Climate change: the zero emissions goal


climate change COP19


“To eliminate emissions from fossil fuels in the second half of the century.” The goal set out by the OECD at the LSE in October is an ambitious but necessary one. This objective has set the tone of OECD’s contribution to the 19th UN Climate Change Conference (COP 19), held in Warsaw, Poland, from 11 to 22 November.


Since the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, most governments have made real efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but these have merely helped to slow down their increase. So eliminating emissions is a whole other story. Why such an ambitious goal and how to achieve it?


The answer to the first question is that CO2 is a gas with a long life. Over 60% of CO2 emitted today will still be in the atmosphere 20 years from now and 45% 100 years from now. Hence, mitigating climate change requires much more radical measures than have been taken so far. To address the second question, key OECD recommendations to governments include:


  • Putting a clear price on carbon: Where carbon prices have been imposed, exemptions and carve-outs combined with very low prices have greatly reduced their impact. For instance, coal, the most polluting of all fuels, is still taxed less than most other fuels.
  • Reforming fossil fuels subsidies, which encourage emissions. Subsidies to fossil fuel consumers in developing and emerging economies totalled USD 523 billion in 2011. Such support is also very frequent in OECD countries and is often opaque, so it must be better identified.   
  • Ensuring coherence in energy policies: Countries often send contradictory signals to investors, producers and consumers, for instance by encouraging renewable energies while at the same time subsidising fossil fuels.
  • Managing the transition to zero net emissions through long-term investment and transformational technological change. This includes ICT enabling consumers to manage their own demand and choose their energy sources.

These recommendations, combined with a wide array of OECD case-studies and analysis,  pave the way for an ambitious COP 19.


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  • The Climate change eXplorer tool - This data visualisation tool presents over 40 different climate-related data sets for over 100 developed and developing countries, using animated plots for the period 1990-2010.
  • DAC RIO markers on climate-related aid show that total bilateral climate change-related aid by DAC members increased at a steady pace over the past six years, and reached USD 21.2 billion per year in 2010-11, representing 16% of total official development assistance.


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