Paris: Wall Street’s sickness and contagiousness for the world economy are bad news for the already faltering effort to craft a new pact to tackle climate change.
Tighter budgets, shrinking corporate profits and worries about jobs could crimp manoeuvering room at upcoming UN talks on toughening curbs on greenhouse-gas emissions, sources say.
But so far, the crisis does not appear to be having an impact on investment in clean technology, say these sources. Indeed, some are confident that spending on wind, solar and other renewables may even rise.
Running in Poznan, Poland, from December 1-12, the talks are a stepping stone towards a treaty to brake emissions from fossil fuels beyond 2012 and support developing countries in climate change’s firing line.
But curbing pollution and stumping up money for the poor entails economic sacrifice. And the financial hurricane that swept through New York last month and now buffets the real economy could sap some of the will to make it.
“When growth is strong, it’s easier to handle differences [at the negotiating table] than when growth is weak,” said Jean-Charles Hourcade, director of a French think thank, the International Centre for Research on the Environment and Development (CIRED).
Steve Sawyer, secretary general of a Brussels-based industry group, the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), predicted some governments might invoke the crisis to tiptoe away from their commitments.
EU to not weaken on its pledges
Officially, the European Union, which is the most ambitious of the economic powers on climate change says it will not weaken on its pledges.
The EU intends to cut its emissions by 20% from 1990 levels by 2020, and to deepen this to 30% if the United States or other big economy follows suit.
With President George W. Bush’s authority seeping away ahead of his departure from office, eyes in Poznan will be on an expected “shadow” US delegation, named by the winner of the November election to the White House.
Both Barack Obama and John McCain have called climate change a priority. Both favour cutting US emissions by 2020 and deepening them by 2050, and want a cap-and-trade system to achieve this, something which Bush has bitterly opposed.
Thirty years ago, a turndown in the world economy drove down the price of oil, sandbagging early hopes for renewable energy, whose fortunes had risen during the second energy shock of the late 1970s.
Several experts questioned by AFP were confident renewables would not repeat this rise and fall. Renewables have already got a foothold, which may slip a little in the short-term but would endure in the long-term, they argued.
Oil prices may continue to remain high
Demand by Asia’s emerging giants and more limited oil supplies would keep oil prices relatively high, thus maintaining an incentive for cleaner sources.
In addition, Europe and the United States were now keen on renewables, which are home-procured, for easing their energy dependence on the Middle East and Russia.
New, cleaner technologies are therefore a good investment, easing geopolitical worries, creating jobs and reducing carbon emissions, according to this argument.