From the Jakarta Globe

Amid the pressure of the global financial crisis, some ask how we can afford to tackle climate change. The better question is: Can we afford not to?

— Ban Ki-moon, United Nations secretary general

W e are living through an extraordinary moment in the global economy. It’s a time when the bursting bubble of unlimited economic growth and unregulated financial flows have plunged nations across the globe into recession.

At the same time, the very real impact of the accumulation of unlimited CO2 emissions is raising sea levels, melting ice caps, wiping out species and increasing poverty and the scarcity of water and food.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is attending the G-20 summit in London where the global economy and climate change are on the agenda. It is critical to remember that while G-20 leaders may represent 85 percent of the global economy, their action will affect the 172 countries not represented at the meeting, many of which are the most vulnerable to the economic crisis and climate change.

The Stern Review, the most comprehensive review carried out on the economics of climate change, put the likely cost of its impact at up to 20 percent of global output. That means climate change could cost more than the Great Depression and both world wars combined, not to mention the human death toll and the number of species extinctions that would unfold. If the G-20 leaders are thinking about addressing the global economic crisis, generating economic growth and creating stable jobs, they must address the economic risks that the climate crisis creates.

By contrast, the review estimates that tackling climate change and forcing investment on low carbon technologies would be a fraction of this cost, just 1 percent or 2 percent of global GDP. The quickest way to kick-start sustainable economic growth and ensure the security and stability of people and economies across the planet is by tackling the twin crises of global economic recession and climate change head-on.

G-20 leaders have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tackle these twin crises simultaneously, one we cannot afford to miss. As a start, G-20 leaders from the United States, European Union and other high-income members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries need to commit at least 1 percent of their GDP to greening their economies and removing subsidies and other economic incentives that contribute to climate change.

The rest of the G-20, including Indonesia, should also reduce their emissions by leapfrogging dirty carbon-based development and shifting to a sustainable energy future. It is critical that any other stimulus measures adopted do not negate green action and support the actions being sought at the first United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting.

This meeting, which is convening this week in Bonn, Germany, agrees to midterm emission-reduction targets for developed countries. The talks begin a series of negotiations that will culminate in Copenhagen in December, where all countries must reach a strong and effective global deal to curb climate change.

The race to forge a climate-saving deal by the end of the year begins here. We want to see some real climate leadership emerge, something that has so far been conspicuously absent.

Developed countries especially need to end the ridiculous “after you” charade that they’ve been engaged in for the last decade and agree to cut emissions by at least 40 percent by 2020. Yudhoyono should take this opportunity to seize some of the leadership in the developing world by turning last year’s commitment to cut Indonesia’s emissions from deforestation by 50 percent by the end of the year, and by 95 percent in 2025, into concrete, measurable and decisive action.

US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao will also meet for the first time on the sidelines of the G-20 summit. Their meeting is the perfect opportunity for the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters to demonstrate climate leadership for a common cause. A joint US-China commitment to finding climate solutions, including securing the necessary funding and a call to other world leaders to join them, could be the critical step that breaks the stalemate, leading to a legacy of climate protection.

Bustar Maitar