Stern Responds to Climate Change Critics

The Stern report provided the economic case for global action to tackle climate change, but as with many evidence-issues linked to climate change, it wasn’t without criticism.

The bar has been raised again for critics of climate change, with the release of a new report by Dietz and Stern (2008) calling for even more urgent action to mitigate the effects of climate change. The report makes the case for the ethical implications of inaction too, and calls for a far-reaching global political agreement on green house gas targets.

Like the previous report, the new report emphasises how the cost of mitigating climate change is far less than having to cope with the effects. The authors predict temperatures could rise by up to five degrees centigrade if a ‘business as usual’ approach is taken. This could have extreme consequences such as the loss of the thermohaline circulation and the total collapse of the ice sheets.

In addition to the ethical case concerning the negative impacts on the developing world as a result of inaction by the developed world, it is unethical leaving future generations to cover the costs imposed by the present generation, say the authors.

450-550ppm CO2e (a measure that encompasses the effect of all known GHGs) is the recommended upper limit of greenhouse gas emissions the world should allow, the review says.
550ppm is the point at which the world could warm to four degrees centigrade, well worth avoiding since agricultural output would be
severely affected, and major cities and international ports could become inundated.

So far, the USA under Republican leadership has been extremely reluctant to commit to binding GHG agreements. If the president elect, Barack Obama commits to pledges made to tackle climate change in the run-up to the US election, it might be easier to get the rest of the world on board. This may well require a bi-lateral agreement between the US and China, the world’s second biggest polluter, so that neither country is at an economic disadvantage as a result of measures taken to tackle climate change. Greater investment in low-emission technology can boost a nation’s economy whilst tackling climate change at the same time. However scientists must continue to make the case for mitigating climate change, in order to affect the necessary change at the policy level.

See the European Commission website for further details

To access the IPCC Fourth Assessment report – Climate Change 2007

Reference: Dietz, S. and Stern, N. (2008). Why Economic Analysis Supports Strong Action on Climate Change: A Response to the Stern Review‘s Critics. Review of Environmental Economics and Policy. Doi:10.1093/reep/ren001.