So what does the Stern Report mean for the world?

A A A


What is the Stern report, and what's so special about it?

It is the first really comprehensive review of the economics of climate change. For nearly 20 years it has been the science of climate change that has made all the headlines, as the world gradually realised that the continuing accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere was causing global temperatures to rise remorselessly. We have heard about disappearing glaciers, catastrophic floods and fatal heatwaves, and we have heard of dire predictions of worse to come in the future. We've heard a thousand calls to action, to stop global warming happening. But what would that cost the world? And what would doing nothing cost us? Hitherto, no one had any real idea. But now Sir Nicholas Stern and his team have come up with concrete numbers.

Does the report have a key conclusion?

Yes. That although dealing with global warming by cutting emissions of greenhouse gases will cost a lot of money - about 1 per cent of the world's gross domestic product, trillions of dollars - doing nothing about it will cost the world an awful lot more, anything from five to 20 times more. We face losing up to a fifth of the world's wealth from unmitigated climate change, says the review - if unchecked, it will devastate the global economy on the scale of the Great Depression or the 20th century's world wars.

Why is that conclusion important?

Crucially, because the world's leading climate change sceptics, which comprise the Republican business community in the United States and the Bush administration which so faithfully reflects their views, are against acting to prevent climate change by cutting carbon emissions on the grounds that to do so would damage the US economy. And as the Americans, who have 4 per cent of the world's population, produce nearly a quarter of all the world's greenhouse gases, any effort to fight climate change without them is doomed to failure. The Stern Review says, quite simply, that not acting is actually the much more expensive option. The US will be hit as much as anywhere else.

Will the American sceptics listen to that?

George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Jubilation T Cornpone from the Republican National Committee are not going to go down on their knees and admit they were wrong, no. Or at least, not overnight. But the report cannot but have a very widespread and steadily growing influence, partly because of its scope and detail - it is 600 pages long and feels like a doorstep - and also because Sir Nicholas Stern is an immensely prestigious figure. He is not only the head of the Government Economic Service in the UK, he is a former chief economist of the World Bank in Washington. He is an economist, not an environmentalist.

What else does the report tell us that's important?

Another absolutely vital conclusion is that dealing with climate change, even though very costly, need not derail worldwide economic growth. The report stresses that the two are compatible. Major action to mitigate emissions, it says, is "fully consistent with continued growth and development". This will be very welcome to business, and to developmentalists, who for example see growth as Africa's only hope of escaping from poverty. But it will seem counter-intuitive to some more radical environmentalists, who have long contended that the world's remorseless pursuit of ever more riches cannot go hand in hand with solving the world's greatest environmental problem. The "deep greens" feel the way forward is for a different type of economic system based on sufficiency rather than growth. But politicians will be the most relieved of all at the Stern conclusion - Mr Blair made this quite clear yesterday. Where dealing with climate is concerned, the thrust of the Stern Review is this: out goes sackcloth and ashes, in comes having your cake and eating it (as long as you take the problem seriously, now).

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

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links