By David L. Brown
A new report commissioned by the British government, the Stern Report, has added to the growing mountain of evidence that not only have humans created a looming threat of climate change, but that the costs will likely be immense. The report also points out that it is almost certainly too late to avoid at least some effects.
The report’s author, Sir Nicholas Stern, claims that “our actions over the coming few decades could create risks of major disruption to economic and social activity, later in this century and in the next, on a scale similar to those associated with the great wars and the economic depression of the first half of the 20th Century”.
Sir Nicholas is a distinguished development economist and former chief economist at the World Bank. Although his report gives prescriptions for how to minimise this economic and social disruption, he warns that we are too late to prevent any deleterious consequences from climate change.
According to an analysis on the BBC.com website (here), his central argument “is that spending large sums of money now on measures to reduce carbon emissions will bring dividends on a colossal scale. It would be wholly irrational, therefore, not to spend this money.”
The BBC analysis by Robert Peston, BBC News business editor, continues:
The prospects are worst for Africa and developing countries, so the richer nations must provide them with financial and technological help to prepare and adapt.
[Sir Nicholas] believes it is practical to aim for a stabilisation of greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere of 500 to 550 parts per million of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2050 – which is double pre-industrial levels and compares with 430ppm today. But even stabilising at that level will probably mean significant climate change.
As well as decarbonising the power sector by 60%-70%, there will also have to be an end to deforestation – emissions from deforestation are estimated at more than 18% of global emissions, more than transport. And there will have to be deep cuts in emissions from transport.
The costs of these changes should be around 1% of global GDP by 2050 – in other words the world would be 1% poorer than we would otherwise have been, which would be significant but far from prohibitive.
To be clear, this does not mean we would be 1% poorer than we are today, but that global growth will be slower.
The way to look at this 1% is as an investment. Because the costs of not taking this action are mind-bogglingly large.
Responding to the report, which was commissioned by Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, the likely next prime minister, Brown has announced that Al Gore has been named as an advisor to the British government on matters relating to climate change. Long an advocate for the environment, former vice president and presidential candidate Gore is known for his role in the recent motion picture “An Inconvenient Truth” (read my review of the movie, “Al Gore Film on Global Warming Is a Must-See,” posted June 23, 2006.)