3 Policy Shifts the World Bank Says Will Save the World

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- A World Bank report detailed the benefits world economies can reap from some immediate steps in three areas to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The report, titled Climate-Smart Development and released earlier this week, offers three simulated case studies in six major regions around the world that could produce annual benefits including saving an estimated 94,000 lives, creating an estimated gain to total gross domestic product of $1.8 trillion to $2.6 trillion and avoiding 8.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in emissions.

These measures are practical first steps, as they would create only 30% of the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions necessary to keep global temperatures from rising above the critical 2-degree-increase threshold, beyond which tipping points in climate systems and unexpected disasters are more likely to occur.

Significantly, the suggestions of the report carry investment potential in energy efficiency in industry and buildings and for transportation, with plenty of room for entrepreneurialism plus positive implications for existing clean energy stocks like Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) and Tesla (TSLA) and negative implications for coal miners, notably Peabody (BTU).

The report comes as the Supreme Court Monday upheld the power of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon emissions from power plants, provided those plants already require regulation for other pollutants. The decision is both a victory and a setback for the EPA, which had sought to extend its powers under existing law to allow it to, in effect, make its own decisions about what plants should be regulated.

Separately, the EPA also issued new rules calling for a 30% reduction of carbon from power plants over 2005 levels by 2030. That target, however modest, is also likely to face a court challenge.

Carbon dioxide is by far the most important greenhouse gas and lingers in the atmosphere for centuries. However, the World Bank's report also aggressively targets greenhouse gas emissions that are more short-lived in the atmosphere and also pose immediate health risks, particularly black carbon and methane. A reduction in levels of those gases could create both immediate and lasting benefits, the study reasoned.

Case Studies

The report's three case studies focus on specific development projects in six of the world's regions: the U.S., Brazil, China, India, Mexico and the European Union. The first set of changes suggested continuing the world's shift to clean transportation, with a 30% to 45% improvement in fuel efficiency in conventional vehicles and "aggressive penetration of alternative fuel vehicles by 2030." The report sees hybrids representing 60% of new vehicles sold, with all-electric representing 8% to 12%.

That push for greener transportation also included government support in building infrastructure, a further push toward bio-ethanol for heavier vehicles and the development of public transportation, including bus rapid transit, or BRT -- dedicated lanes for public bus traffic. Such bus systems exploit the experience of the World Bank-funded project for dedicated routes in India's Pimpri-Chinchwad district. The project has experienced cost overruns, delays and design problems, but is nonetheless nearing completion.

"The Pimpri-Chinchwad BRT may serve as a model for replication across India," the report said. "It was analyzed in depth in this case study to establish realistic benefits that can be expected under real-world conditions."

India and China would see the largest benefit from these improvements, which in total would save an estimated 20,000 people from premature death from air pollution per year in the six regions, with another 1,300 lives saved outside the regions.

Government policies to reduce emissions from the industrial sector, particularly cement, chemicals and iron and steel sectors, make up the second case study. The report suggested moving away from high-polluting fuels like coal to natural gas and biomass and increasing efficiency in motors, kilns and coke ovens.

In particular, a project of better waste management systems in Brazil could be scaled up and would produce lower methane pollution, with waste being used to generate electricity, and also improve public health. Brought to national scale, the project in Brazil alone would create between 44,000 and 110,000 jobs, prevent the premature death of thousands of people, and increase crop yields by 550,000 to 1 million tons, the report estimated.

The outcomes of this case study globally see 58,000 lives saved per year, mostly in India, with China seeing the largest reduction in emissions. The European Union, along with China, India and the U.S. would also benefit from increased crop yields.

Case study No. 3 outlined the effects of improvements in energy efficiency for buildings, reducing energy consumption worldwide. The study assumes more efficient appliances, electronics and equipment, better insulation and improved heating, cooling and refrigeration systems. The study assumed savings from new construction and existing buildings retrofitted with new technology.

The report used as an example the deployment of clean-burning cooking stoves in rural China. The report estimated a 20% government subsidy from 2015 to 2020 would be enough to establish a self-sustaining market for "fuel-efficient, lower-emitting cookstoves and solar cookers," allowing households to switch from solid-fuel based stoves by 2030. A $400 million subsidy supplemented by $1.2 billion in private sector investment could save over a million lives over 20 years, the report said, merely as a result of reduced outdoor air pollution; indoor pollution benefits aren't estimated but assumed to be greater.

Across all six regions, the reports suggested improvements to buildings would save an estimated 24,000 lives a year from 2030. Households in Mexico can achieve greater energy savings, at lower cost, than in other countries, the report said, thereby lifting the standard of living, consumer spending and the nation's GDP. Mexico also stands to gain the most in jobs relative to its labor force.

Were this report to become policy in these nations, the biggest loser, as in the EPA measures, would be international coal interests like Peabody and utilities with outdated plants. Peabody, the world's largest coal producer, is invested to some degree in clean energy efforts in China, but not enough to outweigh its global investment in mines and coal sales.

The big winners would be natural gas companies exposed to India and China, particularly Russia's state-owned Gazprom, which has a deal for a Russia-China natural gas pipeline, and companies heavily invested in clean technologies, like Berkshire Hathaway, which has $15 billion invested in wind and solar within the U.S. electric grid.

Companies in the list that would benefit from U.S. improvements would include electric carmaker Tesla and the already-heavily subsidized U.S. solar stocks, including Tesla's sister company Solar City (SCTY). Indeed, if Tesla CEO Elon Musk wants to change the world some more, he might create a separate company that builds reliable, efficient mass transportation systems at least as energy efficient as those described by the World Bank. Bus companies would clearly benefit from a sudden ramping up of BRT systems around the world. Chief among them would be European companies Volvo (VOLVY) and Daimler (DDAIF), both of which have thousands of buses deployed around the world and are advertising more fuel-efficient designs.

However, the largest profitable potential from this report is clearly in the camp of the local entrepreneurial enterprise. Those businesses with established operations in a particular region and are willing to dedicate the time and money needed to bring these improvements to market have the most to gain.

Unfortunately, all potential benefit relies on the implementing of clear policies by the world's governments, which the World Bank can encourage but can't guarantee.

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-- Written by Carlton Wilkinson in New York

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