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Climate change can be an ‘opportunity’, says Stiglitz

South Africa has the capacity to put itself at the forefront of emerging countries when it comes to adapting to climate change, but the country will need leadership and buy-in from the business sector.

This is according to professor and renowned economist Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel prize winner for economics and former chief economist for the World Bank, who was speaking at a public lecture on climate change and economic development in Pretoria on Monday.

World renowned economist and winner of the Nobel prize for economics Professor Joseph Stiglitz shared his thoughts on climate change, its effects on the global economy and South Africa in a lecture on Monday January 17 2011. Editor-in-chief of the Mail and Guardian Nic Dawes takes us through some of Stilglitz’s key points.

“It’s not just a question of leadership, it’s a question of business opportunity,” he said.

Stiglitz is one of the key members on a ministerial advisory panel constituted by Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel. His comments could help spark much-needed discussion on the topic of climate change and development as South Africa prepares to host a United Nations climate change conference later this year.

The global summit, to be held in Durban this November, consists of a series of high-level political negotiations at which nations will attempt to thrash out a legally binding climate treaty.

Stiglitz pointed out that in terms of an agreement reached at the last UN climate change conference — held in Copenhagen last year — advanced economies such as the United States would need to cut carbon emissions by 80%. This in turn would lead to a change in the way business is done globally.

Moving to low carbon
As a fast developing country with high carbon emissions, South Africa will soon need to begin making the switch to a low carbon economy. Stiglitz said the government would have an important role to play in this and warned that a lack of clear policy could see the country lagging behind its contemporaries, as the US is now lagging behind China when it comes to green technology.

Stiglitz said that a set of broad macroeconomic policies, with the government making decisions in a way that supports green economics, may be necessary. He said that some of the most successful industries in the US — including the advent of the internet — have been supported by the government. “People sometimes forget that innovations are part of important government policy,” he said.

He said it was important for the country to embrace green sectors and green technology, as it was to eliminate barriers that impede growth in green technology.

Although the world is still suffering from the effects of the global economic crisis, addressing the problems of climate change can be an important part of the recovery, he said, adding: “The two are complementary.”

“Climate change is an opportunity. It isn’t necessarily a burden if looked at the right way … Focusing on the cost [of switching to a low carbon economy] and not other opportunities has contributed to getting us bogged down.”

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Faranaaz Parker
Faranaaz Parker is a reporter for the Mail & Guardian. She writes on everything from pop science to public health, and believes South Africa needs carbon taxes and more raging feminists. When she isn't instagramming pictures of her toddler or obsessively checking her Twitter, she plays third-person shooters on Xbox Live.

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