Economics-Watching: How Green Innovation Can Stimulate Economies and Curb Emissions

[from IMF Blog, by Zeina Hasna, Florence Jaumotte & Samuel Pienknagura]

Coordinated climate policies can spur innovation in low-carbon technologies and help them spread to emerging markets and developing economies

Making low-carbon technologies cheaper and more widely available is crucial to reducing harmful emissions.

We have seen decades of progress in green innovation for mitigation and adaptation: from electric cars and clean hydrogen to renewable energy and battery storage.

More recently though, momentum in green innovation has slowed. And promising technologies aren’t spreading fast enough to lower-income countries, where they can be especially helpful to curbing emissions. Green innovation peaked at 10 percent of total patent filings in 2010 and has experienced a mild decline since. The slowdown reflects various factors, including hydraulic fracking that has lowered the price of oil and technological maturity in some initial technologies such as renewables, which slows the pace of innovation.

The slower momentum is concerning because, as we show in a new staff discussion note, green innovation is not only good for containing climate change, but for stimulating economic growth too. As the world confronts one of the weakest five-year growth outlooks in more than three decades, those dual benefits are particularly appealing. They ease concerns about the costs of pursuing more ambitious climate plans. And when countries act jointly on climate, we can speed up low-carbon innovation and its transfer to emerging markets and developing economies.

IMF research [archived PDF] shows that doubling green patent filings can boost gross domestic product by 1.7 percent after five years compared with a baseline scenario. And that’s under our most conservative estimate—other estimates show up to four times the effect.

The economic benefits of green innovation mostly flow through increased investment in the first few years. Over time, further growth benefits come from cheaper energy and production processes that are more energy efficient. Most importantly, they come from less global warming and less frequent (and less costly) climate disasters.

Green innovation is associated with more innovation overall, not just a substitution of green technologies for other kinds. This may be because green technologies often require complementary innovation. More innovation usually means more economic growth.

A key question is how countries can better foster green innovation and its deployment. We highlight how domestic and global climate policies spur green innovation. For example, a big increase in the number of climate policies tends to boost green patent filings, our preferred proxy for green innovation, by 10 percent within five years.

Some of the most effective policies to stimulate green innovation include emissions-trading schemes that cap emissions, feed-in-tariffs, which guarantee a minimum price for renewable energy producers, and government spending, such as subsidies for research and development. What’s more, global climate policies result in much larger increases in green innovation than domestic initiatives alone. International pacts like the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement amplify the impact of domestic policies on green innovation.

One reason policy synchronization has a prominent impact on domestic green innovation is what is called the market size effect. There’s more incentive to develop low-carbon technologies if innovators can expect to sell into a much larger potential market, that is, in countries which adopted similar climate policies.

Another is that climate policies in other countries generate green innovations and knowledge that can be used in the domestic economy. This is known as technology diffusion. Finally, synchronized policy action and international climate commitments create more certainty around domestic climate policies, as they boost people’s confidence in governments’ commitment to addressing climate change.

Climate policies even help spread the use of low-carbon technologies in countries that are not sources of innovation, through trade and foreign-direct investment. Countries that introduce climate policies see more imports of low-carbon technologies and higher green FDI inflows, especially in emerging markets and developing economies.

Risks of protectionism

Lowering tariffs on low-carbon technologies can further enhance trade and FDI in green technologies. This is especially important for middle- and low-income countries where such tariffs remain high. On the flipside, more protectionist measures would impede the broader spread of low-carbon technologies.

In addition, and given evidence of economies of scale, protectionism—with ultimately smaller potential markets—could stifle incentives for green innovation and lead to duplication of efforts across countries.

The risks of protectionism are exacerbated when climate policies, such as subsidies, do not abide by international rules. For example, local content requirements, whereby only locally produced green goods benefit from subsidies, undermine trust in multilateral trade rules and could result in retaliatory measures.

