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UN report finds world needs incremental $1.9 trillion invested in green technologies to avert “planetary catastrophe”; global per capita cap on primary energy consumption of 70 GJ/yr may be required

Humanity is close to breaching the sustainability of Earth, and needs a technological revolution greater and faster than the industrial revolution to avoid “a major planetary catastrophe,” according to a new United Nations report. The reports estimates that incremental green investment of about 3% of world gross product (WGP) (about $1.9 trillion in 2010) would be required to overcome poverty; increase food production to eradicate hunger without degrading land and water resources; and avert the climate change catastrophe. At least one-half of the required investments would have to be realized in developing countries.

Given the limited time frame for achieving the required technological transformation, the required global level of green investments would need to be reached within the next few years, according to The World Economic and Social Survey 2011: The Great Green Technological Transformation, published by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA).

Major investments will be needed worldwide in the developing and scaling up of clean energy technologies; sustainable farming and forestry techniques; climate-proofing of infrastructure; and in technologies reducing non-biological degradable waste production, according to the report.

It is rapidly expanding energy use, mainly driven by fossil fuels, that explains why humanity is on the verge of breaching planetary sustainability boundaries through global warming, biodiversity loss, and disturbance of the nitrogen-cycle balance and other measures of the sustainability of the earth’s ecosystem. A comprehensive global energy transition is urgently needed in order to avert a major planetary catastrophe

Technological transformation, greater in scale and achievable within a much shorter time frame than the first industrial revolution, is required. The necessary set of new technologies must enable today’s poor to attain decent living standards, while reducing emissions and waste and ending the unrestrained drawdown of the Earth’s non-renewable resources.

Staging a new technological revolution at a faster pace and on a global scale will call for proactive government intervention and greater international cooperation. Sweeping technological change will require sweeping societal transformation, with changed settlement and consumption patterns and better social values.

—The World Economic and Social Survey 2011

The Survey recommends that policies and actions to accelerate technological transformation to meet emissions and energy-use targets be guided by four key goals:

  • Improving energy efficiency in end use without expanding consumption where energy-use levels are already high.

  • Supporting a broad energy technology development portfolio globally while adapting more mature technologies in specific locations.

  • Supporting more extensive experimentation and discovery periods.

  • Using “smart” governance and accountability strategies in energy-related technological development.

The clean energy technological transformation. The global sustainable energy transition needs to be achieved within four decades, according to the repot—a significantly faster rate for energy transitions than in the past. In addition, global carbon dioxide emissions have been increasing.

Global CO2 emissions have increased at an annual rate of more than 3 per cent, considerably faster than in previous decades (van Vuuren and Riahi, 2008). The past decade was the first in two centuries with increasing CO2 emissions intensities, owing to a “coal revival”, in contrast with the rapid conversion to natural gas in the 1990s. In 2010, the global share of coal reached an estimated 29 per cent, which in relative terms was higher than, and in absolute terms about twice as large as, at the time of the first oil crisis, in 1973. In the 2000s, China alone added more coal power capacity each year than the total installed capacity in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (International Energy Agency, 2010b, p. 202).

These trends, which are diametrically opposed to declared greenhouse gas mitigation goals and targets, are by no means limited to emerging economies. Even in Germany, a country with one of the most ambitious Government goals for greenhouse gas mitigation, 10 coal power plants were under construction and another 12 coal power plants were in the pipeline (Bundesnetzagentur, 2009). These fossil-fuel-based capacities will remain operational for decades and make greenhouse gas reduction efforts increasingly difficult.

In contrast with the actual trend of ever more rapid increases in greenhouse gas emissions, global emissions would need to be reduced by 50-80 per cent by 2050 and turn negative in the second half of this century, in order to stabilize CO2 concentrations at about 450 parts per million by volume (ppmv), a target recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and agreed upon at the sixteenth session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, held in Cancun, Mexico, from 29 November to 10 December 2010. Essentially, this would require making the power and transport sector carbon-free worldwide by mid-century, in view of the limitations associated with replacing industrial processes based on fossil fuels.

Today’s CO2 emitting devices and infrastructures alone imply cumulative emissions of about 496 gigatons (Gt) of CO2 from 2010 and 2060, leading to atmospheric concentrations of about 430 ppmv (Davis, Caldeira and Matthews, 2010). In other words, even an immediate global stop to building new fossil-fired capacities would lead close to the envisaged global target of 450 ppmv by mid-century. This puts into perspective the enormous ambition of the global target, given the long-lived capital stock and rapidly rising energy demand.

—The World Economic and Social Survey 2011

At the same time, the report adds, a global sustainable energy policy must take into special consideration the 3 billion poor people who aspire to gaining access to electricity and modern energy services.

Claims that “the technology exists to solve the climate problem” underestimate the scale of efforts required.

The scope of current national and global policies and programs does not “add up” to the scale of actions needed to meet global emission reduction targets, the report finds. Paradoxically, they are also overly ambitious in terms of their expected outcomes and are inconsiderate of certain biophysical, techno-economic and socio-political limits to scaling up known technologies. The report calls for a reality check of current plans so that realistic and well-targeted initiatives can be devised at a far greater scale.

