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Gordon Brown

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Climate Change Action Is Economic Common Sense

Posted: 10/10/10 01:50 AM ET

Today, thousands of environmental campaigners will hold workshops on climate change, sponsored by the website Avaaz.org. There will be more than 6,000 events in 170 countries -- a powerful human signal that, even after a year of disappointment, the climate change movement will not die -- or fade away. It is powered by the most elemental of human instincts -- our sense of responsibility to our children, and the threats we see to their future.

And the fight has never been more urgent. The future is coming to meet us now: there are new climate change refugees and evacuees every day. This week I spoke to the past Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai about the terrible loss of livelihoods occurring through deforestation -- and about our need to move forward reforestation initiatives in the Congo Basin, Amazon and Borneo. And last week I also spoke to Jens Stoltenberg, the Prime Minister of Norway, whose UN group is planning how we raise 100 billion dollars a year for post-2020 funding of adaptation and mitigation in the poorest countries.

And now, in the autumn of 2010, in a world climbing back from the global financial crisis, climate change should be at the top of the agenda of every government for another reason: investment in low carbon technologies offers us a way out of a lost decade of slow growth and high unemployment. The case for climate change action is not just a moral crusade -- it is an economic necessity. It can be a major component in the engine of growth -- and massively reduce the world's levels of unemployment.

As I will argue in a forthcoming book, low carbon technologies, renewables and balanced energy polices -- and their export potential -- represent a new way of living that can help free Europe and America from today's high unemployment and the specter of economic stagnation.

Despite the disappointments of Copenhagen, China's five year plan will this year give greater priority to low carbon development -- not least the export of wind turbines. 2010 will also see the expansion of India's solar mission; more evidence of Brazil's climate change ambitions; and the results of Norway's joint effort with Brazil, Indonesia and Guyana to finance forestation on a new pay-by-results basis.

But the biggest driver of climate change action -- and the biggest job creator of all -- could be a European Union commitment to a low carbon energy super-grid as a mega pan-European initiative. The evidence is compelling. Carbon emissions came down 7 per cent in 2008. The EU is now on course to meet its minimum target for 2020 of a 2O per cent reduction in emissions (-17 per cent already). Today -- with a huge surplus of carbon permits in the system, and a carbon price at just 15 Euros per ton -- companies have more incentive to invest in a new generation of gas, coal and oil-fired generation power stations than in low carbon technologies. However, the European Climate Foundation's "Roadmap 2050" shows that with a bold set of policy decisions now, renewables, nuclear and carbon capture and storage could supply 40% more carbon free electricity by 2050.

A low carbon European super-grid -- an enhanced transmission network, connecting power sources to demand across and beyond the continent -- is the most productive, ethical and practical way forward. The super grid is an asset that makes economic and environmental sense. And by investing an additional 1OO billion dollars a year to 2050, thousands of jobs and exports will follow. A carbon price of 20-30 Euros per ton of CO2 -- on a par with the expected 2050 oil price -- would make such a decarbonized power system no more expensive than a carbonized system -- but much cleaner and more employment friendly. Green technologies can give Europe -- and if they choose, America -- economic advantage at home and export potential abroad.

Those of us at the vanguard of climate change action have always understood that the environment is beyond price. Without a clean and sustainable world we will simply cease to be. But now we can add economic common sense to the argument for change -- because growth and new jobs for today's 2OO million unemployed global workers can come from environmental strategies based on low carbon technologies. The challenge of climate change is not just a moral issue for our time, but an opportunity to make the world's economic future stronger and more secure.