Beyond embracing a rules-based approach to climate policies, the advanced economies, where most green innovation occurs, have an important responsibility: sharing the technology so that emerging and developing economies can get there faster. Such direct technology transfers hold the promise of a double dividend for emerging markets and developing economies—reducing emissions and yielding economic benefits.

—This blog reflects research by Zeina Hasna, Florence Jaumotte, Jaden Kim, Samuel Pienknagura and Gregor Schwerhoff.

Climate Policy: Loss and Damage from Climate Change

(from Social Watch and Global Policy Watch’s UN Monitor)

Loss and Damage from Climate Change: How Much Should Rich Countries Pay?

(Download UN Monitor #10 [archived PDF])

“The wealthy countries must begin providing public climate finance at the scale necessary to support not only adaptation but loss and damage as well, and they must do so in accordance with their responsibility and capacity to act.” This is the main message of a technical report titled “Can Climate Change-Fueled Loss and Damage Ever Be Fair?” launched on the eve of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP25) to be held in Madrid from 2 to 13 December.

The U.S. and the EU owe more than half the cost of repairing future damage says the report, authored by Civil Society Review, an independent group that produces figures on what a “fair share” among countries of the global effort to tackle climate change should look like.

“The poorer countries are bearing the overwhelming majority of the human and social costs of climate change. Consider only one tragic incident—the Cyclones Idai and Kenneth—which caused more than $3 billion in economic damages in Mozambique alone, roughly 20% of its GDP, with lasting implications, not to mention the loss of lives and livelihoods” argues the report. “Given ongoing and deepening climate impacts, to ensure justice and fairness, COP25 must as an urgent matter operationalize loss and damage financing via a facility designed to receive and disburse resources at scale to developing countries.”

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has defined loss and damage to include harms resulting from sudden-onset events (climate disasters, such as cyclones) as well as slow-onset processes (such as sea level rise). Loss and damage can occur in human systems (such as livelihoods) as well as natural systems (such as biodiversity).

Eight weeks after Hurricane Dorian—the most intense tropical cyclone to ever strike the Bahamas—Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Amor Mottley, spoke at the United Nations Secretary General’s Climate Action Summit. She said: “For us, our best practice traditionally was to share the risk before disaster strikes, and just over a decade ago we established the Caribbean Catastrophic Risk Insurance Facility. But, the devastation of Hurricane Dorian marks a new chapter for us. Because, as the international community will find out, the CCRIF will not meet the needs of climate refugees or, indeed, will it be sufficient to meet the needs of rebuilding. No longer can we, therefore, consider this as an appropriate mechanism…There will be a growing crisis of affordability of insurance.”

An April 2019 report from ActionAid revealed the insurance and other market based mechanisms fail to meet human rights criteria for responding to loss and damage associated with climate change. The impact of extreme natural disasters is equivalent to an annual global USD$520 billion loss, and forces approximately 26 million people into poverty each year.

Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, recently warned that the climate crisis is the greatest ever threat to human rights. It threatens the rights to life, health, housing and a clean and safe environment. The UN Human Rights Council has recognized that climate change “poses an immediate and far reaching threat to people and communities around the world and has implications for the full enjoyment of human rights.” In the Paris Agreement, parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) acknowledged that they should—when taking action to address climate change—respect, promote and consider their respective obligations with regard to human rights. This includes the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, the empowerment of women and intergenerational equity. Tackling loss and damage will require a human-rights centered approach that promotes justice and equity.

Across and within countries, the highest per capita carbon emissions are attributable to the wealthiest people, this because individual emissions generally parallel disparities of income and wealth. While the world’s richest 10% cause 50% of emissions, they also claim 52% of the world’s wealth. The world’s poorest 50% contribute approximately 10% of global emissions and receive about 8% of global income. Wealth increases adaptive capacity. All this means that those most responsible for climate change are relatively insulated from its impacts.

