tuesday, 29 april of 2014

Is Low-Carbon Economy the utopia of our time?

Ana Carolina Ferreira de Melo Brito

Is Low-Carbon Economy the utopia of our time?

Ana Carolina Ferreira de Melo Brito

For the last hundred years, we have been discussing and getting more and more information about the climate change. We have seen the scientists drawing the scenario describing climate models, the main sources of greenhouse gases, warning about our common future1.

We have learnt that burning fossil fuels leads us to the warmth that may alter the conditions of biodiversity and human living in the Earth. We have seen countries with their sovereignty adhering to a protocol which establishes common but different liabilities, which imposed thresholds of emissions for developed countries and presented mechanisms to compensate developing ones. On the other hand, unfortunately, we also testimony this protocol coming up to an end without any actual measure or agreement to take its place so far.

It is important to highlight the incredible development of our human species, which allows some part of well fortunate to benefit from unthinkable level of comfort- if we borrow just for a while the less fortunate point of view- such as electricity, cars, internet, air conditioned and heated places, for instance. This way of living is represented by increasing demand for energy in one side; and in another, the awareness about what is happening at this moment in another part of the world, triggering new questions and challenges.2

Stern stated that “The two great challenges of the 21st century are the battle against poverty and the management of climate change. On both we must act strongly now and expect to continue that action over the coming decades. Our response to climate change and poverty reduction will define our generation. If we fail on either one of them, we will fail on the other. The current crisis in the financial markets and the economic downturn is new and immediate, although some years in the making. All three challenges require urgent and decisive action, and all three can be overcome together through determined and concerted efforts across the world. But whilst recognising that we must respond, and respond strongly, to all three challenges, we should also recognise the opportunities: a well-constructed response to one can provide great direct advantages and opportunities for the other.”3

One small part of the scientists decided to deny the evidences about the climate change. The majority of researchers and their most recent conclusions are pointing out that urgent measures are required. Still we can find more frequently the evidences of the climate change in our everyday lives, in the newspapers, in the so called environmental disasters. Nevertheless, we are still defying the predictions and already exceed the limit of 400 p.p.m of dioxide carbon. While more people sense the urgency in this issue, the questions and the sense of powerlessness are raised.

In this context, the low carbon economy is claimed as the solution for this relevant issue. The essential question, which may clarify the depth of the changes needed to acquire this status quo, is what does a low carbon economy mean?

A low-carbon economy (LCE), low-fossil-fuel economy (LFFE), or decarbonised economy4 can be defined as an economy that has a minimal output of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions into the environment biosphere, but specifically refers to the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

Several countries, enterprises, academia and cities are aiming a low-carbon economy.5 6 7 As an example, Costa Rica sources most of its energy needs from renewables, and is undertaking reforestation projects. In 2007, the Costa Rican government announced the commitment for Costa Rica to become the first carbon neutral country by 20218 9 10.

The Climate Institute/GE Low-Carbon Competitiveness Index is a snapshot of each country's current level of readiness for a low-carbon world. A total of nineteen variables (assigned to one of three categories) were chosen to represent different, although clearly interconnected, elements which will determine low-carbon competitiveness: the structure of the economy or 'sectoral composition', early preparation and future prosperity.11 In accordance with the mentioned Index and its overall score, France is the most prepared country for a low-carbon economy, followed by Japan and China.

A precipitated reader could conclude that the nuclear energy may be the solution for reaching a low carbon-economy (eg France); or that the renewable sources of energy would solve itself this problem of climate change.

What must be taken into account is that any mitigation strategy has its limitations, and even if we change the energy matrix of the world to its optimal limits, the renewables would not be enough to successfully supply the current demand for energy. On the other hand, the costs for maladaptation can be higher than that originated in the actual problem. At last, “no matter how successful we are with mitigation, we are now committed over the next few decades to some degree of climate change due to the levels of GHGs already in the atmosphere and those which will be emitted in the coming years. That means all countries will have to adapt.”12

Given that, without dismissing the legitimate efforts for diminishing the fossil fuel dependency, the low-carbon economy, at least as it is usually described, cannot be the world’s only answer to this global issue. Quoting Stern, “We know what actions we need to take to cut emissions. They fall broadly into three categories: energy efficiency, low-carbon technologies, and a halt to deforestation. We also know what policies are necessary to drive these actions: tax, carbon trading and regulation; increased technology support; and measures that halt deforestation.”13

Nevertheless, could it be easier if we knew how to decrease the burning of fossil fuels, without diminishing the GDP and attending the increasing demand for energy in the world? If, despite being aware of the limitations of the strategy, we say yes to the last question, we are forced to reach the point that there is much more to change than simply use until its current limits the renewable sources of energy.

