Healthy Solutions for the Low Carbon Economy: Overview and Key Points

August 31, 2012, 9:06 am
Content Cover Image


Reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80% (or more) below 1990 levels with the aim of stabilizing the climate will require rapidly scaling up a comprehensive set of measures, primed with a coordinated mix of financial and policy instruments.

This report examines the suite of energy choices available -- the “stabilization wedges” -- through the health and environmental lens. It is intended to complement assessments of their technological and economic feasibilities. The methodologies advanced are: 1. Assessing the net energy balance; and 2. Conducting a life cycle analysis of the potential health, ecological and economic consequences of proposed technologies and practices. Exploring the potential consequences of new technologies can help separate safe solutions to scale up today, from those warranting further research before widespread adoption.

To Scale up Now
  • Smart, Cleanly Powered Grids
  • Healthy Cities Programs
  • Measures to Minimize Liquid Fuels:
    • Enhanced public transport
    • Walking and biking
    • Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles
    • Smart urban growth
 For Further Study
  • Oil Sands and Shale Oil
  • Biofuels
  • Coal with CO2 Capture and Storage
  • Geoengineering
  • Nuclear Fission
  • Nanoscience
  • Current, Wave and Tidal Energy

This report draws on precautionary tales passed down by the insurance sector; namely the “long tails” of decades of health, liability and insurance costs from asbestos, tobacco, lead and industrial toxins. The potential risks of mercury released during accidents and disposal of compact fluorescent light bulbs (vs. light-emitting diodes) is a current demonstration of the potential economic ramifications of inadequately assessing health and safety concerns.

This report describes the potential side effects of using oil sands, shale oil and biomass to produce liquid fuels for transport; coal combustion with CO2 capture and storage; and nuclear fission. It also provides a positive vision of intelligent grids, green buildings, smart growth and hybrids of clean power generation technologies in mobile and stationary systems.

While broad in scope, these guidelines are not exhaustive, given the accelerating pace of innovation and the need to control emissions of all greenhouse gases.

The report pinpoints key private sector financial instruments and addresses the financial architecture needed to enable large-scale shifts in private investments. It highlights the need for a substantial global fund for adaptation and mitigation.

We hope these guidelines help investors, insurers and policymakers make well-informed decisions regarding our future energy system. Weaning society from fossil fuels is the highest priority, given their manifold health, ecological and social costs. We believe that comprehensive, bold, yet careful, planning can support a path that optimizes adaptation and mitigation, maximizes co-benefits and minimizes the unintended consequences for health and the global environment.

Key Points

The Precautionary Principle

Every action has consequences. Adopting the precautionary principle means avoiding (or minimizing) risky practices, particularly when the consequences could be great.

Pilot Programs for Proposed Technologies to Include

  • EIO: Energy In and Out balance = net energy, water use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions
  • LCA+: Life Cycle Analysis plus exploration of alternatives

Criteria for Energy Options

  • Meet multiple goals
  • Enhance adaptation and mitigation
  • Maximize health, environmental and economic co-benefits
  • Minimize unintended consequences


  • Solar, wind and ground source heat pumps for distributed generation
  • Solar, wind, Renewable_energy#Geothermalgeothermnal and hydropower for utility grid base-loads
  • Combined heat and power (‘co-gen’) at all scales
  • Natural gas for back-up distributed power, and regional and central generation
  • Stand-alone solar and wind systems where grids are inadequate
  • Solar thermal desalination

Ecological Design

  • Hybrids -- diverse means of power generation -- for mobile and stationary systems
    • Provide insurance and resilience
    • Build in strength and flexibility
    • Minimize the potential unintended consequences of over-using any one technology
  • Complementary systems -- with distributed, regional and central generation -- provide resilience
  • Mimicking photosynthesis for photovoltaics, linked with fuel cells, is a central challenge for the clean energy transformation 

Smart Grids - Diverse, Robust, Utility Systems

  • Digital, direct current transmission to enable sensors
  • Sensors and systems to optimize efficiency, manage peak loads and critical functions, and enable clean distributed generation
  • Efficient appliances
  • Modernized storage capability for intermittent sources

Financial and Policy Instruments

Private sector

  • Shift assets under management
  • Alter lending guidelines
  • Amortize and lease measures with high upfront costs
  • Reduce insurance premiums for builders of green buildings and hybrid vehicle owners
  • Revise insurance policies for Directors and Officers

Public sector

  • “Decouple” utility revenues from energy use to incentivize efficiency measures
  • Dismantle bureaucratic obstacles to innovation
  • Provide tax incentives and “feebates” for consumers and producers
  • Switch subsidies from fossil fuels to renewables
  • Switch farm subsidies from corn to wind

International Financial Architecture

  • Realign rewards and regulations to support the Clean Energy Transformation
  • Establish a substantial Global Fund for Adaptation and Mitigation
  • Build the institutional foundation: e.g., via the Global Environment Facility/United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
  • Restructure operating rules of trade and debt to drive sustainable development


  • I. 2009-2010: Comprehensive planning
  • II. 2011-2020: Large susidies for infrastructure
  • III. 2021-2050: Ramp up implementation
  • IV. 2051-2100: Complete clean energy transformation

This is a chapter from Healthy Solutions for the Low Carbon Economy: Guidelines for Investors, Insurers and Policy Makers (e-book).
Previous: '  |  Table of Contents  |  Next: Introduction



Environment, C. (2012). Healthy Solutions for the Low Carbon Economy: Overview and Key Points. Retrieved from


To add a comment, please Log In.