Climate Policies Could Boost Economic Growth by 5%, OECD Says

While economists add up the value of lowering emissions and boosting resilience to climate change, Donald Trump is taking the U.S. in the opposite direction.

Climate policies help create long-term jobs for the future, the OECD says.
Climate policies help create sustainable jobs with a long-term future and spur technology innovation, the OECD says. Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

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The world’s major economies could boost their long-term economic growth by 2.8 percent with policies that lower greenhouse gas emissions and boost resilience to climate change impacts, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said in a new analysis. That rises to nearly 5 percent mid-century when the economic benefits of avoiding future impacts of climate change are factored in.

“Far from being a dampener on growth, integrating climate action into growth policies can have a positive economic impact,” Angel Gurría, secretary-general of OECD, said Tuesday at an international meeting on climate hosted by the German government in Berlin. The new figures bolstered a theme that has been sounded repeatedly by the OECD, the research and policy organization that represents developed nations.  

“There is no economic excuse for not acting on climate change, and the urgency to act is high,” Gurría said.

OECD economists estimate that the major economies in the G20 could add 1 percent to average economic output by 2021 and lift their 2050 output by up to 2.8 percent through economic policies that are shaped to address climate changeA planned transition of workers to sustainable jobs with a long-term future, the lowering of public debt with carbon tax revenue, and the deployment of new technology including in clean energy would have the combined impact of spurring economic growth, they said.  

When the economic benefits of avoiding climate change impacts such as coastal flooding and storm damage are factored in, the net increase to 2050 GDP would be nearly 5 percent, the OECD said.

The report comes as President Donald Trump‘s administration is vowing to catalyze growth in the United States with an opposite strategy—by loosening restrictions on fossil fuel production, and turning away from climate policy.

Trump has ordered agencies to identify and target for elimination rules that curb energy production and has directed the Environmental Protection Agency to begin repealing the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which was designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from electricity. Trump is also seeking to open federal lands and offshore areas to new oil and gas drilling. His budget proposal would slash funding and staffing for the EPA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other agencies that work on climate change.  

In its report, the OECD emphasizes that policy and spending decision governments make now have long-term implications for both climate change and their economies. For example, to meet development needs globally, some $6.3 trillion in investment is needed annually from now through 2030, the report said. Roughly a 10 percent increase in that spending, to $6.9 trillion,  would ensure that infrastructure is “climate compatible,” including low-carbon transport systems, smart grid technology, and energy efficiency overhauls to buildings, the OECD said. But current investment in roads, bridges, power plants and other infrastructure is not being planned in a way that will drive down greenhouse gas emissions as needed, the report warned.

“The window for making the right choices is uncomfortably narrow,” the economists said. “The lifespans of much infrastructure and related physical investment means that future GHG emissions are going to be locked in by investment choices in the next decade.”

They advised that governments should take advantage of current economic conditions—including low interest rates—to change course now. The low cost of borrowing “afford(s) many governments the opportunity to invest in the right infrastructure now, to reignite growth while also paving the way to achieving the Paris Agreement goals,” the OECD said.

Trump has pledged a $1 trillion U.S. infrastructure program, including $200 billion in direct federal spending over 10 years that was included in the budget proposal the White House unveiled on Tuesday. The administration has provided no details on how the money would be spent, and whether those projects are built with a changing climate in mind remains to be seen.

The OECD said that failure to integrate measures to tackle climate change into nations’ economic policies will lead to the stranding of assets, such as coal power plants, which have such high carbon emissions, they would not be viable—either environmentally or economically—in a carbon-constrained world. More job losses would result as such assets become obsolete.  

Waiting until 2025 to take action will translate to an average economic output loss of 2 percent after 10 years for the major economies that are part of the G20, the OECD economists calculated.