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Stern advice for Copenhagen

stern cover.jpgEconomist Nicholas Stern released his new book just a couple of weeks ago, in which he updates his assessment of the costs of tackling climate change from his 2006 review for the UK government. In Blueprint for a Safer Planet, Stern frames this as an affordable, effective global deal that could be adopted at the UN negotiations in Copenhagen in December.

Fellow economist Frank Ackerman, who has written extensively on the costs of climate change, and who has critiqued Stern’s 2006 Review, gives his take on the new book over on Nature Reports Climate Change. Here are are some excerpts on the science. Ackerman writes:

Stern’s latest offering updates his arguments from 2006. For a start, the science has grown even more ominous, prompting him to revise his recommendation for the upper limit at which we should aim to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations. Now he says they should be held below 500 parts per million (p.p.m.) of CO2-equivalent (roughly 450 p.p.m. of CO2 alone) — compared to 550 p.p.m. CO2-equivalent in the Stern Review — and then reduced further over time if necessary.

Ackerman later questions whether Stern’s analysis understates the severity of the problem and the extent of the action required:

Climatologist James Hansen, among others, has argued that stabilizing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations at 450 p.p.m. would leave them at a dangerously high level and has called for a safer limit of 350 p.p.m. Stern responds that his global deal, putting us on track to 450 p.p.m., is at the outer limits of what is politically feasible in the near term; achieving Stern’s goals for 2050 would position us to revise global targets downward in the future, if needed.

Overall, Ackerman gives the book the thumbs up, writing:

This book is not fundamentally aimed at advancing knowledge of either science or economics. Rather, it uses what we know about those fields as the basis for a sweeping policy proposal. With the Copenhagen conference fast approaching, the book outlines a vision for a global deal that could be acceptable to all major parties to the negotiations.

His conclusion highlights the striking congruence between parts of the Stern proposals and parts of UK climate policy:

It is not clear which came first: earlier government policies may have shaped Stern’s sense of what is possible; conversely, the Stern Review has served as a basis for revisions of some government positions. Coming from a country that has done less on the issue than Britain to date, I don’t view this as a mark against either Stern or his government. The British Empire was rarely so skilfully and persuasively served by its citizens and scholars.

Read the review in full here.

Olive Heffernan


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    Nell said:

    Experts need to quit pussy footing around and tell the world’s population what’s going to happen if we wait.

    Point to the fires and drought in Australia. Publish more maps of lands that will be inundated when sea levels rise.

    It’s time for us to be afraid!

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