Emissions have slowed, but so has global financing for clean energy projects

The impact of the global financial crisis on the battle against climate change is among the topics discussed at a public lecture in Abu Dhabi.

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A silver lining to the global financial crisis has emerged – carbon emissions have slowed down.

But so has the financing of clean energy projects.

“US emissions are actually about 17 per cent lower than they would be had we stayed on the same trajectory of GDP growth, fuel intensity and carbon intensity pre-2007,” Gilbert Metcalf, professor of economics at Tufts University in the United States, told an audience at the New York University–Abu Dhabi Institute on Monday, during a lecture to mark Earth Day.

In many parts of the world, especially in developed countries, “the crisis has had an effect of slowing down emissions”.

But “is this a good way to reduce emissions? Clearly no”, said Prof Metcalf, a former deputy assistant secretary for environment and energy at the US Treasury.

The economic uncertainty of the past few years also had the effect of “reducing some of the finance flows that are important to generate clean energy projects”, he warned. Prof Metcalf touched upon the efforts of world governments to agree on a legally binding agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

Despite the calls by some observers for urgent action, he said the next couple of years would probably see only “very incremental movement” towards a new, more ambitious treaty, to be signed in 2015.

The main issue of contention remains how to allocate emission cuts between developed countries, historically responsible for the highest share of greenhouse emissions and developing nations, whose share is increasing.

China’s emissions, for example, are growing at an annual rate of more than 9 per cent, and India’s at more than 5 per cent, Prof Metcalf said.

Arunabha Ghosh, chief executive of the council on energy, environment and water in India, said many emissions in developing countries go towards producing carbon-intensive goods that are not consumed locally.

“If you think of it from consumption point of view, then the story begins to change,” he said.

The lecture was held at the end of a two-day conference on climate finance at the university.