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Steve Howard writes for The Guardian on climate change at the G20

01 April 2009

It is time to act on climate change. The science is clear: greenhouse gas emissions must be cut by over 60% below current levels by 2050. And the reductions must start now. The greatest barriers to achieving this reduction are political.

This Thursday, world leaders from the G20 countries - representing 85% of the world's economic output - will meet in London to address the global financial crisis.

With the summit's stated aims of taking action to stabilise financial markets, strengthening the global economic system and putting the global economy on track for sustainable growth, this is a timely opportunity for governments to develop a shared vision on the world's future.

The current financial crisis - the worst since the 1930s - is prompting government intervention to help stimulate economic growth. This represents a unique opportunity to invest in a sustainable future.

Recent analysis by HSBC of the economic stimulus packages that have passed or are pending in 15 nations found that these countries plan to invest more than $3tn to stimulate their economies over the next decade.

Suddenly, the amounts needed for combating climate change - in the order of tens of billions per annum over the next decade - don't seem so large or unrealistic.

Last year, Lord Stern, author of the 2006 Stern Review, estimated that we could keep climate change in check at a cost of less than 2% of global GDP, compared to the 5-20% of global GDP that would be lost because of unabated global warming. This seems like a good investment on anyone's terms.

And it seems that a number of governments are beginning to think so too as evidenced by the green components - defined as low carbon power, energy efficiency, water treatment and pollution control - of the various economic stimulus packages announced over the last few months. However, despite the wide range of this green content - ranging from 0% in Poland and 7% in the UK to 38% in China and 81% in South Korea - the average of 15% falls well short of what is needed.

According to the UN Environment Programme, 1% of global GDP, or approximately US$750bn, should be invested on greening the world economy to create momentum for real change.

And this is not just a long-term equation. Low-carbon policies and investment are a win-win situation in the short-term too. Almost a third of the 2020 greenhouse gas abatement required saves money through more efficient energy use.

The US stimulus packages promises to double clean energy capacity and are expected to create around 2.5 million green jobs.

In a report published last year by the Climate Group, China is showing some of the strongest growth rates in low-carbon industries in the world, with the country's green investment package likely to give a further boost to its $17bn renewable energy sector which already employs around one million people.

In the UK, thousands of jobs could be created with green offshore initiatives.

Economic and environmental recovery must go hand-in-hand and - if well-designed -will be mutually reinforcing.

Halving global emissions by 2050 will require what's been described as "an industrial revolution in a third of the time" of the last one. This goal is within reach. Current technologies can deliver and the economic and political backdrop has fundamentally shifted, opening up a new world of possibilities for a global deal and a global shift to a low-carbon economy.

We must take this opportunity. We simply cannot allow ourselves to fail. The G20 summit in London gives world leaders the chance to show us that we will not.

Business leaders from around the world have stated their desire to work with governments to provide practical advice on how to best link the recovery and low-carbon agendas to exploit this huge growth potential.

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