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The climate is changing

There is something about new beginnings that brings out the extremes in people. As the New Year starts to unfold, optimists will be feeling more positive than usual and pessimists that little bit more negative. The current debate on climate change has something to offer for both.
Public awareness of climate change reached ‘tipping point’ in 2006, according to a report on the state of the debate authored by the Center on International Cooperation and the London Accord. But this only refers to perceptions of the problem, the report points out.
Now the real challenge is to identify possible solutions. Divisions abound, however. Several actors are involved in the debate, each bringing its own perceptions and expectations to the table. These filter “evidence, facts, arguments and discussions” through different prisms, as the report’s authors put it.
The debate on solutions will be influenced by the depth of public concern and by how many countries want the same thing at the same time. But inaction is likely to dominate for as long as we continue to lack clarity about which solutions can win strong support from whom, how much they will cost and what benefits they can bring.
The costs associated with climate change in Europe, whether related to mitigating its effects or acting to reverse it, are difficult to calculate, a technical report released just before Christmas by the European Environment Agency tells us.
“Information on the costs of inaction remains limited,” the authors write. But there is an “even larger gap for the costs of adaptation”. Evidence is limited, impacts are unclear, and analysis of economic costs and benefits of biodiversity is underdeveloped.
More research is the starting point to finding answers, the EEA report suggests. But assuming climate change is primarily a scientific and technical problem is a “mistaken view”, the London Accord report warns. Its authors argue that understanding the drivers of the climate change debate is as important as calculating its impacts in the search for solutions.
Now that should provide more than enough for pessimists to worry about this year. Moving to the other side of the fence, evidence is growing that business is starting to respond to calls for a new approach. It is particularly heart warming to note a flurry of activity in the US, until recently a beacon for climate change sceptics.
Researchers and consultants at the Rocky Mountain Institute have never been so busy. Their services in support of energy efficiency and cleaner transport are changing the way giants such as Wal-Mart and General Motors do business. The retailer’s fleet of nearly 7,000 delivery lorries will by 2015 halve its fuel consumption, for example.
A solar thermal plant recently started supplying electricity to the stereotypically unsustainable city of Las Vegas. Tax rebates have provided an incentive for a $7.5bn (€5.1bn) green construction project on a 68-acre site. It will house casinos, hotels, homes and shops that will be less wasteful than the city average in their use of air conditioning and electricity.
As two intense weeks of negotiations at Bali in December confirmed, the point where everybody accepts climate change and the need to address it has finally been reached. The search for solutions is only just starting.
For business leaders as much as policy makers, it is a time to be alert to the immense prospects for developing ideas and putting them into practice. Both optimists and pessimists should find plenty of opportunities to indulge their nature in the coming months.
Nadia Weekes, editor

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