Between 1850 and 2002, countries in the Global North emitted three times as many greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as did the countries in the Global South, where approximately 85% of the global population resides. The average CO2 emissions (metric tons per capita) of citizens in countries most vulnerable to climate change impacts, for example, Mozambique (0.3), Malawi, (0.1), and Zimbabwe (0.9), pale in comparison to the average emissions of a person in the U.S. (15.5), Canada (15.3), Australia (15.8), or UK (6).

In the 1980s, oil companies like Exxon and Shell carried out internal assessments of the carbon dioxide released by fossil fuels, and forecast the planetary consequences of these emissions, including the inundation of entire low-lying countries, the disappearance of specific ecosystems or habitat destruction, destructive floods, the inundation of low-lying farmland, and widespread water stress.

Nevertheless, the same companies and countries have pursued high reliance on GHG emissions, often at the expense of communities where fossil fuels are found (where oil spills, pollution, land grabs, and displacement is widespread) and certainly at the expense of public understanding, even as climate change harms and risks increased. Chevron, Exxon, BP and Shell together are behind more than 10% of the world’s carbon emissions since 1966. They originated in the Global North and its governments continue to provide them with financial subsidies and tax breaks.

Responsibility for, and capacity to act on, mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage varies tremendously across nations and among classes. It must also be recognized that the Nationally Determined Contributions (climate action plans or NDCs) that have thus far been proposed by the world’s nations are not even close to being sufficient, putting us on track for approximately 4°C of warming. They are also altogether out of proportion to national capacity and responsibility, with the developing countries generally proposing to do their fair shares, and developed countries proposed far too little.

Unfortunately, as Kevin Anderson (Professor of Energy and Climate Change at the University of Manchester and a former Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research) has said: “a 4°C future is incompatible with an organized global community, is likely to be beyond ‘adaptation,’ is devastating to the majority of ecosystems, and has a high probability of not being stable.”

Equity analysis

The report assess countries’ NDCs against the demands of a 1.5°C pathway using two ‘fair share’ benchmarks, as in the previous reports of the Civil Society Equity Review coalition. These ‘fair share’ benchmarks are grounded in the principle-based claims that countries should act in accordance with their responsibility for causing the climate problem and their capacity to help solve it. These principles are both well-established within the climate negotiations and built into both the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement.

To be consistent with the UNFCCC’s equity principles—the wealthier countries must urgently and dramatically deepen their own emissions reduction efforts, contribute to mitigation, adaptation and addressing loss and damage initiatives in developing countries; and support additional sustainable actions outside their own borders that enable climate-compatible sustainable development in developing countries.

For example, consider the European Union, whose fair share of the global emission reduction effort in 2030 is roughly about 22% of the global total, or about 8 Gigatons of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2eq). Since its total emissions are less than 5 GtCO2eq, the EU would have to reduce its emissions by approximately 160% per cent below 1990 levels by 2030 if it were to meet its fair share entirely through domestic reductions. It is not physically possible to reduce emissions by more than 100% domestically. So, the only way in which the EU can meet its fair share is by funding mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage efforts in developing countries.

Today’s mitigation commitments are insufficient to prevent unmanageable climate change, and—coming on top of historic emissions—they are setting in motion devastating changes to our climate and natural environment. These impacts are already prevalent, even with our current global average surface temperature rise of about 1°C. Impacts include droughts, firestorms, shifting seasons, sea-level rise, salt-water intrusion, glacial retreat, the spread of vector borne diseases, and devastation from cyclones and other extreme weather events. Some of these impacts can be minimized through adaptation measures designed to increase resilience to inevitable impacts.

These measures include, for example, renewing mangroves to prevent erosion and reduce flooding caused by storms, regulating new construction so that buildings can withstand tomorrow’s severe weather, using scarce water resources efficiently, building flood defenses, and setting aside land corridors to help species migrate. It is also crucial with such solutions that forest dwelling and indigenous peoples be given enforceable land rights, for not only are such rights matters of basic justice, they are also pragmatic recognitions of the fact that indigenous peoples have successfully protected key ecosystems.

