Economist Sir Nicholas Stern, the head of the UK Government's Economic Service, has produced the world’s first big report on the economics of climate change. The 700-page report is not only about economics. It is also about politics and a persuasion of the Bush Administration of the merits of giving serious attention to the issue.
2005 was the warmest year since the late 1800s, according to NASA scientists. 1998, 2002 and 2003 and 2004 followed as the next four warmest years. Credit: NASA
The purpose of the report - commissioned by Tony Blair - is to deal with the argument of people who accept that climate change is happening, but who say that trying to do anything about it would be a waste of money.
Sir Nicholas’s sets out the costs of mitigating climate change against the cost of watching on the sidelines. Sir Nicholas Stern’s review warns that rising temperatures could cut economic growth by as much as one-fifth. But taking action could cost one per cent of global GDP.
The report said that without action, up to 200 million people could become refugees as their homes are hit by drought or flood.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said it was the most important report on the future published by this Government since it came to power in 1997. The prospect of global warming was “frightening”.
“This disaster is not set to happen in some science fiction future many years ahead, but in our lifetime.
“Unless we act now. these consequences, disastrous as they are, will be irreversible.”
Unveiling his report, Sir Nicholas, who is a former World Bank chief economist, said the action needed to avert the worst effects of climate change was “manageable.”
“We can grow and be green,” he said. The global community should aim to stabilise CO2 levels in the atmosphere at around 450-550 parts per million (ppm), he said.
He warned that continuing with business as usual could mean levels rising to as much as 850 ppm, resulting in global temperatures rising by more than 5°C and causing “transformational” changes to human lifestyles.
The last Ice Age was the result of a dip in global temperatures of around 4°C-5°Celsius, he said.
Damage caused by floods, rising sea levels and more violent weather could be the equivalent of losing 5%-20% of total human consumption a year, he warned.
Shafts of ancient ice extracted from Antarctica's frozen depths show that for at least 650,000 years three important heat-trapping greenhouse gases never reached recent atmospheric levels caused by human activities, scientists are reporting today.
In an article in the journal Science titled Tiny Bubbles Tell All, Edward J. Brook says that during the past 200 years, humans have caused a remarkable change in the levels of several atmospheric greenhouse gases. We know this from direct measurements that started in the latter half of the 20th century, but for earlier times we rely on tiny samples of the atmosphere trapped in polar ice. Coring the polar ice sheets provides access to these samples and allows us to place modern changes in the context of long-term natural cycles in greenhouse gases. Until recently, the longest of these ice core records (from the Russian research station Vostok Station in Antarctica) extended back 440,000 years. Now, the window into the past has been extended an additional 210,000 years.
Since 1997, the oldest ice available for analysis was that from the Vostok, Antarctica, ice core, which extends back to 420,000 years ago and covers four complete glacial cycles. A new ice core from the European Program for Ice Coring in Antarctica, (EPICA) Dome C site in Antarctica now extends back to an age of 740,000 years or more. Two reports present data on the composition of the atmosphere between 400,000 and 650,000 years ago, an interval soon after glacial cycles switched from a dominantly 41,000-year period to the dominantly 100,000-year period that occurs today.
The long view.The greenhouse gas (CO2,CH4, and NO2) and deuterium (À D) records for the past 650,000 years from EPICA Dome C and other ice cores,with marine isotope stage correlations (labeled at lower right) for stages 11 to 16 (2, 3). À D, a proxy for air temperature, is the deuterium/hydrogen ratio of the ice, expressed as a per mil deviation from the value of an isotope standard (4). More positive values indicate warmer conditions. Data for the past 200 years from other ice core records (20–22) and direct atmospheric measurements at the South Pole (23, 24) are also included. Source: Science
Tony Blair's comments on Stern report
This is the most important report on the future published by the Government in our time in office.
Some will always make a case for doubt in an issue such as this, partly because its implications are so frightening. But what is not in doubt is that the scientific evidence of global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions is now overwhelming. It is not in doubt that if the science is right, the consequences for our planet are literally disastrous. And this disaster is not set to happen in some science fiction future, many years ahead, but in our lifetime.
What is more, unless we act now, not some time distant but now, these consequences, disastrous as they are, will be irreversible. So there is nothing more serious, more urgent or more demanding of leadership, here of course but most importantly, in the global community.
