March 19, 2009

UN Environment Leader Calls For ‘Green New Deal’

The head of the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) said Thursday that $750 billion in investments and a possible oil tax could be used as a "Green New Deal" to rescue the global economy and protect the environment.

Achim Steiner listed five sectors in which the funding should be focused: improved energy efficiency for buildings, job creation in the solar and wind sectors, curbing poverty and combating global climate change.

"The opportunity must not be lost," Steiner said in an interview with Reuters.

The UNEP study will be presented to world leaders during a meeting in London on April 2 to discuss how to revive the global economy.

According to the U.N. Climate Panel, greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels are a major cause of warming that will result in heatwaves, droughts, rising sea levels and devastating storms.

The UNEP report said investments of $750 billion, or just one percent of global gross domestic product (GDP), could fund a "Global Green New Deal", inspired by the 1930s Great Depression-era "New Deal" enacted under the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The report suggests that the funding go towards renewable energies, more energy efficient buildings, enhanced transport, improved agriculture and steps to safeguard fresh water sources, forests, coral reefs and other parts of the environment.

Steiner also said that funds to jump start a new U.N. initiative to succeed the Kyoto Protocol are badly needed.  Discussions on a new global agreement will take place during an upcoming meeting this December in Copenhagen.

Steiner also suggested the possibility of taxing oil in wealthy nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

"If, for argument's sake, you were to put a five-year levy in OECD countries of $5 a barrel, you would generate $100 billion per annum. It translates into roughly 3 cents per liter," he said, adding that such a tax "would be almost, if not totally, unnoticed by the consumer."

OECD oil consumption is roughly 20 billion barrels a year, Steiner said.

"This is just one example [of funding], there may be many others," he said.

"I am concerned about the prospect of a meaningful deal in Copenhagen if there is not a significant financial package on the table," he said.

Such funding would encourage poor nations to accelerate measures to curb their emissions of greenhouse gases.

"The argument that we cannot afford this does not, on any serious analysis, hold much water -- especially given the cost to the global economy of failure to act on climate change," he said.

Although carbon markets could also be a source of revenue, they would not contribute enough funds during the early years of a new climate treaty, he said.

Steiner said there were promising signs that recent economic stimulus packages put in place by many countries, such as China and the U.S., were geared toward shifting economies toward greener growth and away from a reliance on fossil fuels.


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