Tackling underlying social injustices and inequalities—including through technological and financial transfers, as well as though capacity building—would also contribute to increasing resilience. Other climate impacts, however, are unavoidable, unmanageable or unpredictable, leading to a huge degree of loss and damage. Experts estimate the financial damage also will reach at least USD$300-700 billion by 2030, but the loss of locally sustained livelihoods, relationships and connections to ancestral lands are incalculable.

Failure to reduce GHG emissions now—through energy efficiency, waste reduction, renewable energy generation, reduced consumption, sustainable agriculture and transport—will only deepen impacts in the future. Avoidable impacts require urgent adaptation measures. At the same time, unavoidable and unmanageable change impacts—such as loss of homes, livelihoods, crops, heat and water stress, displacement, and infrastructure damage—need adequate responses through well-resourced disaster response plans and social protection policies.

For loss and damage financing, developed countries have a considerable responsibility and capacity to pay for harms that are already occurring. Of course, many harms will be irreparable in financial terms. However, where monetary contributions can help restore the livelihoods or homes of individuals exposed to climate change impacts, they must be paid. Just as the EU’s fair share of the global mitigation effort is approximately 22% in 2030, it could be held accountable for that same share of the financial support for such incidents of loss and damage in that year.

The table below provides an illustrative quantification of this simple application of fair shares to loss and damage estimates, and how they change if we compute the contribution to global climate change from the start of the industrial revolution in 1850 or from 1950.

Table 1: Countries’ Share of Global Responsibility and Capacity in 2019, the time of Cyclones Idai and Kenneth, as illustrative application of a fair share approach to Loss and Damage funding requirements.

Country/Group of CountriesFair Share (%) 1950 Medium BenchmarkFair Share (%) 1850 High Benchmark
European Union23.9%23.2%
Rest of OECD7.4%8.8%
Rest of the World20.6%12.3%

The advantage of setting out responsibility and capacity to act in such numerical terms is to drive equitable and robust action today. Responsible and capable countries must—of course—ensure that those most able to pay towards loss and damage repairs are called upon to do so through domestic legislation that ensures correlated progressive responsibility. However, it should also motivate mitigation action to ensure that harms are not deepened in the future.

In the Equity analysis used here, capacity—a nation’s financial ability to contribute to solving the climate problem—can be captured by a quantitative benchmark defined in a more or less progressive way, making the definition of national capacity dependent on national income distribution. This means a country’s capacity is calculated in a manner that can explicitly account for the income of the wealthy more strongly than that of the poor, and can exclude the incomes of the poorest altogether. Similarly, responsibility—a nation’s contribution to the planetary GHG burden—can be based on cumulative GHG emissions since a range of historical start years, and can consider the emissions arising from luxury consumption more strongly than emissions from the fulfillment of basic needs, and can altogether exclude the survival emissions of the poorest. Of course, the ‘right’ level of progressivity, like the ‘right’ start year, are matters for deliberation and debate.1

The report acknowledges “the difficulties in estimating financial loss and damage and the limited data we currently have,” but it recommends nevertheless “a minimal goal of providing at least USD$300 billion per year by 2030 of financing for loss and damage through the UNFCCC’s Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage (WIM).” Given that this corresponds to a conservative estimate of damage costs, the report further recommends “the formalization of a global obligation to revise this figure upward as observed and forecast damages increase.”

The new finance facility should provide “public climate financing and new and innovative sources of financing, in addition to budget contributions from rich countries, that can truly generate additional resources (such as air and maritime levies, Climate Damages Tax on oil, gas and coal extraction, a Financial Transaction Tax) at a progressive scale to reach at least USD$300 billion by 2030.” This means aiming for at least USD$150 billion by 2025 and ratcheting up commitments on an annual basis. Ambition targets should be revised based on the level of quantified and quantifiable harms experienced.

Further, developing countries who face climate emergencies should benefit from immediate debt relief–in the form of an interest-free moratorium on debt payments. This would open up resources currently earmarked for debt repayments to immediate emergency relief and reconstruction.

