'Almost too late' to stop a global catastrophe

A A A

The possibility of avoiding a global catastrophe is "already almost out of reach", Sir Nicholas Stern's long-awaited report on climate change will warn today. One terrifying prospect is that changes in weather patterns could drive down the output of the world's economies by an amount equivalent to up to £6 trillion a year by 2050, almost the entire output of the EU.

With world temperatures on course to rise by two to three degrees in 50 years, rainfall could be catastrophically reduced in some of the world's poorest countries, while others grapple with floods from melting glaciers. The result could be the largest migration of refugees in history.

These problems will be "difficult or impossible to reverse" unless the world acts quickly, Sir Nicholas will warn, in a 700-page report that is expected to transform world attitudes to climate change. It adds: "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."

But the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, and Environment Secretary, David Miliband, will emphasise the positive message accompanying Sir Nicholas's stark warnings, because the report will also say that the world already has the means to avert catastrophe on this scale, although it will involve the huge expense of 1 per cent of global GDP (£0.3trn).

"The second half of his message is that the technology does exist, the financing, public and private, does exist, and the international mechanisms also exist to get to grips with this problem - so I don't think it's a catastrophe that he puts forward. It's a challenging message," Mr Miliband said.

Combating climate change could become one of the world's biggest growth industries, generating around £250bnof business globally by 2050. Sir Nicholas's report calls for a rapid increase in research and development of low carbon technologies, and in "carbon capture", which involves putting carbon emissions into underground storage rather than pumping them into the atmosphere.

Mr Brown will write to EU finance ministers today urging a major expansion of the carbon trading scheme which penalises businesses that contribute excessively to the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. One issue he will raise is whether the scheme should be extended to cover aviation, one of the fastest expanding sources of carbon.

But the prospect of consumers having to pay higher fuel duty and other "green" taxes threatened to engulf Mr Miliband in political controversy yesterday, after a letter he wrote to Mr Brown earlier this month was leaked to The Mail on Sunday.

Mr Miliband urged that when oil prices drop, the tax on petrol should rise so that the cost to the motorist remains the same. He also suggested a higher road tax on vehicles such as 4x4s with high fuel consumption, a switch to road pricing so that motorists pay tax per mile, and that the tax system be used to encourage people to switch to energy-saving household goods such as more efficient light bulbs and washing machines.

Mr Miliband insisted his ideas were not intended to give the Government new ways to raise extra tax. "We're using mechanisms available to government to help change behaviour. They're not fundamentally there to raise revenue," he told BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend.

Mr Miliband's proposals provoked a storm of protest from businesses, but they also presented a dilemma for the Conservative leader, David Cameron, who has frequently called for "green" taxes without giving details of what they ought to be.

Yesterday he said his policies "may mean taxing air travel", but refused to be drawn further. Interviewed on BBC 1's The Politics Show, he said: "I think green taxes as a whole need to go up and I think we need to be very careful that the green taxes we put up aren't too regressive. I don't want to get more specific than that."

The Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, poured scorn on any suggestion that there is a painless solution to global warming. "Nothing but hard choices will do," he said.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Maths Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

Maths Teacher

£22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week