Getting a jump on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s release this week of the first installment of the Fifth Assessment Report, the new Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, had its kickoff yesterday morning. This blue ribbon group is being led by Felipe Calderón, until last year the President of Mexico. He is well versed in the issue, as he also, among other things, led the climate negotiations in Cancún in 2010. The director of the project is Jeremy Oppenheim, on leave from McKinsey where for the past five years he has run their Sustainability and Resource Productivity Practice. These are two highly seasoned and smart guys. The focus of the commission’s work in the first year will be researching and production of a report giving “comprehensive evidence on whether and how climate policy can be made compatible with strong economic performance.”
Beyond these two, an impressive array of commission members and participating partners are going to get to work. These include an international council with people like Nicholas Stern and Helen Clark, an economic advisory panel of stars like Dani Rodrik and Daniel Kahnemann (and led by Stern), and research partners such as the Global Green Growth Institute, the World Resources Institute, and the Stockholm Environment Institute.
A number of other serious and sober leaders spoke at the launch. President Santos of Colombia has his country on course for zero net deforestation by 2020. They have just designated an area the size of Belgium as parkland in the Amazon. Prime Minister Stoltenberg of Norway reiterated his country’s stance against fossil fuel subsidies. (I did not, unfortunately, get to ask him about Statoil’s involvement in the Canadian tar sands, as he left for the General Assembly meetings before the Q&A.) Sweden’s environment minister, Lena Ek, was impressive, talking about the manifest virtues of the win-win opportunities in climate mitigation and sustainable development. Sweden has a $150 per ton tax on carbon emissions. She challenged anyone to take exception to the state of Sweden’s economy. Excellent point! Kuntoro Mangkusobroto has been spearheading Indonesia’s critically important program to reduce the devastation of their rainforests and peatlands from palm oil plantations. He reminded us that people need to be the focus of our climate mitigation efforts. This is something that the sustainability community worldwide has emphasized from the beginning. Again, if you hadn’t gotten the memo: sustainable development is about economic as well as environmental sustainability. Gregory Barker, the UK’s minister for energy and climate change, and South Korea’s Ambassador for Green Growth, Boonam Shin, both supported the role of the commission in producing hard facts to advance the sustainability agenda.
There was a lively Q&A. Calderón and Oppenheim are two sharp guys. The venerable Tim Wirth, president of the UN Foundation from its birth in 1998 until this year, and an early climate warrior in the US Senate, asked a hardball question: Will the commission look at the profits the present-day winners in our fuels-based economy stand to continue to reap if we stay on a business-as-usual track? Oppenheim said that “stranded asset risk” is an important topic and will be addressed. (I wish the Norwegian PM had been there still to hear that. The tar sands may not be able to get their sludge out to markets before much longer and may, in fact, not have demand.) Calderón said he wondered if Sandy hitting this part of the world, where Wall Street happens to be, woke some bankers and others up to the grim realities of the climate crisis. Zing!