Finally, a financial architecture needs to be set up that ensures funding reaches the marginalized communities in developing countries, and that such communities have decision making say over reconstruction plans. Funds should reach communities in an efficient and effective manner, taking into account existing institutions as appropriate.

Currently, the Paris Rulebook allows countries to count non-grant instruments as climate finance, including commercial loans, equity, guarantees and insurance. Under these rules, the United States could give a USD$50 million commercial loan to Malawi for a climate mitigation project. This loan would have to be repaid at market interest rates—a net profit for the U.S.—so its grant-equivalence is $0. But under the Paris Rulebook, the U.S. could report the loan’s face value ($50 million) as climate finance. This is not acceptable. COP25 must ensure that the WIM has robust outcomes and sufficient authority to deliver a fair and ambitious outcome for the poorest and most vulnerable in relation to loss & damage.

  1. For more details, including how progressivity is calculated and a description of the standard data sets upon which those calculations are based, see the reference project page.  For an interactive experience and a finer set of controls, see the Climate Equity Reference Calculator. (return to text)

Download UN Monitor #10 [archived PDF]

Essay 111: CMR Magazine on Article 6 Pilots, Carbon Pricing in Latin America, and More

Carbon Pricing in Latin America

Is Article 6 on the home stretch? In this issue [PDF] of the Carbon Mechanisms Review, we look at success factors for the negotiations, and analyze what is needed to make the Article 6 rulebook text ready for enabling up-scaled mitigation action. With regard to the ‘Latin American COP’ (taking place in Madrid), we cover the emerging carbon pricing landscape in the region while our cover feature reports on and analyses the current Article 6 pilot initiatives. An analysis of the latest CORSIA developments rounds off the issue.

[Archived PDF]

Essay 83: Press Release: World Energy Outlook 2019 Highlights Deep Disparities in the Global Energy System

Rapid and widespread changes across all parts of the energy system are needed to put the world on a path to a secure and sustainable energy future

Deep disparities define today’s energy world. The dissonance between well-supplied oil markets and growing geopolitical tensions and uncertainties. The gap between the ever-higher amounts of greenhouse gas emissions being produced and the insufficiency of stated policies to curb those emissions in line with international climate targets. The gap between the promise of energy for all and the lack of electricity access for 850 million people around the world.

The World Energy Outlook 2019, the International Energy Agency’s flagship publication, explores these widening fractures in detail. It explains the impact of today’s decisions on tomorrow’s energy systems, and describes a pathway that enables the world to meet climate, energy access and air quality goals while maintaining a strong focus on the reliability and affordability of energy for a growing global population.

As ever, decisions made by governments remain critical for the future of the energy system. This is evident in the divergences between WEO scenarios that map out different routes the world could follow over the coming decades, depending on the policies, investments, technologies and other choices that decision makers pursue today. Together, these scenarios seek to address a fundamental issue – how to get from where we are now to where we want to go.

The path the world is on right now is shown by the Current Policies Scenario, which provides a baseline picture of how global energy systems would evolve if governments make no changes to their existing policies. In this scenario, energy demand rises by 1.3% a year to 2040, resulting in strains across all aspects of energy markets and a continued strong upward march in energy-related emissions.

The Stated Policies Scenario, formerly known as the New Policies Scenario, incorporates today’s policy intentions and targets in addition to existing measures. The aim is to hold up a mirror to today’s plans and illustrate their consequences. The future outlined in this scenario is still well off track from the aim of a secure and sustainable energy future. It describes a world in 2040 where hundreds of millions of people still go without access to electricity, where pollution-related premature deaths remain around today’s elevated levels, and where CO2 emissions would lock in severe impacts from climate change.

The Sustainable Development Scenario indicates what needs to be done differently to fully achieve climate and other energy goals that policy makers around the world have set themselves. Achieving this scenario – a path fully aligned with the Paris Agreement aim of holding the rise in global temperatures to well below 2°C and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C – requires rapid and widespread changes across all parts of the energy system. Sharp emission cuts are achieved thanks to multiple fuels and technologies providing efficient and cost-effective energy services for all.

