Will Determine Sustainable Actions in 2009

2008 was a year not short in melodrama. There were epic threats, epic collapses, and epic achievements too. On the whole, things were pretty Wagnerian.   The key stories affecting our march towards a sustainable economy in 2008 were very big, and they aren’t over. The drama is unfolding and the coming year will take us that much farther down the road.

Here’s a “Big Three” list of stories to keep an eye on.

1. The Recession’s Impact on Climate Action. Global warming is the crisis that keeps on getting more critical. The longer we delay meaningful action, the more dire the consequences will be.

At this point, it’s uncertain what the impact of a severe economic downturn on climate change will be. While it’s possible that less economic activity will mean less carbon production, the prognoses tend to be not positive. Adam Vaughan, writing for the Guardian, captured the prevailing sentiment: “Environmentalists who hope a slowing global economy will mean big falls in greenhouse gas emissions are likely to be disappointed. Because despite a gloomy economic forecast for 2009, the annual growth in emissions of 3% is only likely to slow modestly, and may even rise over the long term because of the downturn’s impact on global climate talks and the funding of renewable energy projects.”

An early sign of the recession’s impact on global warming action came earlier this month, when the European Community reached a new climate-change understanding that Greenpeace and other environmental and development organizations decried in a joint statement as watering down its previous commitment: “EU leaders will probably trumpet the deal on climate change as a great success, but in reality this is a big failure in EU ambition.”

Hopefully retreats of this sort will be an exception, and governments and corporations will up their commitment to climate change action. Or, better yet, the downturn will turn out to be blessedly short and mild. It’s probably best not to count on either, though.

2. The Impact of the Recession on the Cleantech Industry. Here, the outlook is more promising. Writing for VentureBeat, Bart Markus noted that while the capital markets can be expected to tighten, there are many reasons to be upbeat about this sector.

Causes for optimism include the industry’s “broad and enthusiastic political backing,” its capacity to lower energy costs, and the fact that it’s relatively recession-proof. Why the latter? Because, writes Markus, there is an “immediate global need to replace limited fossil fuel resources with sustainable alternatives. While this pressure has been temporarily eased by falling oil and coal prices, growing demand in emerging markets and developing regions will keep this topic high on the agenda.”

But this is only speculation. To win the battle against climate change, we need a thriving cleantech sector and we need it now, with or without a thriving economy.

3. How “Eco” Will Obama’s Economic Stimulus Package Be? It’s pretty clear at this point that the Obama economic stimulus package will be huge, probably in the $675-$850 billion range. How much of that will go to green job creation, and how much to more conventional “shovel-ready” and other types of projects, remains to be determined. It’s a debate that’s currently front and center in the Obama Administration, and the outcome will go a long way toward determining how rapidly the U.S. makes the shift to a significantly greener economy.

A month ago, there was talk that the green component of the stimulus plan would come in at about $15 billion. While that’s an impressive number, it’s also a small percentage of the total projected stimulus package. A larger commitment would mean a more rapid shift to sustainability and accelerated progress in the battle against climate change.   How these stories unfold will tell us a lot about the future of the planet. These are epic times indeed.

Source:  MatteR Network

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