Britain is more than playing its part. But it is 2% of worldwide emissions. Close down all, all of Britain's emissions and in less than two years just the growth in China's emissions would wipe out the difference. So this issue is the definition of global interdependence. We have to act together. This is an international challenge. Only an international solution will meet it.
It's why we put so much effort in getting agreement on Kyoto. It's why I put it top of our G8 and EU agenda. That is why the G8 + 5 dialogue began last year at Gleneagles is utterly critical. It involves all the leading players responsible for 70% of emissions. It is the key to getting a binding framework of action after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.
This report will be seen as a landmark in the struggle against climate change.
It offers a stark warning but also hope over climate change.
It also gives us the clearest evidence yet that bold and decisive action can still prevent it.
But without radical international measures to reduce carbon emissions within the next 10 to 15 years, there is compelling evidence to suggest we might lose the chance to control temperature rises.
Failure to act will make an increase of between 2 and 5 degrees in average temperatures almost inevitable.
The consequences are stark, for our planet and for the people who live on it, threatening the basic elements of life - access to water, food production, health and our environment.
A rise of between two and three degrees means
- Disappearing glaciers will significantly reduce water supply to over a billion people.
- Rising sea levels could lead to 200 million people being displaced
- Declining crops yields will lead to famine and death particularly in Africa.
- Diseases like Malaria will spread.
- As many as 40% of species could face extinction
And while we will all suffer, poor countries will be hurt most.
But what the Stern Review shows is how the economic benefits of strong early action easily outweighs any costs.
It proves tackling climate change is the pro growth strategy.
Stern shows that if we fail to act, the cost of tackling the disruption to people and economies would cost at least five per cent - and possible as much as 20% - of the world's output. In contrast, the cost of action to halt and reverse climate change would cost just 1%.
Or put another way for every £1 we invest now, we can save at least £5 and possibly much more.
And it shows how this can be done without capping the aspirations of rich or poor countries.
In the UK, we have already exposed the false choice between growth and the environment.
Our economy has grown by 25% since 1997 while cutting our emissions by 7%.
We have increased jobs in cutting edge green industries from 170,000 in 2001 to over 400,000 today.
The review sets out a framework for international action that is both ambitious and realistic - one that creates certainty and a carbon price.
This framework includes:
- A goal to stabilise concentrations of emissions in the atmosphere.
- A range of policy tools, including a global cap and trade scheme, regulation and tax which can be used by countries to help create a carbon price and encourage investment in the low-carbon technologies that we already have.
- Accelerating technological innovation through R and D and demonstration projects and allowing new technologies to come to market.
- Stronger measures to help poor countries adapt
So it offers us hope and the way forward.
But we can't wait the 5 years it took to negotiate Kyoto. We simply don't have the luxury of time.
We need to accelerate the international discussions on a future framework for after 2012.
During the coming year, we must take major steps to agreeing the elements of this future framework. The German G8 in 2007 will be vital. This report will form the essential context for such discussion.
And in Europe we must go further too. We should extend the EU Emissions Trading Scheme beyond 2012 and bring aviation into the heart of it.
We should find ways to join this EU trading scheme up with others around the world including the one I helped launch with Governor Schwarzenegger and his Democrat colleagues in California a few weeks ago.
We must agree new EU energy efficiency standards and launch a new initiative to make all new coal power stations carbon neutral.
And at home we must do more too. Already we are on track to achieve double our Kyoto target, a record no other country in the world can match. But we must go further.
We must implement the energy review to get on trajectory to our 2050 target.
We must develop new measures to encourage individuals to take action.
We are looking at carbon budgets and a climate change bill. I accept we should be bolder at home - it gives us international influence - but let's be honest, it is only international action that will really address the problem on the scale needed.
Gordon will set in more detail the governments response to the Stern review but it is clear we must be bolder at home, in Europe and internationally.
The Stern Review has done a crucial job. And I thank Nick and his team for all their hard work.
It has demolished the last remaining argument for inaction in the face of climate change.
We know it is happening. We know the consequences for the planet.
We now know urgent action will prevent catastrophe and investment in preventing it, will pay us back many times over.
We will not be able to explain ourselves to future generations if we fail.
Download the full report (opens in new window)