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The Climate Bonus by Alison Smith

We are pleased to present a new Earthscan from Routledge blog post: written by Alison Smith, author of new book The Climate Bonus.

With a new entry every fortnight, blog posts written by various Earthscan from Routledge authors will be displayed both on the Routledge website and on our Facebook page here. Each post within Facebook will be open to comments so please feel free to join in with the conversation.

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The Climate Bonus

BY ALISON SMITH, author of the new book, The Climate Bonus: Co-benefits of Climate Policy

A few small steps towards a global climate agreement were taken at Doha, but progress is painfully slow. We need to cut emissions much faster, but we are held back by the widespread fear that climate action is a costly burden on society. Yet this need not be the case: well-planned climate action can provide a wide range of valuable co-benefits, from cleaner air to safer and more secure energy. This ‘Climate Bonus’ can provide a much stronger motivation for climate action than the threat of climate change alone.

One of the greatest co-benefits is clean air. Air pollution kills millions of people each year, yet this could be drastically reduced by cutting our use of fossil fuels. Halving global greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 to 2050 could also cut premature deaths from exposure to particle pollution by 42%, avoiding more than 5 million early deaths per year by 2050. This will yield massive financial savings by cutting lost working time and the cost of hospital treatment for conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, heart disease and cancer.

Two-thirds of all attributable deaths – 21 million deaths per year – are due to lack of exercise and unhealthy diets, so low-carbon lifestyles - walking and cycling instead of driving, and cutting over-consumption of meat and dairy produce - could save even more lives than cleaner air. More controversially, a low-consumption ‘buy-less, work-less’ lifestyle can also improve health and well-being by reducing stress levels and giving more time for family, friends and leisure activities.

Using energy and materials more efficiently – for example by installing insulation, recycling materials, reusing goods and avoiding waste - not only cuts carbon emissions but also reduces other forms of environmental damage, such as pollution and landscape damage from extracting and processing fossil fuels and metal ores. At the same time, cutting waste can save money for consumers and make businesses more profitable, as well as reducing the huge amount of waste we throw into unsightly landfill sites. And with oil prices soaring as conventional oil reserves dwindle, forcing reliance on dirtier and riskier sources such as tar sands, deepwater and arctic oil, home-grown renewable energy can help to provide safer, cleaner and more secure energy for the future.

Although opponents of climate policy oftentimes claim it is a job-killer, most studies show that new low-carbon jobs in areas such as renewable energy, energy efficiency and recycling would outweigh those lost in high-carbon industries such as fossil fuel production, mining and metal smelting. And with the increasing scarcity of many vital resources such as rare metals, phosphorous, water and fertile land, a resource-efficient economy will be stronger and more prosperous in the long term.

Climate policy can also help to preserve our vanishing tropical forests, through forest carbon payment schemes where landowners are paid for the carbon stored in trees. This has multiple benefits: as well as safeguarding biodiversity, forests also reduce the risk of floods and landslides; protect local water supplies; supply fuel, fruit and timber to local people (provided that it is harvested sustainably) and provide beautiful places for recreation. Climate-smart agriculture also provides co-benefits: reducing the over-application of fertilisers, for example, not only cuts emissions of nitrous oxide, a powerful greenhouse gas, but also cuts air and water pollution and saves money for farmers.

By carefully designing climate policy to maximise these co-benefits, and to minimize any conflicts (for example by sensitive siting of wind turbines, and enforcing safeguards to ensure that biofuel production is sustainable), we can turn the threat of climate change to our advantage, by using it as a stimulus to move to a cleaner, safer, healthier and more prosperous society.

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  1. The Climate Bonus

    Co-benefits of Climate Policy

    By Alison Smith

    We urgently need to transform to a low carbon society, yet our progress is painfully slow, in part because there is widespread public concern that this will require sacrifice and high costs. But this need not be the case. Many carbon reduction policies provide a range of additional benefits, from...

    Published January 24th 2013 by Routledge