A war footing will be needed to save the world from catastrophic global heating if a low carbon economy is not substantially implemented by 2014, according to a new report from the green campaign group, WWF.

Modelling undertaken by Climate Risk (Europe) Ltd, on behalf of WWF looked at the real world “physical constraints on skilled labour, equipment, production and capital” that could deliver a low carbon transition.

It’s the missing link in the debate that so far has tended to concentrate only on what technologies will be needed and how much they will cost, according to one of the key authors of the report, Climate Risk economist Karl Mallon.

“So far we have heard from scientists who tell us what must be done, and economists who say how much it will cost. Yet no one has stopped to ask industry how long will it take – and contrast that with how much time is actually available,” Dr Mallon said in a media statement releasing the report.

“In certain policy circles climate change is assumed to be an economic problem, yet this approach downplays the real-world physical constraints on skilled labour, equipment, production and capital. These will limit the speed of transition to a low-carbon economy.

“A suite of critical low-carbon industries and activities will be required to achieve emission levels in 2050 of below an average of two tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent per person per year; crucially, these industries and activities will need to grow concurrently at 24 per year until they reach the required scale, the report finds.

“Yet if we wait even as long as 2014 to accelerate these industries’ growth, that growth rate must rise to 30 per cent per year to reach the targeted emissions savings,” said Dr. Mallon.

“Beyond 2014, the required growth rates are simply too high to be plausible, and thus the critical target must be considered beyond reach.”

At this point the world would need to embark on “war-footing” paced interventions to bring rapid transition, a risk option, he said.

Dr Mallon also said the current emphasis on a carbon price was “dangerously misleading.”

But there was good – clean tech will get cheaper as it becomes dominant just as mobile phones did.

“The low-carbon economy will ultimately operate at a lower cost than one based on fossil fuels.”

How much savings? While costs could be up to $17 trillion energy savings by 2050 could exceed $40 trillion, Climate Risk said.

tperinotto@thefifthestate.com.au

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