Amidst all the hand-wringing last week over the news China had overtaken the US as the world's biggest emitter of carbon dioxide one fact that went largely unreported was that the change at the top of the polluter's league table was the result of not just a surge in emissions from a rampant Chinese economy, but also a 1.4 percent fall in US emissions for 2006 largely attributed to the country's economic slow down.
The simple truth is that in the short term a downturn in economic activity will always be better for climate change. It stands to reason: there is less economic activity, less demand for products, fewer deals done and as a result a reduction in carbon emissions.
Dan Sutherland, founder of the Green Technology Initiative argues that a recession could also help tackle emissions in the longer term by creating a better environment for green technology spending.
He claims, somewhat counter-intuitively, that the growth currently being experienced by many companies means they are more focused on revenue boosting projects rather than cost saving initiatives, such as green investments in insulation or more energy efficient technologies.
"Energy efficiency projects are the kinds of activity that take place during a recession when people are focused on saving money," he observed. "Green IT would be a much easier sell during a recession as the industry could just focus on how it will save you money and everyone would listen."
So should environmentalists be praying for a recession, with its reduced emissions and greater focus on cost-cutting? The answer is absolutely not.
While a down turn, as experienced in the US, can lead to a short term reduction in carbon emissions and may prompt an increased focus on energy efficiency it would also lead to a reduction in overall investment and in particular research and development.
As a result the economy's reliance on fossil fuels would remain unchanged meaning that as soon as a recovery emerged carbon emissions would soar again, despite any interim investments in greater energy efficiency.
Speaking earlier this year, Doug Richards of investment research firm Library House, argued that the best chance of developing a low carbon economy came with a pro-longed period of economic growth capable of driving heavy investment in R&D and new green products.
Whether enjoying a period of economic feast or famine, the challenge for the green business movement is driving adoption of these new environmentally-friendly products when organisations face a myriad of other, often more pressing, concerns.
Sadly there remains no viable alternative to achieving this adoption beyond the current technique of making such a compelling business case for green initiatives that they are able to compete with the revenue-generating projects that often appear more compelling to business leaders in the short term.
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