The report finds that there is a need for comprehensive, strategic and systemic approaches that emphasize performance goals, niche markets and technology portfolios, especially those related to end-use. In order to take pressure off the technological innovation imperative, individual limits of 70 gigajoules (GJ) primary energy use per capita and 3 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per capita by 2050 may need to be considered.

The report notes that a 70 GJ per capita limit means that the average European would have to cut his or her present energy consumption by about half and the average resident of the United States of America by about three quarters. Such energy-use and emissions caps would not affect the development-related aspirations of developing countries.

Specific guiding recommendations made by the report include:

By their very nature, energy policy interventions will induce structural economic change. Energy policies also tend to have strong distributive effects, benefiting some industries and household groups more than others. The degree and nature of the required structural change related to a sustainable energy transformation will also vary from country to country. The distributive impacts will also differ accordingly.

  • Learn from but be aware of the inevitable discontinuities of the historical past. Policy-induced scaling up and deployment of new technologies without lengthy formative periods of experimentation and testing could lead to additional risks and might lock in inferior technologies, the report notes. Historically, performance and quality advantages of new energy technologies compared with the lower energy quality (intermittency and low power density) of modern renewable energy technologies, led to their early adoption among price-insensitive consumers.

    Fossil fuel resource constraints together with externality pricing might make renewables more cost-competitive, but competing land use will be a constraint on the large-scale deployment of renewables. Also, overcoming vested interests is essential, in view of the fact that, historically, it is political efforts and public infrastructure investment that have set innovator countries apart from laggards.

  • Manage uncertainties with portfolio diversification, scenario analysis, and a balanced mix of technology-neutral and technology-banded approaches. Picking technological winners ex ante should be avoided, the report says, while developing broad technology portfolios should be promoted. Doing this will provide a hedge against the risks of inherently uncertain outcomes of technological innovation. Failures vastly outnumber successes in both the private and public sectors. Sufficient time and resources need to be committed for experimentation before scaling up, so as to prevent any premature locking in of suboptimal technologies and clusters.

    Technology portfolios should represent the whole energy system and consider all innovation stages, so as to keep options open, but should avoid large-scale transfer of technology risks to the public sector.

  • Pursue policies that promote high-performance innovations in niche markets. Policies designed to create market niches based on superior-quality technologies should be prioritized in order to shield them from full commercial competition during the initial development stages when experience is gained. At present, there are only a few evident niches in which cost-insensitive end-users might be persuaded to pay for environmental public goods.

  • Pursue innovation policy that is stable, credible, aligned and well timed. Stable and consistent expectations about the direction and shape of the innovation system, in contrast with existing practices which are mostly characterized by stop-go policies, are necessary if innovation actors are to commit resources. Innovation policies need to be aligned, which requires coherent support throughout the technology life cycle, but misalignment appears to be the norm in most countries. Most importantly, policies should be avoided that compress the formative phase unduly and support premature scaling up, as does the current approach taken in promoting CCS, for instance.

  • Innovations in end-use technologies are important. Public innovation expenditures for highly energy efficient end-use technologies need to be increased. Support for such technologies in the past has proved both cost-effective and successful, thereby generating high social returns on investment. Much greater emphasis needs to be put globally on improving end-use energy efficiency, complemented by behavioral change and limits imposed on energy, land, water and materials use.

  • A global “Top Runner Program”. A global programme that follows the rationale of Japan’s Top Runner Programme should be considered, the report says. Such a program would promote cooperation among countries, communities and individuals so as to achieve lower primary energy use and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

The report comes out yearly. Last year’s survey called for a major overhaul of the machinery for international finance, aid and trade.




Deniers will prefer to spent/invest the equivalent on oil wars.


At least with an oil war, you might end up with some oil when you're done. But when you spend money on UN fantasies, you end up with a handful of obese kleptocrats and not much else.


Since this depends on cooperation among countries and between political parties, you might want to kiss your grandchildren goodbye -- or pray this report is wrong.


The U.S. spent $1 trillion, lost more than 5000 soldiers with 50,000 wounded and did not end up with Iraq'a oil.


These folks still don't understand. The earth is headed for a mini ice age. One can only deny that which is false.


Eeeek! So much gloom! The UN has unfortunately squandered what little political clout it once had on the collapsed "climate" campaign. Had they followed their own advice, "Think global, act local" they might still be a force reckoned with.

They did not.


The facts about the Iraq war are facts. We did not end up with most of the Iraqi oil, other countries did. I am not saying we should have and I opposed invading Iraq, but the facts are there.

It seems like we spend to keep the oil flowing from the middle east to the world and others benefit. Maybe it is time to build those fuel plants and let the middle east sell their oil to others.


Irak's oil production is still below pre-war days. The net gain is ZERO. It was an extremely bad decision and investment for USA. The oil people were the only one to gain.

