Acting now is cheaper than delaying, two new studies warn

Two new reports have highlighted the dangers of governments delaying action to limit transport emissions. A study from Germany says economic growth will be much harder to achieve if international action to cut climate-changing emissions is not achieved by 2015. And a study from the UK on how carbon emissions from aircraft contribute to global warming has also stressed the importance of acting now, not in several years.

Research at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research suggests that if action to get the world onto a low-carbon economy does not happen until 2030, global economic growth would suffer by up to 7% in the first decade after the action started. However, if a climate agreement is reached by 2015, economic growth would be affected by just 2%. As a result, the study, Economic mitigation challenges: how further delay closes the door for achieving climate targets, recommends an end to the current international stalemate and a rapid start to the implementation of comprehensive international climate policies.

The report’s lead author Gunnar Luderer said: ‘The economic repercussions that would result if the switch towards a climate-friendly economy is delayed are comparable to the costs of the financial crisis the world just experienced. For the first time, our study quantifies the short-term costs of tiptoeing when confronted with the climate challenge. We show how a continuation of ineffective climate policies reduces the option space for future climate policy, and also increases the threshold for switching to a more climate-friendly economy.’

A similar message, albeit limited to aviation, comes from the report, Mitigating future aviation CO2 emissions – timing is everything, published by Manchester Metropolitan University.

It says the real benefit of reducing emissions from aircraft comes from starting early. As carbon dioxide has a long lifetime, cumulative emissions reductions are very important, which means the more action taken now to reduce emissions, the smaller the problem will be in the long run. This contrasts with the approach the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) is taking, which is to achieve a certain amount of emissions reductions by a specific year, with no regard to when in the timeframe those reductions take place.

The report shows that improvements to technology and operations and the introduction of biofuels have the potential to make significant reductions, but these will only happen many years from now, by which time the problem could be worse than it needs to be. It therefore says a global market-based measure such as emissions trading is the best short-term measure.

Bill Hemmings said: ‘This robust analysis is compelling and should be a wake-up call to states and industry before this month’s ICAO assembly.’