Global warming and global CO2 emissions are interconnected. In 2018, heatwaves were observed in Europe, Asia, North America and northern Africa, while the extent of Arctic sea ice has been continuously dropping. According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the last four years (2015-2018) have been the warmest years on record. In particular, between January and October 2018, global average temperature increased 0.98 degrees Celsius above the levels of 1850-1900. If this trend continues, temperatures may rise by 3-5 degrees Celsius by 2100.
Global CO2 emissions have also been increasing in the last years. China and the US together account for more than 40% of the global total CO2 emissions, according to 2017 data from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre and the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. After the withdrawal from the Paris climate change agreement, the US’s environmental policy shifted to a pro-fossil fuels agenda on behalf of the need to overcome the disadvantage of American businesses and workers. Trump called climate change a “very, very expensive form of tax”. Fossil fuel lobbies in Saudi Arabia, Russia and Canada are powerful forces against government climate policies. Besides, it cna be hoghlighted that Aistralia is still dependent on coal exports.
In this global setting, where there has been noted a rise in investments in coal, the challenges and possibilities of effective global agreements have turned out to be more complex. The scenario of the COP 24 certainly reveals these tensions. The current Conference of the Parties (COP) in Katowice has been announced as the most critical on climate change since the 2015 Paris Agreement that pledged to keep temperatures well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. In 2017, global emissions were 53.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide while the promises made in 2015 amounted 53 billion tons up to 2030.
The United Nations 2018 report warned that, in 2030, global greenhouse gas emissions could be between 13 billion and 15 billion tonnes higher than the level required to keep global warming within 2 degrees Celsius. Indeed, policy makers are currently at pressure to make progress since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2018 report also highlighted that it is urgent to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. In this attempt, governments should have to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by around 25 percent and 55 percent lower than 2017 to limit global warming to 2 degrees and 1.5 degrees Celsius respectively.
Considering this background, climate finance can be a tool to accelerate effective de-carbonization of the economy by means of a) progress on energy efficiency, b) decarbonisation, c) electrification carbon capture and storage, d) afforestation and reforestation. Overall, global and local investments in electricity continue to fall far short of what is needed to close the energy access gap. In Africa and Asia, while international private finance more than doubled from the 2013-14 level to amount USD 2.9 billion in 2015-16, international public finance declined from USD 10.5 billion in 2013-14 to USD 8.8 billion in 2015-16.
In terms of technologies, more than half of total amount of finance committed to electricity in 2015-16 was related to renewable projects, mainly on-shore wind and solar PV. Although there has been a huge amount of investment in renewable energy technologies, the scaling up global investment requires declining prices for renewables. However, in the same period, investments in coal plants increased in Africa and Asia, from USD 2.8 billion in 2013-14 to USD 6.8 billion in 2015-16. Philippines, India, Bangladesh and Kenia have received a large part of the financing commitments in 2015-16.
As a matter of fact the recent trends call for a reflection on climate change and the deleterious effects of the main features of contemporary capitalism. First, the commodification of natural resources is a feature of the long-run process of financial expansion characterized as the financialization of the capitalist economy where social vulnerabilities have increased – mainly in developing countries. Second, market deregulation opened up new energy investment patterns in a context where institutional investors have assumed an active role in the selection of high profit potential projects. Under the expansion of monopoly-capital, energy investments and policies could pass down social and environmental safeguards.
Today, restructuring energy policies to face climate change require comprehensive solutions in order to include issues related to regulation and finance, technology and innovation, governance and politics, besides environment and social inclusion. There is the need to overcome the lack of articulation between governments and the private sector in order to promote changes in investment patterns and to face education challenges towards a green economy.
Despite the threats and challenges, climate change has still little impact on today’s economics education. However, an understanding of modern economies cannot be arrived at without an understanding on of how climate change touches on development theories. Taking into account the relevance of these issues, some contemporary discussions should be included in the economics curriculum, such as: Which are the main features of a green economy? Which alternative energy technologies and policies can be implemented in the short-run to de-carbon the global economy? How can green policies be articulated to job creation policies? Which are the sources of finance of low-carbon innovations? Can be a green economy competitive in the global trade system? Which should be the foundations of a low-carbon international political economy?