A Threefold Combination of Measures to Tackle Climate Change

TU Berlin researcher Felix Creutzig emphasizes the necessity for international politics to cooperate more closely and intensively

Limiting the temperature increase to less than two degrees and thus slowing the progress of climate change is recognized almost everywhere in the world as a central problem requiring urgent attention. Yet the global coordination of credible strategies is hindered by the very different economic situations and interests of the various states. In his most recent publication The Mitigation Trinity: Coordinating Policies to Escalate Climate Mitigation in the journal One Earth, Dr. Felix Creutzig, professor of Sustainability Economics of Human Settlements at TU Berlin, recommends a three-stage action plan for a mutually reinforcing climate policy. In his view, the key elements of this policy need to be an effective carbon pricing strategy, far-sighted investment in new infrastructures for the deployment of low-carbon technologies in the transport and energy sectors as well as the development of a moral impetus to put an end to the use of fossil fuels.  

This requires a political framework that pursues ambitious global climate protection goals, using different integrated political and financial instruments rather than isolated measures such as carbon pricing. “We will only be able to persuade developing and threshold countries to join the global climate coalition if we succeed in providing dynamic, mutually strengthening incentives,” says Creutzig.

Far-sighted investment in a new infrastructure

His proposal: a threefold combination of mutually strengthening measures. The central requirement remains an effective and sufficiently high carbon pricing system  - at least 40 euros per ton of CO2 for 2020. “However, carbon pricing alone is not enough,” says Felix Creutzig. “Having an infrastructure based on fossil fuel technology makes the use of fossil fuels cheap and the use of regenerative technologies expensive. This is why we need a global policy pursuing a far-sighted investment in an infrastructure based on low-carbon technologies such as cycle paths, compact cities or the expansion of local public transportation.”

“A global climate agreement can only succeed, however, if developing and threshold countries can also obtain sufficient affordable energy from renewable and low-carbon technologies,” he adds. The costs for the global development of a low-carbon infrastructure for transport and energy are expected to exceed one trillion US dollars a year. This is, however, roughly equivalent to the investment required for the development of conventional infrastructures in these areas.

Declare greenhouse gas emissions a morally questionable practice

Creutzig proposes making a part of the international climate budget available as funding or loans for infrastructural reorganization in countries which are currently introducing carbon pricing or looking to strengthen their carbon pricing systems. The climate protection effect could be further enhanced if such funding or loans could be auctioned off, so to speak, to countries that promise the largest volume in carbon pricing or the highest increase in carbon tax. 

The third central element in Creutzig’s program for climate protection is to bring about a shift in what is seen as politically feasible. “Politics is often analyzed from the economic perspective. However, people are motivated by their sense of moral imperative and not just economic incentives. Greenhouse gas emissions could be branded a morally questionable practice, harmful to future generations. This is particularly so if affordable alternatives are available,” says Creutzig. As a successful example of this moral shift, he cites the divestment movement in the fossil energy sector, with financial investors increasingly withdrawing from the financing of fossil energy projects. “There is agreement that this movement has changed what is morally appropriate, influencing investors, policy-makers, and the media."

Please note

A Threefold Combination of Measures to Tackle Climate Change is one of the scientific communication research projects for the Covering Climate Now international action week from 15 to 23 September 2019.