16 march 2009

Crisis a chance to tackle climate change

AFP, March 16, 2009

SINGAPORE (AFP) — Measures to help ease climate change should be integrated into massive stimulus packages aimed at fighting the global economic crisis, environmental groups and government officials said.

There are fears some countries may backslide on commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as they focus on reviving their recession-hit economies, but the two objectives can go hand-in-hand, they said.

Investments in clean energy and other environment-friendly projects can eventually create millions of "green collar" jobs and help cushion the impact of retrenchments in older, polluting industries, they added.

"We are confronted with a massive opportunity to recreate our economies in a way that will lay the foundations for strong, sustainable growth in the future," Greenpeace International spokesperson Stephanie Tunmore told AFP.

"World leaders have a perfect opportunity to develop stimulus packages that cut greenhouse gas emissions and create green jobs."

Some countries have taken the lead, including the United States under President Barack Obama.

Clean energy is a major component of Obama's 787-billion-dollar economic stimulus package, with the US leader vowing to pump 15 billion dollars a year into developing technologies such as wind power and solar energy.

He plans to double the country's supply of renewable energy in the next three years. There is also funding for training workers in the new fields.

In Asia, governments have rolled out spending measures worth at least 1.1 trillion dollars since October, many of them focused on infrastructure, help for companies to access capital, and doleouts to boost consumer buying.

Economists are urging a second round of spending packages, and environmental groups hope these would include measures to protect the environment.

"A global 'green' stimulus package could deliver immediate economic benefits, reduce the risk of catastrophic climate change and reduce sources of global instability such as energy insecurity and resource competition," Tunmore of Greenpeace said.

Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous country, has incorporated a green component in its six-billion-dollar stimulus package, Trade Minister Mari Pangestu said.

Among other measures, the government has accelerated a mandatory requirement to have biofuels take up five percent of the national energy mix, she said.

"It's a green objective and there's a tax incentive as well built in," she said in an interview. "It also creates demand for our palm oil at a time when external markets are declining."

British Minister for Trade and Investment Gareth Thomas said clean energy offers vast overseas opportunities for local businesses.

The British government is helping companies with expertise in renewable energy and constructing energy-efficient buildings to expand abroad.

"We want to encourage British businesses to see the huge changes that are coming down the line from the worldwide shift that is going to be towards low-carbon economies," he said during a recent visit to Singapore.

Talks are underway for a new global climate change treaty scheduled to be signed in Denmark in December, with rich and developing nations trying to reach a compromise on emission targets to replace the Kyoto Protocol which expires in 2012.

However, workers in industries such as steel and manufacturing fear strict caps will raise production costs and lead to massive job losses.

Some developing countries also say drastic emission cuts could compromise their economic growth, but environmental groups argue otherwise.

"Contrary to perceptions by some, climate change solutions are more labour-intensive than conventional energy and have been proven in many countries as a jobs creator and a good way to stimulate the economy," said Rafael Senga, Asia Pacific manager for energy policy at the World Wildlife Fund.

Greenpeace cited a report by the UN Environment Programme which estimated that at least 2.3 million jobs are currently available in the renewable energy sector, and the number is likely to rise to more than 20 million by 2030.

Improving energy efficiency in buildings alone could create 3.5 million jobs in Europe and the United States by 2030, the report said.

Environmental groups warned of dire consequences if world leaders allow the economic crisis to weaken their resolve to tackle climate change.

"Unlike the economic recession that can be solved in a few years' time, the impact of climate change on the planet's life support systems and the global economy will be permanent if we fail to act urgently," said Senga of the WWF.

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