Be Prepared: For Climate Protection Policy Making

Yesterday we introduced the Pilot Environmental Performance overview world map for 2006. Today we discuss two of the 16 national indices, used for the map, that deserve more exploration. The Boy Scout motto (as shown in the road sign) is of far greater utility for the earth's future than being conservative versus liberal, or living in denial versus being pessimistic about what can be done. Let's compare Europe to the Americas, then, to see what sort of preparations can be made, strategically, based on these performance index data. Look below for the first comparison, using CO2 emissions per unit of gross domestic product (GDP).

Using the above pair of charts, European economies, as a group, appear more carbon efficient than those in the Americas. Costa Rica, Brazil, and Paraguay -- top American performers in the C02 emissions per unit of GDP category -- resemble those in the middle of the European list in terms of carbon efficiency. Said another way, the best the Americas have to offer GHG emissions-wise is roughly as good as the median European performance. What then must the Americas prepare for? Finding ways to help the poorer nations become more carbon efficient is certainly one area. Without a strategy that tends to that, climate change mitigation is stranded.

Now it's on to renewable energy reliance (% of consumption produced from renewable sources).

When it comes to renewables, the Americas are looking fairly good compared to the EU (until you go down the list to the neighborhood of the US). Although the US gets much of the attention for its high reliance on non-renewable energy, plenty of useful strategizing can take place around other ideas generated by the charts. For example, Paraguay's vast hydropower resource reliance exceeds Iceland's reliance on geothermal sources: comparatively speaking, a remarkable circumstance. But, what happens if an early result of climate change is severe and protracted drought in South America? Iceland stays fine, but... Oops.

Tradeoff Department: Paraguay and Surinam both have immense hydroelectric facilities courtesy of transnational aluminum businesses. Vast swaths of rainiforest were innundated during their creation and, in Surinam at least, the exhaustion of bauxite ore reserves seems to be a real possibility. Iceland continues to be an attraction for energy intensive aluminum producers. So, "Be Prepared" for large scale changes in use of renewable energy.

A general concern for climate change and national economic sustainabilty flows from addressing a single strategic question. "What is the highest and best use of the vast stores of hydroelectric and geothermal resources for nations listed at the top of those charts?" Is it better to make aluminum in them, feeding "renewably made" aluminum to global markets? The alernative, after all, is to make it elsewhere, with electricity made with a much higher reliance on fossil fuel, and hence a much higher embodied burden of CO2 emissions.

Might it be better to feed the green electricity from those renewable reserves to regional grids that support less energy intensive businesses and residences, or to charge "plug in hybrids," avoiding the need to burn biomass and import coal? These are strategic national choices with global impact. Governments and their institutions have a strong role to play in leading a discourse about them. High on our "Be Prepared" list then: a showing of "An Inconvenient Truth" to all World Bank officials and technical staff.

Just as the collaborators in the Environmental Performance Index hoped, they have revealed a long list of policy choices that need to be considered now. So lets "Be Prepared".

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