UK reports that climate change will be as economically devastating as World War II

frontpageingressimage_heavy-chemical-production.jpg Photo: Thomas Nilsen

A study published and commissioned by the British government today has concluded that the potential economical impact on the world economy due to prospective climate change is euqal to that of the devastation of the great depression in the United States in the 1930s and could cost more than either of the 20th century’s world wars.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair told the British media Monday that the report was “the most important information on the future which I have received since becoming prime minister.”

“We are headed toward catastrophic tipping points in our climate unless we act” he said, writing in the tabloid newspaper The Sun, adding that the report’s conclusions were “unequivocal.”

The report said failing to tackle climate change could push world temperatures up by 5 degrees Celsius (9 Fahrenheit) over the next century, causing severe floods and harsh droughts and potentially uprooting as many as 200 million people.

The report was commissioned by Britain’s Finance Minister Gordon Brown and was authored by former World Bank Chief Economist Nicholas Stern. Brown has accepted the report’s primary finding that call vociferously for the establishment of a global market trade in carbon emissions.

Britain is pushing for a post-Kyoto framework that would include the United States – the world’s biggest producer of greenhouse gases that cause climate change – as well as major developing countries such as China and India.

"The Stern review has done a crucial job. It has demolished the last remaining argument for inaction in the face of climate change," said Blair. "We know now urgent action will prevent catastrophe and investment in preventing it now will pay us back many times."

US President George Bush pulled the United States out of the Kyoto Protocol – which obliges 35 rich nations to cut carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels in power plants, factories and cars – in part because Bush said it would the US job market too hard.

Once the Stern report’s conclusions were accepted by Brown, the British Finance Minister proposed the expansion of the European Union’s (EU’s) carbon trading market to include Australia, Japan, Norway, Switzerland, the American State of California, as well as a host of other countries as the foundation for such a global regime.

Shaking up Washington
In an attempt to focus attention on the United States in particular, several British media outlets reported that Brown had recruited former US Vice-President turned prominent environmental campaigner Al Gore as an adviser on the issue.

Gore, who created a stir this year with his climate change documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," will become one of Brown’s recriuts to wake up the slumbering US side.

White House staff had no comment on the report. But the White House press office web site gives prominent play to a report authored by several US geologists, paleontologists and other scientists explaining that world climate change is a natural process occurring every few millennia as the world waxes and wanes in and out of ice ages.

The White House-commissioned report – which came out soon after President George Bush began supporting emissions cuts initiatives in the United States much like those found in the Kyoto protocol – concludes that industry greenhouse gas releases have had little to do with evidence of climate change. Bush has since substantially stepped down his rhetoric pushing for US climate change initiatives.

Economics versus the environment
The Stern report, which runs 700 pages, focuses on the economic as opposed to the environmental consequences of global warming and concludes that inaction against climate change could cost the world as much as 3.7 trillion pounds ($6.9 trillion).

Putting the world on a war footing to combat global climate change will equal some one percent of the world’s gross domestic product – some $350 billion – the report says. The report also recommends doubling expenditures on research and development in studies aimed at preventing climate change to approximately $20 billion, British media reported.

Debate on ‘green taxes’
Analysts predict that the report will spark debate over so-called “green taxes” to leverage a cut in carbon emissions. One probable close-to-home target of such taxes, if adopted, is America’s love affair with SUVs, CNN reported. Such taxes could prove making owning an SUV financially infeasible for many. Under US law, SUVs are exempt from emissions standards imposed on standard passenger vehicles, as their are currently classified as trucks.

But in an effort to emphasise the international consequences of inaction, Blair wrote in his piece in The Sun that the UK Finance Ministry report is the final nail in the coffin in the climate change debate, and that the debate must be given top priority consideration by all world leaders.

Stern called in the report – given the urgency of the problem – for a successor to the Kyoto agreement to be signed not in 2010 or 2011 – as initially envisioned under the climate change protocol – but next year.

International cooperation
Blair said of the report that there is now an opportunity to avert the threat of global warming, concluding: "I hope that politicians and individuals everywhere take it."

The long-awaited report precedes United Nations (UN) climate talks, starting in Nairobi on November 6th, focusing on finding a successor to Kyoto, which ends in 2012.

"Agreement on the key elements of international frameworks for action should be an urgent priority for all areas of government policy," the report said.

British Finance Minister Brown said harnessing the power of markets through a global carbon trading system was one of the best ways to curb the output of polluting gases.

Sharing the platform with Blair and Stern to launch the report today, Brown proposed a new EU target for emissions reductions of 30 percent by 2020 and 60 percent by 2050 and expansion of an existing carbon trading scheme to cover more than half of emissions.

Brown wants the EU scheme, which sets overall limits for carbon emissions to set a global carbon price that fixes a clear cost for pollution.

Brown said the British government would underscore its commitment to tackling climate change by launching a new bill to enshrine its goal of cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 60 percent by 2050.

Stern said that, based on current trends, average global temperatures will rise by 2-3 degrees Celsius within the next approximately 50 years, compared with temperatures during the period between 1750 and 1850.

If emissions continue to grow, the earth could warm by several more degrees, with severe consequences. Poor countries would be worst hit, as melting glaciers initially increase flood risk and then hurt water supplies, eventually threatening one sixth of the world’s population.

"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," the report says.


Charles Digges