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UNEP calls for end to barriers on fast-growing "green economy"

by Staff Writers
Monaco (AFP) Feb 20, 2008
A global "green economy" is now emerging but governments must move fast to scrap the many barriers and fossil-fuel subsidies that hamper it, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said on Wednesday.

Presenting an annual report, Year Book 2008, the Nairobi-based agency said investment in environmentally-friendly projects was rising fast and more and more corporations were driving to save energy, thus helping to combat carbon emissions.

Power companies in North America, international car manufacturers, metals and mining companies are praised for making inroads into their greenhouse-gas pollution.

But oil, gas and chemicals are among the industries doing little or nothing to cut their contribution to the greenhouse-gas problem, the agency said, presenting the report at a conference in Monaco gathering environment ministers and the UNEP governing council.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said 2008 and 2009 would be critical years for establishing an "attractive, creative and equitable investment landscape" for green schemes.

By the end of 2009, a new global pact is needed to succeed commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, the UN treaty for cutting greenhouse gases that drive dangerous climate change.

"Hundreds of billions of dollars are now flowing into renewable and clean energy technologies and trillions more dollars are waiting in the wings, looking to governments for a new and decisive climate regime post-2012," he said.

"Formidable hurdles remain as to whether these funds will ultimately seek out new, climate-fiendly investments for the future or whether they will seek the lowest-common denominator by flowing into the polluting technologies of the past."

Highlights in the Year Book included:

-- the Investor Network on Climate Risk, an arena for investor and financial institutions pondering the risks and potential profits that emerge from climate change, now has some 50 institutional investors managing assets of more than three trillion dollars.

-- Corporate awareness of green issues, especially climate change, is growing. What is known as Corporate Social Responsibility reporting, in which environmental concerns are listed in corporate statements, is now practised by more than 2,000 companies in more than 90 countries, compared to virtually zero in the early 1990s.

-- The Kyoto Protocol's clean development mechanism (CDM), aimed at encouraging the transfer of clean technology to poor countries, has notched up more than 850 projects, worth just over one billion dollars. Schemes worth a further 1.4 billion dollars are in the pipeline.

-- Removing fossil-fuel subsidies could reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by five to six percent per year, UNEP said.

"Currently, fossil-fuel subsidies amount to up to 200 billion dollars a year, verusus surpport for low-carbon technologies of an estimated 33 billion dollars annually."

-- Investment in research and development in low-emissions technology has to triple, to 90 billion dollars per year, by 2015 and to 160 billion dollars by 2025, in order to stabilise CO2 concentrations at 550 parts per million (ppm).

Many scientists say even this level is still dangerously high, translating into global warming of three degrees Celsius, 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

-- Governments should support energy efficiency through such policies as penalising builders who choose the most wasteful energy designs, materials and gadgets, while "feed-in laws" that guarantee a fixed price for reneweable energy would help wind, solar and other clean power.

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