Governor Jerry Brown welcomed delegates to the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco this week with some strong announcements, including that 100% of California's electricity will come from clean sources by 2045 and that the US is on track to meet approximately two thirds of its carbon goal under the Paris agreement.

Against a backdrop of fires on the west coast and hurricane weather on the east coast, the summit hosted many more announcements, particularly on the intersection of tech and climate, or how innovation can help humanity reach the coveted goal of keeping the globe from warming more than two degrees over pre-industrial levels.

The summit preceded Climate Week in New York, also in September, the UN's COP24 Climate Change Conference to be held in Poland in December, and the start of negotiations for a proposed UN Global Pact for Environment.

Global warming is a hot topic.

The conversation could be about fear, or denial, but it's changing. It's about using tools we have, or that can be imagined, to create the future we want.

There is increasing global consensus that we must shift from a carbon economy to a renewable, or even regenerative one. That means massive disruption, which translates to massive opportunity.

According to a report by the New Climate Economy, if we make the right choices over the next 2-3 years we could unlock benefits worth $26 trillion from here to 2030, create 65 million new low-carbon jobs, and avoid over 700,000 premature deaths from air pollution.

The report points out that we have a planetary window of opportunity created by other transitions taking place, such as urbanization and automation, that need to be managed in any case and could be managed with a low-carbon approach. We should make the shift in 5 key economic systems: energy, cities, food and land use, water and industry.

We could start with putting a price on carbon, which even in the US has broad bipartisan support, and requiring disclosure of climate-related financial risks (guidance on such disclosure has been drawn up by a high-profile global task force).

Governments will need to accelerate sustainable infrastructure investment, and the private sector will need to take the lead with innovation and supply chain transparency. The process will require large-scale collaboration and an inclusive, equitable approach focusing on people.

A new model for sustainable economic growth, according to the report, can come through:

  1. Clean energy systems. By continuing the transition already underway from fossil fuels to renewable energy, decentralizing and using digital technology, we can put in place more resilient, cleaner, cheaper systems and provide energy to more people around the globe.
  2. Smarter urban development. The report calculates that through good urban planning and infrastructure investment, "More compact, connected, and coordinated cities are worth up to $17 trillion in economic savings by 2050 and will stimulate economic growth by improving access to jobs and housing."
  3. Sustainable land use. More sustainable agriculture and forest protection can improve food security including by reducing food loss and waste, and deliver climate solutions.
  4. Wise water management. New technology and better management can help allocate resources, improve sanitation and address the "water-energy-food nexus."
  5. A circular industrial economy. We need to move away from a take - make - waste economy to one that reuses, repurposes and recycles. "Shifting to a circular industrial economy, combined with increasing efficiency and electrification," says the report, "could decouple economic growth from material use and drive decarbonisation of industrial activities."

The report, entitled "Unlocking the Inclusive Growth Story of the 21st Century," isn't just a roadmap for tackling the problem of man-made global warming; it's a blueprint for a new, more sustainable and enlightened capitalism. Let's roll up our sleeves and get to it.

Published on: Sep 14, 2018
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