Wed, Nov 20, 2019 - Page 9 News List

Green markets for equitable growth

By Graciela Chichilnisky and Peter Bal

The climate crisis and the 2008 financial crisis are two sides of the same coin. Both were born of the same toxic feature of the world’s prevailing economic model: the practice of discounting the future.

Protecting humanity from both environmental and financial ruin requires an entirely new approach to growth — one that does not sacrifice tomorrow at the altar of today.

In a sense, both crises can be traced back to the same event: the creation of a new international order after World War II. The Bretton Woods institutions that underpinned the order — the World Bank and the IMF — encouraged rapid globalization, characterized by a sharp increase in resource exports from the Global South to the Global North.

The revival of neoliberal economic policies — including the removal of trade barriers, wide-ranging deregulation and the elimination of capital-account controls — in the late 1970s accelerated this process.

While this system spurred unprecedented economic growth and development, it had serious downsides. Financial innovations outpaced — or simply escaped — regulation, enabling the finance industry to expand its influence over the economy, assuming massive amounts of risk and reaping huge rewards.

That eventually led to the 2008 crisis, which brought the global financial system to the brink of collapse. With the system having undergone little meaningful reform, acute systemic risks persist to this day.

On the environmental front, unbridled resource extraction destroyed developing-country ecosystems, while encouraging rapidly rising consumption — most fundamentally, of energy — in the developed world.

Today, despite accounting for only about 18 percent of the global population, the advanced economies consume about 70 percent of the world’s energy, the vast majority of which (87 percent) comes from fossil fuels.

The North-South divide is thus inextricably linked to carbon dioxide emissions. And it has reared its head in every UN climate negotiation, with the countries that have contributed the most to climate change — beginning with the US — often standing in the way of effective action.

Resistance usually comes down to a single consideration: current economic prosperity. Thus, the only realistic solution to the climate crisis is to replace fossil-fuel-based energy with renewables quickly and cost-effectively enough to keep the engines of growth running.

Fortunately, we already know that this is possible. The key is a global carbon market.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol attempted to use a system of tradable quotas to establish a price on carbon dioxide emissions. While several countries ultimately refused to join the protocol — the US signed, but did not ratify it — the carbon market that it created (designed by Chichilnisky) helped to make clean energy more profitable and dirty energy less so.

Although the Kyoto Protocol collapsed, the world has built upon this work and some of its largest economies — China, the EU, and several US states, including California — are now using emissions-trading schemes. The value of traded global markets for carbon dioxide allowances surged by 250 percent last year, and now exceeds US$178 billion annually.

A revived global carbon market would help cut the Gordian knot of economic growth and environmental degradation. Moreover, it would cost virtually nothing to create and operate.

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