Report: Global warming will devastate world economy

Britain issues sweeping report warning earth faces economic calamity on scale of world wars unless urgent action is taken.

October 31, 2006 10:29
Report: Global warming will devastate world economy

glacier 88. (photo credit: )


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Raising the stakes in the global warming dispute with the United States and China, Britain has issued a sweeping report warning that the earth faces an economic calamity on the scale of the world wars and the Great Depression unless urgent action is taken. The British government also said Monday it would be getting advice on climate change from former US Vice President Al Gore, who has emerged as a powerful environmental spokesman since his defeat in America's 2000 presidential election _ a clear indication of Prime Minister Tony Blair's growing dissatisfaction with US environmental policy. The 700-page "The Economics of Climate Change" report tries to persuade the world that environmentalism and economic growth can go hand in hand in the battle against global warming. But it also says that if no action is taken, rising sea levels, heavier floods and more intense droughts could leave 200 million people displaced by the middle of the century. The report, which does not contain any new scientific analysis, said unabated climate change would eventually cost the world the equivalent of between 5 percent and 20 percent of global gross domestic product each year. The report by Stern, a former chief World Bank economist, represents a huge contrast to the U.S. government's wait-and-see global warming policies. Blair called for "bold and decisive action" to cut carbon emissions and stem the worst of the temperature rise. Report author Sir Nicholas Stern, a senior government economist, said that acting now to cut greenhouse gas emissions would cost about 1 percent of global GDP each year. "The benefits of strong, early action considerably outweigh the costs," he said. "We can grow and be green." Blair, Stern and Treasury chief Gordon Brown, who commissioned the Stern report, emphasized that the battle against global warming can only succeed with the cooperation of major countries such as the United States and China. Gore's office said that in his unpaid role as an adviser, he would offer Britain's Treasury his thoughts on developments in climate change science, new technologies for cutting emissions and ways of making the needed changes happen quickly. US President George W. Bush kept America - by far the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide and other gases blamed for global warming - out of the Kyoto international treaty to reduce greenhouse gases, saying the pact would harm the US economy. The international agreement was reached in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 and expires in 2012. Environmentalists, many of whom welcomed the Stern report as a needed "wake-up call," have said the Kyoto accord must be replaced by a more binding commitment. Blair, Bush's top ally in the Iraq war, has indicated that when it comes to the environment Bush's policies on climate change are unacceptable. The prime minister made that clear when he signed an agreement this year with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to develop new technologies to combat the problem. The measure imposed the first emissions cap in the United States on utilities, refineries and manufacturing plants in a bid to curb the gases that scientists blame for warming the Earth. The Stern report praised US states such as California for developing their own objectives and policy frameworks regarding the battle against global warming. At a news conference, Stern said US cooperation is vital in the battle against global warming, and Britain's foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, said she would advise the Bush administration that climate change is an "urgent issue that has to be tackled." But Blair and the report also said that no matter what Britain, the United States and Japan do, the battle against global warming cannot succeed without deciding when and how to control the large greenhouse gas emissions by such fast-industrializing giants as China and India. "Britain is more than playing its part. But it is 2 percent of worldwide emissions. Close down all, all of Britain's emissions and in less than two years just the growth in China's emissions would wipe out the difference," Blair said. The Stern report said at current trends average global temperatures will rise by 2 degrees to 3 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) within the next 50 years or so, and the earth will experience several degrees more of warming if the emissions continue to grow. It said such warming can have severe impact, including melting glaciers, rising sea levels, declining crop yields, new shortages of drinking water, higher death tolls from malnutrition and heat stress, and more widespread outbreaks of malaria and dengue fever. Developing countries often would be the hardest hit. Many major world cities could be at risk of flooding from coastal surges, including New York, Miami, London, Tokyo, Shanghai, China, Mumbai, India, Buenos Aires, Argentina and St. Petersburg, Russia, the study said. Stern's report said evidence showed "that ignoring climate change will eventually damage economic growth." "Our actions over the coming 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," it said. "Using the results from formal economic models, the review estimates that if we don't act, the overall costs and risks of climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5 percent of global GDP each year, now and forever. If a wider range of risks and impacts is taken into account, the estimates of damage could rise to 20 percent of GDP or more." But the report acknowledged that its predictions regarding GDP used calculations that had to rely on sparse or nonexistent observational data about high temperatures and developing countries, and to place monetary values on human health and the environment, "which is conceptually, ethically and empirically very difficult." Stern said the world must shift to a "low-carbon global economy" through measures including taxation, regulation of greenhouse gas emissions and carbon trading. In a world where fossil fuels provide about 80 percent of the energy supply, he recommended a halt to deforestation; stepped-up development of technology aimed at clean power, heat and transportation; plans for deep cuts in the transport sector; and the development of extensive ways of capturing and storing greenhouse gas emissions. The British government is considering new "green taxes" on cheap airline flights, fuel and high-emission vehicles. It also announced legislation Monday that would set a goal of cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 60 percent from 1990 levels by 2050. Under the 1997 Kyoto accord, 35 industrialized nations committed to reducing emissions by an average 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. But Britain is one of only a handful of industrialized nations whose greenhouse gas emissions have fallen in the last decade and a half, the United Nations said Monday. The U.N. said Germany's emissions dropped 17 percent between 1990 and 2004, Britain's by 14 percent and France's by almost 1 percent. Overall, there was a 2.4 percent rise in emissions by 41 industrialized nations from 2000 to 2004, mostly because former Soviet-bloc countries, whose emissions declined in their economic downturn of the 1990s, increased emissions during the recent four-year period by 4.1 percent. Stern is scheduled to discuss his report next week with the annual UN Climate Change Conference in Nairobi, Kenya.

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