Tuesday, October 31, 2006



Climate change: a Stern warning

For the past year, Sir Nicholas Stern, Head of the UK's Government Economic Service and former World Bank Chief Economist, has been conducting a comprehensive review on the economics of climate change. Today, he released his report - and its a stern warning indeed. Climate change has the potential to cause immense damage, with even 2 degrees of warming expected to cause the extinction of 15 - 40 percent of all species as habitats shift and vanish. Three degrees will cause the dislocation of millions of people due to sea-level rise, while four degrees would seriously reduce global food production. And of course most of these impacts will fall on the poor - so there's definitely a moral imperative for action.

For a long time, action on climate change was limited by worries about the economic cost. Stern - who is about as credible as you can get on this front - blows those worries out of the water. Dealing with climate change will cost us 1% of GDP a year - steep, but manageable. Not dealing with it is expected to cost 5% of GDP a year, and possibly as much as 20% if the worst-case scenarios come true. That makes action a no-brainer (though I'm sure that those with no brains and large wallets will continue to oppose it).

Fortunately, we still have time - but not much. The window is 10 to 20 years to get a solution in place and set emissions towards a downward path, or we will commit ourselves to paying the price of inaction. This means that we need to push ahead quickly on negotiating a successor to Kyoto, with stronger emissions reduction targets and some way of eventually bringing in major developing countries (note "eventually". The rich countries created this problem, so we have a moral obligation to bear most of the burden of solving it). Hopefully the Stern report will help make that task easier.

The report was welcomed by the Confederation of British Industry, who called for swift action to build a global carbon market. Meanwhile, in "clean and green" New Zealand, business leaders aren't so sure about this whole Green thing, while on National Radio this morning the Business Round Table and Federated Farmers were doing their best to pooh-pooh the entire idea of climate change (let alone dealing with it). Clearly, if we want to act, we are going to have to go over these people rather than working with them. Fortunately, it looks like there is now the public support to do that.

11 comments:

Clearly, if we want to act, we are going to have to go over these people rather than working with them. Fortunately, it looks like there is now the public support to do that.

Indeed - for democracy is the counting of heads, regardless of content :-P

On the positive side, it'll be pleasant to see the look on the faces of those voting for these measures, when the current Global Warming hysteria is relegated to the same scrapheap upon which Global Cooling is now rightfully languishing.

Posted by Duncan Bayne : 10/31/2006 02:47:00 PM

The global cooling hypothesis of the 1970s never had any traction in the scientific community. It was postulated and then science moved on, as we all hope it does.

For more background on how it was reported in the media go to:

http://www.wmconnolley.org.uk/sci/iceage/

In contrast the hypothesis that anthropogenic emissions are impacting on global climate has a somewhat longer and more substantive record in the scientific literature.

Posted by Anonymous : 10/31/2006 03:41:00 PM

Somewhat longer and more substantive, yes - but it's far from proved.

Nonetheless, in an effort to assuage their guilt, Western politicians will sacrifice their citizens' growth and prosperity - and likewise, guilty Western voters will support them every step of the way.

Environmentalism is the new Catholicism, with anthropogenic global warming serving as a more believable 'original sin.'

Posted by Duncan Bayne : 10/31/2006 04:02:00 PM

"Western politicians will sacrifice their citizens' growth and prosperity"

Yes, of course they will, that's always how they get elected, with an unscrupulous, populist rejection of prosperity ...

Posted by Anonymous : 10/31/2006 04:38:00 PM

Duncan, I really hope you are right, but looking at the evidence unfortunately you are not.

And the price of inaction....

Posted by james cairney : 10/31/2006 08:56:00 PM

Western countries are already extremely wealthy compared with much of the third world. Some of us may feel that we have as much prosperity as we need right now and further growth in that direction is unneccessary.

Except of course for those among us motivated by personal greed and selfishness for whom enough will never be enough regardless of the cost to the planet.

