What can realistically be accomplished during the coming climate change negotiations?
The reality is that 300 years of economic growth in the industrialized countries have been fueled by the combustion of fossil fuels — coal, petroleum and natural gas. We still depend on these. And the large emerging economies of China, India, Brazil, South Korea, Mexico and South Africa are rapidly putting in place new infrastructure that is also dependent on burning fossil fuels.
Two points are important to understand if we’re going to be serious about attacking this problem.
One, it will be costly. An economic assessment might be “difficult, but not impossible.” And two, things become more challenging when we move from the economics to the politics.
Doing what is necessary to achieve the United Nations’ target for reducing emissions would reduce economic growth by about 0.06 percent annually from now through 2100, according to the I.P.C.C. That sounds trivial, but by the end of the century it means a 5 percent loss of worldwide economic activity per year.