“What comes through with crystal clarity in this year’s World Energy Outlook is there is no single or simple solution to transforming global energy systems,” said Dr. Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director. “Many technologies and fuels have a part to play across all sectors of the economy. For this to happen, we need strong leadership from policy makers, as governments hold the clearest responsibility to act and have the greatest scope to shape the future.”

In the Stated Policies Scenario, energy demand increases by 1% per year to 2040. Low-carbon sources, led by solar PV, supply more than half of this growth, and natural gas accounts for another third. Oil demand flattens out in the 2030s, and coal use edges lower. Some parts of the energy sector, led by electricity, undergo rapid transformations. Some countries, notably those with “net zero” aspirations, go far in reshaping all aspects of their supply and consumption.

However, the momentum behind clean energy is insufficient to offset the effects of an expanding global economy and growing population. The rise in emissions slows but does not peak before 2040.

Shale output from the United States is set to stay higher for longer than previously projected, reshaping global markets, trade flows and security. In the Stated Policies Scenario, annual U.S. production growth slows from the breakneck pace seen in recent years, but the United States still accounts for 85% of the increase in global oil production to 2030, and for 30% of the increase in gas. By 2025, total U.S. shale output (oil and gas) overtakes total oil and gas production from Russia.

“The shale revolution highlights that rapid change in the energy system is possible when an initial push to develop new technologies is complemented by strong market incentives and large-scale investment,” said Dr. Birol. “The effects have been striking, with U.S. shale now acting as a strong counterweight to efforts to manage oil markets.”

The higher U.S. output pushes down the share of OPEC members and Russia in total oil production, which drops to 47% in 2030, from 55% in the mid-2000s. But whichever pathway the energy system follows, the world is set to rely heavily on oil supply from the Middle East for years to come.

Alongside the immense task of putting emissions on a sustainable trajectory, energy security remains paramount for governments around the globe. Traditional risks have not gone away, and new hazards such as cybersecurity and extreme weather require constant vigilance. Meanwhile, the continued transformation of the electricity sector requires policy makers to move fast to keep pace with technological change and the rising need for the flexible operation of power systems.

“The world urgently needs to put a laser-like focus on bringing down global emissions. This calls for a grand coalition encompassing governments, investors, companies and everyone else who is committed to tackling climate change,” said Dr. Birol. “Our Sustainable Development Scenario is tailor-made to help guide the members of such a coalition in their efforts to address the massive climate challenge that faces us all.”

A sharp pick-up in energy efficiency improvements is the element that does the most to bring the world towards the Sustainable Development Scenario. Right now, efficiency improvements are slowing: the 1.2% rate in 2018 is around half the average seen since 2010 and remains far below the 3% rate that would be needed.

Electricity is one of the few energy sources that sees rising consumption over the next two decades in the Sustainable Development Scenario. Electricity’s share of final consumption overtakes that of oil, today’s leader, by 2040. Wind and solar PV provide almost all the increase in electricity generation.

Putting electricity systems on a sustainable path will require more than just adding more renewables. The world also needs to focus on the emissions that are “locked in” to existing systems. Over the past 20 years, Asia has accounted for 90% of all coal-fired capacity built worldwide, and these plants potentially have long operational lifetimes ahead of them. This year’s WEO considers three options to bring down emissions from the existing global coal fleet: to retrofit plants with carbon capture, utilisation and storage or biomass co-firing equipment; to repurpose them to focus on providing system adequacy and flexibility; or to retire them earlier.

Access the 2019 World Energy Outlook report.

About the IEA: The International Energy Agency, the global energy authority, was founded in 1974 to help its member countries co-ordinate a collective response to major oil supply disruptions. Its mission has evolved and rests today on three main pillars: working to ensure global energy security; expanding energy cooperation and dialogue around the world; and promoting an environmentally sustainable energy future.

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