by Ashley Seager
• £300bn needed by poor nations to tackle carbon emissions
• Failure to give could reduce world gross product by 20%
The world's rich countries need to embark on a huge transfer of funds to developing countries in order for both groups to grow richer and reduce their carbon emissions significantly, a United Nations report urges today.
Delaying spending on mitigating climate change in the developing world "runs the real danger of locking in dirtier investments for several more decades", says the annual survey from the UN's Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA).
Ahead of this weekend's meeting of G20 finance ministers in London, the report estimates that developed countries need immediately to transfer around 1% of world gross product (WGP), or $500-600bn (£300-370bn), to poor countries.
Carrying on with business as usual, or making only minor changes, could lose 20% of WGP so doing nothing would be an expensive mistake, it argues.
UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon says the report "makes the case for meeting both the climate challenge and the development challenge by recognising the links between the two and proceeding along low-emissions, high-growth pathways".
The report adds, using unusually strong language, that "by any measure, the amounts currently promised for meeting the climate challenge in the near term are woefully inadequate".
It continues: "The failure of wealthy countries to honour long-standing commitments of international support for poverty reduction and adequate transfers of resources and technology remains the single biggest obstacle to meeting the climate change challenge."
The survey estimates that about $21bn (£13bn) in official development funding is set aside to addressing climate change, mostly for fighting problems such as drought or flooding. The total amount of climate financing that is required is a large multiple of that figure, it says.
"If the international community is serious about a 'global new deal', it should be just as serious about committing resources on the same scale as was needed to tackle the financial crisis and defeat political extremism."
The report challenges the thinking that the climate problem can simply be addressed by across-the-board emission cuts by all countries or by relying exclusively on market-based solutions to generate the required investments. Its central point is that developing countries can only make a meaningful contribution to combating climate change if their economies continue to grow strongly.
In turn that would require satisfying the growing energy needs of developing countries, which are projected to double that of the developed world over the coming decades.
"This raises the question for climate change negotiators of how poor countries can pursue low-emissions, high-growth development," it says, with an eye on the Copenhagen climate change conference in December.
The report argues that the technologies that would allow developing countries to switch to a sustainable development path do exist. These include low-energy buildings, new drought-resistant crop strains and more advanced primary renewables.
But they are often prohibitively expensive and, the report says, such a transformation would require "a level of international support and solidarity rarely mustered outside a wartime setting".
Poor countries, the report says, are facing "vastly more daunting challenges than those confronting developed countries and in a far more constrained environment".
Economic growth remains a priority for them, not only to reduce poverty but also to bring about a gradual narrowing of the huge income differentials with wealthy countries.
"The idea of freezing the current level of global inequality over the next half century or more (as the world goes about trying to solve the climate problem) is economically, politically and ethically unacceptable," the report says.
The study's authors believe that they could be pushing on a door that is starting to open with world policymakers becoming increasingly aware of the dangers posed by rapid climate change.
Professor Nicholas Stern, who carried out a seminal study into the economics of climate change three years ago, recently published a book arguing for speedier action on a bigger scale than before.