Posted by Gary Young : 10/31/2006 09:56:00 PM

> The window is 10 to 20 years to get a solution in place and set emissions towards a downward path

er... did he really say that? I would think we have no window at all. the choice is between being knee deep in crap and being waist deep in it.

>note "eventually". The rich countries created this problem, so we have a moral obligation to bear most of the burden of solving it.

I think you (as with most who debate this) are letting your socialist leanings cloud your judgement.

1) Your suggestion creates a system with a massive leak in it and capitalism is excellent at taking advantage of those sorts of leaks.

2) it discourages countries like USA from joining (and encourages countries like China to exit in the long run) because it disadvantages them in the "world domination" game. You don't want to get environmentalism all confused with nationalism, people will loose sight of the prize.

3) Worse of all, it encourages bad habits in some of those countries that matter most. This will destroy your treaty when you suddenly ask a developing country to totally change their ways (their word will be worth nothing in the face of internal political tensions). Besides resulting in your 'Kyoto protocols' achieving no reductions at all.

You are willing to accept a result where we are a foot deeper in the crap just because it it seems fairer. Well the whole damn thing isn't fair.

the ideal system from a pragmatic point of view would maintain more or less an equilibrium in competitiveness possibly with a little bribe to china and india or even the USA to keep them interested - that way no one really looses because there is negligable relitive redistribution.

Posted by Genius : 10/31/2006 11:19:00 PM

Dear Duncan

I went to the site you suggested and did not find one (not one) peer reviewed paper on some aspect of climate science. I did find a lot of hand waving media releases.

When Augie comes out of retirement and actually does some science I might pay some attention to him.

Posted by Anonymous : 11/01/2006 08:37:00 AM

Can I take it that Duncan's stand is that because it is not proven that human activity is contributing to the global warming, the appropriate response is to do nothing until it is proven?

Does he even accept that there is overall, average, global warming occurring?

Posted by bw1 : 11/01/2006 10:32:00 AM

But - Duncan - anthropogenic climate change is proven. We know for certain that greenhouse gasses are increasing in the atmosphere. We (thanks to carbon isotope measures) know for certain that human activities are causing this. We know for certain that (cetrus paribas) more GHGs will lead to a higher temperatures globally. We also know for certain that our planet is getting warmer - in line with what we would expect given increasing GHG concentrations.

There is a tiny chance that some climate feedback or countervailing forcing (that all the world's climate scientists are currently unaware of) may lead to future temperature increases being less than predicted (hence my cetrus paribas above). I suppose this is what you refer to when you say "far from proved". However, given that anthropogenic climate change is agreed upon as fact by 99.9% of all reputable climate scientists and, given that the 'theory' has withstood 20 years of scrutiny from the best sceptics money could buy, I'd say it's a sure thing. I certainly wouldn't bet my house (or in this case planet) on it not taking place.

By the way, Duncan, one of the "experts" over at NZ climate science is a some sort of Farmers’ Almanac style weirdo who predicts the weather from astrology or some other suitably credible technique. Is this the best you can come up with?

Here’s a good example of Ken Ring lunacy: http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2006/06/ringworld.php

Posted by terence : 11/01/2006 02:44:00 PM

"There is a tiny chance that some climate feedback or countervailing forcing (that all the world's climate scientists are currently unaware of) may lead to future temperature increases being less than predicted (hence my cetrus paribas above). I suppose this is what you refer to when you say "far from proved".

It is the heuristic thoery of the worlds heliophysicists to celebrate the international heliophysical year that the sun is to enter a period of enhanced global cooling the precurser events as predicted in 1983,1995 and 2003 for this solar minima are with us.

This year in NZ will of couse be one of the cloldest in 2 cycles and the reducing worldwide sea temperatures of course since 2003 -2005 and enhaced cooling this year for SST need some explaining.

Posted by maksimovich : 11/03/2006 07:46:00 PM