There must be research and development of new technologies. New concepts of richness and development may be adopted on the side of the ubiquitous GDP. A global agreement and policies that shares the responsibility and aims the most important goal must be settled. While we fail to succeed in finding the final response, we have no choice but to keep relying on what the science have acknowledged, not giving up to find out new answers. Without this awareness and hope, the low-carbon economy may become just the utopia of our time with sad consequences.


1 Retrieved from:


2 “These aren't someone else's problems. We have a moral duty to help prevent this suffering, and we all share responsibility for the planet we leave behind. And in a global economy, resource scarcity affects everyone: food costs more; heating bills rise; far-flung conflicts drive extremism on our streets. In just 40 years the earth's population could increase by a staggering two billion. What will happen if there isn't enough food, water or energy for all those people? There'll be greater poverty, worse disease, more war – and we will all bear the cost.” Clegg, Nick. (The Guardian, June, 19th, 2012).

Retrivied from:



3 “Low-carbon growth: the only sustainable way to overcome world poverty”. Stern, Nicolas. (Internet, July, 2009). Retrieved from: https://blogs.worldbank.org/climatechange/low-carbon-growth-only-sustainable-way-overcome-world-poverty

4 Retrieved from: https://www.greenpeace.org/india/en/news/Decarbonised-Economy1/

5 “ClimateWorks launched its major research project: Tracking Progress Towards a Low Carbon Economy at Federation Square in Melbourne on 31 July 2013. The research shows Australia has made significant progress towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions and building a low carbon economy.

Tracking Progress is the first whole-of-economy report on Australia’s progress in reducing emissions. It covers key sectors – Power, Industry, Buildings, Land-use and Waste, as well as a Special Report on factors affecting energy efficiency activity for 47 large industrial companies that account for 70 per cent of Australia’s industrial energy use.

A series of reports providing key findings of the research have been released. The full reports - and their corresponding summary reports - are available for download (…)”. In:Climateworks Australia. (Internet, July, 2013). Retrieved from: https://www.climateworksaustralia.org/project/current/tracking-progress-towards-low-carbon-economy

6 “The Transition Pathways to a Low Carbon Economy consortium was established in 2008 and is sponsored by E.ON UK and EPSRC. The consortium is managed by Prof Geoff Hammond at the University of Bath and Prof Peter Pearson at Cardiff University (Co-Principal Investigators), and includes research teams at the universities of Bath, Cardiff, East Anglia, Leeds, Loughborough, Strathclyde, Surrey, Imperial College London and University College London.

The overall research aim of the project is to select, develop and analyse a set of potential transition pathways for the UK energy system to a low carbon future, and undertake integrated assessments of the technical and economic feasibility, and social and environmental potential and acceptability of these pathways.” Retrieved from:https://www.lowcarbonpathways.org.uk/

7 “ A Low Carbon Economy for Scotland.” (Internet, 2008). Retrieved from: https://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/331364/0107855.pdf

8 Retrieved from: https://www.nacion.com/ln_ee/2007/febrero/21/aldea1002694.html

9 Retrieved from: https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=19141333

10 Retrieved from: https://www.worldwatch.org/node/4958

11 Retrieved from: https://www.climateinstitute.org.au/external/ext_001/canvas.html

12 “ Low-carbon growth: the only sustainable way to overcome world poverty.” Stern, Nicolas. (Internet, 2009). Retrieved from: https://blogs.worldbank.org/climatechange/low-carbon-growth-only-sustainable-way-overcome-world-poverty

13 Idem.


* Ana Carolina Ferreira de Melo Brito is a partner at Trigueiro Fontes Advogados.

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