UN Yearbook Uncovers Emerging Green Economy

The latest United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) Year Book offers a glimpse of an emerging Green Economy as growing numbers of companies embrace environmental policies and investors pump hundreds of billions of dollars into cleaner and renewable energies.

Climate change, as documented in the Year Book, is increasingly changing the global environment from the melting of permafrost and glaciers to extreme weather events.

But it is also beginning to change the mind-sets, policies, and actions of corporate heads, financiers, and entrepreneurs as well as leaders of organized labor, governments, and the United Nations itself.

Increasingly, combating climate change is being perceived as an opportunity rather than a burden and a path to a new kind of prosperity as opposed to a brake on profits and employment, the new report shows.

The UNEP Year Book 2008 says the emerging green economy is driving invention, innovation, and the imagination of engineers on a scale perhaps not witnessed since the industrial revolution of more than two centuries ago.

It includes the growing interest in novel "geo-engineering" projects such as giant carbon dioxide collectors that absorb greenhouse gases from the air rather like trees do during photosynthesis.

"Based on technology used in fish tank filters and developed by scientists from Colombia University's Earth Institute, this method called 'air capture' can collect the CO2 at the location of the ideal geological deposits for storage," says the report.

Meanwhile scientists in Iceland and elsewhere are looking at injecting CO2 into that country's abundant basalt rocks, where it is claimed the pollutant reacts to form inert limestone.

Similar "sequestration rocks" exist in geological formations across much of the world and may provide a safe and long term disposal option for the main greenhouse gas emissions.

Elsewhere, scientists are helping to unravel both the uncertainties and the opportunities posed by the enormous quantities of methane trapped in the sea bed and in arctic permafrost.

As a greenhouse gas methane is 25 times more potent than CO2 so the possibility of dramatic increases in methane emissions from these deposits is a global warming wildcard -- a growing source of concern. At the same time, methane hydrates are a potentially large stockpile of clean-burning fuel, if ways can be found of mining them safely and economically.

Despite a great deal of activity and action, formidable challenges remain if all these fledgling transformations are to be sustained and embedded in the global economy over the coming years and decades.

Barriers include subsidies that favor fossil fuels over cleaner energies; tariff and trade regimes that make cleaner technologies more expensive, and the risk-averse lending patterns of banks and other financial institutions when it comes to solar and wind power loans for poorer communities, the new report says.

Achim Steiner, UN under-secretary general and UNEP executive director, said, "Hundreds of billions of dollars are now flowing into renewable and clean energy technologies and trillions more dollars are waiting in the wings looking to governments for a new and decisive climate regime post 2012 alongside the creative market mechanisms necessary to achieve this.

"Formidable hurdles remain as to whether these funds will ultimately seek out new, climate-friendly investments for the future or whether they will seek the lowest common denominator by flowing into the polluting technologies of the past," he said.

"However, I am optimistic that we can shift gears to a Green Economy. If humans can go to the moon; submarines sent under the Arctic; liver and heart transplants perfected; the mysteries of the human genome deciphered and tiny nano-machines designed then managing a transition to a low carbon society must be within humanity's grasp and intellect," he added.

The UNEP Year Book 2008 can be found at www.unep.org.

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