Sustainable Development: Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. How do we achieve this? How do we harmonize the goals of economy, society, and environment? Some would say it is impossible; that environmental protection leads to economic destruction. Others argue that economic prosperity leads to environmental catastrophe. But, what if there is a world where we can have both? Experts here at the COP say that we can have our cake and eat it too: it is possible to tackle climate change while continuing to foster economic growth. Furthermore, we cannot continue to experience economic growth without tackling climate change.
So, how does this work in practice? Several approaches have been discussed here at the COP. Experts at a side event this week discussed 3 major areas we all need to address: 1) Decarbonization of the energy system 2) Management of lands and resources and 3) Reduce unstructured urbanization and sprawl. The mechanisms proposed to tackle these issues are:
- Resource Efficiency – We need to properly price our resources so that they don’t get used at a pace faster than they can be replenished (Yes, this includes a price on carbon). This is also known as capturing the social cost of a resource in its market value.
- Investment in Infrastructure – The only way we are going to move away from our current energy system that is reliant on fossil fuels is if we invest in newer sources of energy and cleaner infrastructure so that we can begin deploying these systems at a large scale. This means electric vehicle charging stations, public transportation, greener city infrastructure, etc.
- Innovation – It all seems to come down to innovation. Innovation improves the risk/reward relationship and allows for us to continue to develop economy and at the same time tackle problems like climate change. If we don’t innovate, we can’t move forward.
The overall view here at the COP is that we can still develop while mitigating and adapting to climate change. Will there be a transition period? Of course. We go through transition periods all the time, and generally (with the right intentions) what results is a better more efficient world. We have the technologies, instruments, and will-power to move forward. We just need to continue to push ahead with the ‘New Climate Economy’ Framework in mind and the contention between economy and environment will begin to dissipate. We can expect to see a lot more of this type of discussion leading into Paris and further into the future.
So, I ask you again, which way does your moral compass point? If you are having a hard time choosing or are having a hard time seeing where environment, society, and economy differ at certain intersections, then I have good news for you! You don’t have to choose between these issues. In fact, you shouldn’t choose. Economy and environment are increasingly intertwined and should be addressed together. As we have heard multiple times at the COP: Better Growth, Better Climate.