If we increase small particles emission enough + changing Sun activities + Earth magnetic field pole reversal all happen in the same century or so, it may offset higher CO2 and we may have another mini ice age. It happened many time in the last 250+ million years.



your willful ignorance is really saddening, and what you call "fact's" are just fantasies, as said by HarveyD, iraq oil production is barely at pre-war levels, 100 000 victims, 1 Trillion $ spend and the weapons of mass destruction are still to be found...


And all that useless fighting for oil could easily make Irak a province/dominium of our good friend Iran within 5 to 10 years. Will we ever miss Sadam if that happens.


"it may offset higher CO2 and we may have another mini ice age. It happened many time in the last 250+ million years."

Harvey, wait a minute... over the last 250+ million years humans have added net ZERO CO2 to the atmosphere. So, what you are saying is the anthropomorphic CO2 makes no difference - exactly what the skeptics say!

CO2 ppm continues to rise and the Antarctic (90% ALL ice on Earth) continues to make more ice. AGW... RIP.


Stop this talking right away. I said last time to recycle the co2 expels from power plants chimney's (coal and natural gas) right at the input after been catalyzed by a green algae transforming, also audi with their e-gas project are recycling their co2 into flammable methane from co2 plus free hydrogen gas methanation. Green car congress is spreading confusion every day, this is their jobs, all the good solutions that give endless energy without pollution have been postponed to the immaterial world and till then they try to eradicate biology counciously, most chatters are doing the same and rock and roll musicians too with their false griefs are just trying to destroy biology. Every trees and animal hearing rock and roll or any other music start to become destructive. This world is biology and you are innadapted to every world including science, arts, engineering, civilisations, money, etc. I call that standing wave where someone have lost everything including the power to master energy.



Take your willful ignorance and stuff it.


Iraq's Crude Oil Production Reaches Highest in 20 Years


Why don't YOU check your "willful ignorance" of the facts.


"The earth is headed for a mini ice age."

Says who? What are your sources? Are they credible?




Aaron Turpen

Yay, the United Nations, the world's leading alarmist PR agency, has issued another "call to action" statement for the press to regurgitate.


Reel$$. Of course, nature can and did provoke major climate changes in the last 5+ billion years. However, it is only recently, (during the last few centuries) that humans have been able to affect climate. We may even be able to offset the next natural mini ice age.


Wow! Between deniers and ignorance it is no wonder there is no consensus here.

Technically all can be achieved. Only $2T, about what the US government gave to the Wall street boys to continue gamboling on the stock market.

LFTRs can solve the energy crisis. See flibe-energy.com
If the world's billionairs and trillionairs were willing to give up 1% of their wealth to the poor and needy, we would all be well off.

Technically easy, politically near impossible. Those holding political power and our future destiny in their hands would rather see their grandchildren die in a world gone to anarchy and ruin than see one cent less in their bank accounts or risk loosing some of their power.


"The earth is headed for a mini ice age." Says who? What are your sources? Are they credible?

The sources said all three lines of research point to the familiar sunspot cycle shutting down for a while. Similar to conditions during the Maunder Minimum and Little Ice Age. According to scientists at the National Solar Observatory (NSO) and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) presented by the Solar Physics Division of the American Astronomical Society June 14, 2011.

Aaron Turpen

Hey, Roy, I can come up with scientific proof that we need to use $2T in special invisible nanoreflectors to divert the moon's bad karma (thanks mostly to the Apollo moon landings, I can prove) towards the earth every third Thursday. If only all of the world's rich people would give me the money to make sure we don't fall prey to this phenomenon!

Give me the money and I'll make it happen! No UN petty, thieving bureaucracy required! In fact, I may be able to do it for only $1.2T if the timing is just right on those bank deposits..


"The sources said all three lines of research point to the familiar sunspot cycle shutting down for a while. Similar to conditions during the Maunder Minimum and Little Ice Age. According to scientists at the National Solar Observatory (NSO) and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) presented by the Solar Physics Division of the American Astronomical Society June 14, 2011."

Those claims were covered, and debunked, in the links I gave;


Scientists at the National Solar Observatory (NSO) and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) are studying the sunspot cycle shutting down but they aren't linking it to anything like a mini-ice age. It's the non-scientists in the media and Press that are doing the linking.


Do try to remember that, more often than not, there will be a difference between what the scientists say and what the media reports the scientists as saying.


And the difference between what scientists predict and what the cosmos actually DOES:

Five years ago, NASA’s David Hathaway predicted that the Sun was about to enter an unusually intense period of sunspot activity. Today, Hathaway, a solar physicist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, believes his earlier prediction was wrong.

Rather than hitting a peak of 160 sunspots, and possibly 185, as he predicted in 2006, he now believes that the Sun’s activity will decline dramatically. The current prediction, to less than half that of 2006, “would make this the smallest sunspot cycle in over 100 years,” he now states.

Ever reminding us it's okay to be wrong (IPCC.)


Hathaway might have listened to Willie Soon.

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