PwC Low Carbon Economy Index - Behind the numbers

For four years, Lit Ping Low, an economist in PwC’s sustainability and climate change team in London, has crunched the numbers with colleagues for the PwC’s Low Carbon Economy Index. She reflects on the latest results and analysis.

When we started the first Low Carbon Economy Index (LCEI) in 2009, it felt like sending a wake-up call to politicians, governments and businesses. We set out to examine the challenge for each major economy in the G20 in the journey towards to a low carbon economy, and argued for the benefits that this will bring.

The theory is that the low carbon revolution would deliver the economic recovery that much of the developed world was facing, and provide the opportunity for developing economies to leapfrog to cleaner, more efficient technologies. In practice, when I revisit the figures with my colleagues every year, we find that neither has happened.

For four years, the world hit repeatedly at the snooze button. But every time you do that, it means a greater hurry when you do eventually act. You might afford the first snooze if you get a little quicker. Perhaps by the second one, the morning routine becomes a frantic rush. By the third, you’ll miss breakfast and go hungry. At some point, you’re late altogether, regardless of how quickly you move.

It seems that we’ve reached that point. Our estimates this year suggest that the global economy will need to reduce its carbon intensity (carbon emission per unit of GDP) at a rate it has never achieved before since records began in mid-20th century. This rate is needed to achieve the atmospheric concentration levels scientist say is required to limit global warming to 2oC. We now need to achieve that not just for one year, but for at least 39 years until 2050.

The reason we compared our numbers to historical achievements was not about shock tactics; the extreme weather events in 2011 and 2012 (more extreme, unpredictable floods and hurricanes and famines in many parts of the world) were apt at demonstrating the effects and costs of failing to act on climate change. By comparing against history, we can ask whether we’ve reached the limits of feasibility.

The optimists amongst us will argue that never having done it does not mean it’s impossible – the technologies are there, we just need to deploy them, fast and at scale. There may still be hope, but the reality is that it’s time to plan for a much warmer world than we’d anticipated four years ago, and work out the implications for individuals, businesses and governments.

Let’s  hope the negotiators flying in to Doha get a good long rest on the plane, because the numbers suggest it’s time to wake up.

Contact details
Email: Lit Ping Low
Tel:  +44 (0) 20 7804 0345