By Ramu Damodaran
The author is Senior Fellow at the New Delhi-based Centre for Social and Economic Progress (CSEP).
NEW YORK (IDN) — I was in Athens three years ago this week, on what was to be my last trip outside New York, where I am based, before the pandemic; I have not travelled after that. My journey was to attend the International Conference on Energy and Climate Change, which the Energy and Policy Centre (KEPA) at the National and Kapodistrian University had organized.
The fifteenth in a series of annual conferences takes place between October 13 and 15; as KEPA’s dynamic director, Dr Dimitrios Mavrakis, reminded us at the 2020 meeting, “during the peak of the COVID-19 crisis, the daily global CO2 emissions cut to 2006 levels,” a statistic that revealed the savage brutality with which global despair can achieve results that global political will appears inadequate to attain.
It is a truth that informs the magisterial “Our Common Agenda” report released last year by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres in which he affirms that “addressing risks to our planet needs to be part of every decision, every policy, every investment and every budget” even as he, in the very next sentence, notes that “ the countries that are members of the G-20 provided over $3.3 trillion in direct support for coal, oil , gas and fossil fuel power between 2015 and 2019.”
(A few days after the report was released, the “Guardian” reported that “the fossil fuel industry benefits from subsidies of $11 million every minute, according to an analysis by the International Monetary Fund.”)
Statistical stealth allows the translation of these furtive figures into portrayals of robust economies that are misleading, obscuring the projection cited by Guterres that “shifting to a green economy could yield a direct economic gain of $26 trillion through 2030, compared with business as usual, and create over 65 million new low-carbon jobs.”
Last year, the United Nations Statistical Commission adopted “a new framework that includes the contributions of nature when measuring economic prosperity and human well-being; the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA EA)”, dramatically expanding the instinctive but infirm indicator of gross domestic product (GDP) as the mark of measurement; the new standard “would ensure that natural capital—forests, wetlands and other ecosystems—are recognized in economic reporting. Experts emphasize that while a statistic such as GDP does a good job of showing the value of goods and services exchanged in markets, it does not reflect the dependency of the economy on nature, nor its impacts on nature, such as the deterioration of water quality or the loss of a forest.”
Which brings to mind the “75—UN75 Trees UNAI SDG 7” launched in the UN’s 75th anniversary year by KEPA; at the end of 2020, the initially set target of 1 million trees was dramatically surpassed; official commitments to plant trees reached 11 million. It is measurements such as this that Antonio Guterres proposes to incorporate, bringing “together (United Nations) the Member States, international financial institutions and statistical, science and policy experts to identify a complement or complements to GDP that will measure inclusive and sustainable growth and prosperity,” countering the absurdity that “GDP rises when there is overfishing, cutting of forests or burning of fossil fuels.”
In many ways, the KEPA conference, bringing together as it does governments, investors and bankers, scholars and scientists, anticipates the wisdom of such an endeavour. In a world where environmental responsibility is so ably and adventurously exercised at so many community and personal levels, even as human beings relentlessly prove themselves capable of destroying what they themselves cannot create, we do need an agency that, like the forest, serves to filter and channel those ideas before they reach the streams and rivers of concerted global action. That agency is the United Nations.
In Greece’s first address to the United Nations General Assembly 77 years ago this month, Ambassador Thanassis Aghnides spoke of the Organization as “a magnificent framework; yet it is and will remain incomplete until such time as men of goodwill endow it with the breath of life, with a powerful soul, with a sense of human fellowship, good faith in international relations, and charity worthy of the United Nations.”
In its stewardship of a planet and its people today, and the exercise of charity in its truest sense of kindness to all, including oneself, it can still realize that completion, as we blue the green. [IDN-InDepthNews – 29 September 2022]
Image: KEPA brings scholarship to energy, climate …and trees. UN Photo/Nektarios Markogiannis