The language of climate change – a GLOBE-net editorial



A short while ago the Global Climate Network released a Discussion Paper on Low Carbon Jobs in an Inter-Connected World. The Discussion Paper was based on national studies conducted over recent months by each of the Network's nine member institutes.

The paper provided a convincing case for optimism and positivism given that possible job creation numbers stemming from low-carbon policies and programs were extremely high. As a consequence they were widely reported.

What is more significant about the paper is the core message that it conveyed about the language of climate change policy, which until now had been largely phrased in the negative - reducing, constraining, eliminating, controlling - with the non too subtle implication that failure to reign in greenhouse gas emissions would result in earth destroying consequences of unimaginable proportions.

The work of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is also tinged with sinister warning that doomsday is approaching and that immediate action by all governments is essential to avoid calamity. This in part explains why last year's climate change summit in Copenhagen drew such international attention, and why the consternation that followed from its failure to secure a binding regulatory control regime was so galling.

One might argue that the seeds of Copenhagen's failure lay with the very language of its primary message that was heavily wrapped in negatives. The furor that erupted over the climate-gate scandal seemed to vindicate those that questioned not only the IPCC's research, but also its heavy message that the end is nigh.

What the Global Climate Network paper has done is to refocus the language of the debate to emphasize the positive dimensions of re-engineering energy systems and adopting lower carbon intensive industrial processes. That positive is the stimulus such measure will provide in terms of job creation and technological innovation.

Indeed, research that has been conducted in recent months - including work undertaken by the GLOBE Foundation - has shown extraordinarily positive benefits from the low-carbon revolution, which in addition to lowering greenhouse gas emissions will simulate economic growth and bring substantial material and social benefits to billions currently deprived by the carbon-intensive economic system that prevails throughout much of the world.

Not only will more jobs be created - measured in the millions on a global scale - they will more than compensate for job losses in carbon-intensive sectors. And these will be better paying jobs, with the added benefit of stimulating new educational and training programs that will reach out to segments of our society now under represented in the labour force.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in a 2008 study estimated that 2.3 million people were employed in renewable energy industries in 2006. The same study suggests approximately 2.1 million people will be employed in wind energy, 6.3 million in solar PV and 12 Million in bio-fuel-related industry and agriculture by 2030.

What these and other studies have shown is that the job creation benefits of the adoption of low carbon approaches are not constrained by borders and that gains in one nation inevitably lead to increased trade and more jobs in other nations. This is the classic win-win scenario.

Some have decried the enormous gains made in China's clean technology sectors - it now leads the world in solar and wind energy production and capacity - as if China's gain was to the detriment of other nations. Nothing can be further from the truth. China's gains will have a ripple effect that will be felt for years to come in all corners of the world.

World dominance was not the goal that spurred China's low carbon revolution. China acted because change was needed to deal with its acutely pressing environmental problems - many the result of decades of mismanagement of its carbon-intensive industrial sectors  - and as well to respond to the growing demands of its citizens for better living conditions, better jobs and more opportunities.

It's a story that is playing out in other parts of Asia, in Africa, South America and as well in Europe and North America. The move towards low carbon alternatives - i.e. smart grids, micro-hydro, wind and solar energy, fuel cell technologies - are creating jobs, reshaping cities, expanding opportunities and hastening the demise of sunset industries.

None of this 'just happens' of its own accord. It happens when intelligent and forward looking government policies unleash the enormous pent up potential of entrepreneurial innovation in the private sector. Consistency and clarity in government policy encourages private sector investment, which expands job creation opportunities, which stimulates new education and training programs, which in turn helps change both the local and the international marketplace for low carbon products.

The positive message inherent in the shift toward a low carbon future is reason enough stimulate sound governmental policies and programs. One need not over-dramatize the negatives associated with climate change as the raison-d'être for emission reducing technologies. Climate change is serious enough on its own, and is a powerful stimulus for adaptive measures in its own right.

The Global Climate Network Discussion Paper (available here) echoes the message in the old Johnny Mercer classic: 'You've got to accentuate the positive - Eliminate the negative - And latch on to the affirmative... and don't mess with Mister In-Between.'

It's a message that commands attention in today's rebounding economic climate.

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