Almost 15 years ago, Nick Stern, then head of the Government Economic Service, produced a report on the economics of climate change in which he called the failure to deal with a heating planet the greatest market failure of all time, and argued that the benefits of early action outweighed the costs.
Last week, Professor Stern, now chair of both the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy and the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics, said the threat was today being taken a lot more seriously. There were four reasons for that: first, there was evidence, even with a one degree increase in temperature since pre-industrial times, of the failure to act. “We are seeing some pretty nasty stuff already.”
Second, the scientific evidence was now clear that there was a big difference, for example in the length of droughts,between a 1.5 degree and a two degree increase in temperatures. Third, the education system was producing a generation of young people across the world well versed in climate, sustainability and environmental issues – and they were putting pressure on their parents to act.
Young people wanted to know why the economics profession had been slow to include climate risks into their models, which was a justifiable criticism, Stern said. Only a tiny fraction of the papers published in economics journals has related to sustainability.
Finally, Stern noted, an awareness was growing that there is a more attractive way of doing things. The days of the internal combustion engine were numbered; the cost of solar energy had collapsed; and there had been dramatic advances in battery-storage technology.
Yet the chances are that Glasgow will not deliver as much as the scientists say is necessary. In part that’s because some important countries, including the US, Brazil, Australia and Saudi Arabia most prominently, will resist pressure to make the commitments that are needed.
But it is also because the view from the bottom of the mountain is hazier than the view from the top. Consider why Emmanuel Macron did not show up at Davos this year. The French president took precisely the kind of action deemed necessary to tackle the climate emergency – whacking up the cost of driving fossil-fuelled vehicles – only to find the country erupt into protest. The message to Macron from those on low incomes was clear: don’t talk to us about the end of the world until you have told us how to make ends meet at the end of the month. [Continue reading…]