By Hannah K. Strange

October 2, 2006

LONDON - When President Bush pulled the United States out of the Kyoto Protocol as one of the first acts of his presidency, he did so largely on the basis that it would damage the U.S. economy and cost millions of jobs. But as clean energy becomes one of the world's fastest-growing industries, many are now wondering whether that decision was not somewhat shortsighted.

Speaking at the British Labor Party conference last week, former President Clinton said the vibrancy of the British economy was in part due to the fact climate change was being tackled within binding national and international frameworks such as Kyoto.

The rapid development of the green technology sector was providing a new source of jobs and had given the British economy "a level of energy ... that would not have been there otherwise," he said, noting that Britain had the lowest unemployment rate in the Group of Eight industrialized nations.

Meanwhile the United States declined to join Kyoto and was now in economic difficulties, he said, experiencing less growth and increasing job losses. The deficit had spiraled, he said, noting Mexico was now the 10th-largest U.S. creditor.

Britain had shown it was possible to cut the costs of investing in climate change, Clinton said, urging the United States to embrace such efforts and lead the world in creating dynamic and sustainable low-carbon economies.

It is not the first time Clinton has stressed the economic opportunities of the fight against climate change. In a May speech to business leaders in Scotland, he said there was "a lot of money to be made" in the emerging clean energy market.

"If I was a 25-year-old and I was starting my life over again I would go into clean energy," he said. "I would be a billionaire before you could turn around."

Britain's Treasury is soon to publish a report on the economics of climate change by economist Nick Stern, in what may be seen as an effort to persuade the Bush administration to sign up to an ambitious international treaty.

The issue was a key theme at the Labor conference. Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said Stern's emerging findings suggested "it won't cost the earth to tackle climate change but it will cost the earth, literally as well as financially, if we don't."

"We can turn this from the burden of the century to the opportunity of the century," Environment Secretary David Miliband said. "Living within the limits of one planet is an opportunity to create a more competitive economy."

Meanwhile British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, the firm favorite to succeed Tony Blair as premier, said the greatest expansion in new jobs would come from the environment.

The government would publish proposals this fall showing how environmental care and job creation went hand in hand, he said: from energy saving, green technologies and innovation. The sector would provide at least 100,000 new jobs for the British people, he said.

The drive to promote the benefits of a green economy came as the U.S. firm PricewaterhouseCoopers published dramatically reduced estimates of the costs of tackling climate change. Its report concluded that the world would have to sacrifice just one year's economic growth over the next four decades to reduce carbon emissions sufficiently to curb global warming.

The report outlines a "Green Growth Plus" strategy, which it says would allow for continued healthy growth while cutting carbon emissions by 60 percent by 2050, compared with the level reached by doing nothing.

"Our analysis suggests that there are technologically feasible and relatively low-cost options for controlling carbon emissions to the atmosphere. Estimates suggest that the level of (gross domestic product) might be reduced by no more than 2-3 percent in 2050 if this strategy is followed," said John Hawksworth, head of macroeconomics at PwC.

"If this is to be achieved it will take further concerted action by governments, businesses and individuals over a broad range of measures to boost energy efficiency, adopt a greener fuel mix and introduce carbon capture and storage technologies in power plants and other major industrial facilities."

The report says a shift to a much less carbon-intensive fuel mix could more than double the current non-fossil fuel primary energy share to about 30 percent by 2050, reducing carbon emissions by 25 percent. This could be achieved through renewables alone, it says; nuclear energy would not be necessary.

Increasing energy efficiency gains to 2.6 percent a year from 1.6 percent now would reduce emissions by another third, it says, while carbon capture and storage -- pumping power station emissions into disused gas fields underground -- could achieve a further 20 percent.

The report echoes Beckett's warning that the costs of doing nothing will be far greater than the costs of taking action to halt climate change. While such a strategy would involve minimal economic sacrifice, a failure to act will lead to "severe negative socio-economic effects in the long run," it says. But it cautions that for the strategy to be effective, it must be implemented without delay.

Informant: NHNE


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