How effectively the United States and China can pivot their economies away from fossil fuels is crucial to stemming global warming, shaping global markets for clean technologies and nudging other major emitters — like India, Indonesia, Russia, and Brazil — to do their part.
Inger Andersen, the head of the United Nations Environment Program, which published the annual Emissions Gap Report, urged world leaders to invest their post-Covid recovery funds, saying that “a green pandemic recovery can take a huge slice out of greenhouse gas emissions and help slow climate change.”
The report recommends, among other things, reducing, though not eliminating, fossil fuel subsidies, stopping the construction of new coal plants and restoring degraded forests.
Andrew Steer, the president of the World Resources Institute, a research and advocacy group, described the trillions of dollars going into post-pandemic economic recovery as “the biggest opportunity in history.”
“If we invest that in yesterday’s economy,” he told reporters on a call Wednesday, “we are basically committing a mortal sin for our grandchildren, quite frankly.”
But as the latest United Nations report makes clear, we are not all the same, nor do we all need to do the same thing to protect future generations.
The richest 1 percent of the global population produces more than twice the greenhouse gas emissions than the combined share of the poorest 50 percent of the global population. The polluting rich, the report concludes, will have to reduce their emissions footprint by a factor of 30 to avert the worst damages of a warming planet. That can be done, the report adds, by reducing food waste, making buildings more energy-efficient and taking public transit rather than cars, and trains rather than planes, for short distances.
“The wealthy bear greatest responsibility,” the report said.