Mistra Geopolitics was co-hosting a seminar about the OECD report “Investing in Climate, Investing in Growth” on December 6. Kevin Adams from SEI made those reflections afterwards, which also serves as a short summary of the event.
As the story goes, the Holy Grail has the miraculous ability to provide health and happiness in endless abundance. While as a society we’ve yet been unable to locate such an object, Anthony Cox, Deputy Director at the OECD Environment Directory, suggests we might have more success if we expand our search beyond gilded cups.
According to Cox, a sort of “Holy Grail” may well be within our reach over the next decade. As he explained during the seminar “Investing in Climate, Investing in Growth” in Stockholm on December 6 th, the prospect of decoupling carbon emissions from economic growth has the potential to deliver some of the same benefits for our society, effectively encouraging low-carbon development that both lifts people out of poverty and promotes sustainable living.
The recent OECD report of the same title supports this position, and provides an assessment of the benefits
associated with coupling development priorities with climate action. According to these estimates, the net
growth effect of pro-climate policies could be as large as a 2.5% increase in GDP, or 4.7% if avoided
climate damages are accounted for (Figure 4.12 below).
Could it really be so simple? Co-hosted by the Mistra Geopolitics research program, the panel discussion
following Cox’s talk naturally turned to the role that geopolitics might play in such a transition, and how
that may help our hinder these efforts.
Somewhat expectedly, the conversation began by invoking the spectre of Donald Trump – as a researcher
from the US, it certainly seems as though his influence haunts the discussion; he is the elephant in every
Panellists and audience members alike expressed their worry about the US leaving the Paris Agreement,
and what this might mean for our ability as a community to achieve the goals it sets forth. In particular, the
US plays a major role in financing both development and climate action around the globe, making reaching
the levels of investment the OECD suggests are needed much less likely.
Likewise, it is important to consider that geopolitical developments affecting the climate do not end with the
Paris Agreement. At the same time, Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel could
have destabilizing effects on the Middle East with far-reaching implications for major oil-producing nations,
all while the US’s relationship with fossil-dependent Russia continues to evolve, and tensions with North
Korea escalate. In this way, geopolitics broadly will intersect in substantial ways with our ability to mitigate
climate change or adapt to its impacts.
Relatedly, big questions remain about China’s geopolitical role in our quest for low-carbon futures. As a
major investor in renewable energy, the driving force behind the “One Belt One Road” initiative, and an
increasingly powerful global voice, they are in position to propel the climate agenda forward. In the context
of pursuing climate-smart development, it is especially relevant to understand the extent to which Chinese
investment is “green” or “brown,” and how China’s growing political clout influences broader structures of
Overall, it seems clear that low-carbon development and decoupling emissions from growth are not only
about getting the right investments to the right places. Rather, the finding the “Holy Grail” of climate
policy will necessarily involve grappling with geopolitical issues, and asking difficult questions about the
type societies we aspire to build.
Author: Kevin M. Adams – 8th of December 2017