The most comprehensive review ever carried out on the economics of climate change was published today. The Review, which reports to the Prime Minister and Chancellor, was commissioned by the Chancellor in July last year. It has been carried out by Sir Nicholas Stern, Head of the Government Economic Service and former World Bank Chief Economist.
Sir Nicholas said today:
"The conclusion of the Review is essentially optimistic. There is still time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, if we act now and act internationally. Governments, businesses and individuals all need to work together to respond to the challenge. Strong, deliberate policy choices by governments are essential to motivate change.
"But the task is urgent. Delaying action, even by a decade or two, will take us into dangerous territory. We must not let this window of opportunity close."
Impacts and risks from uncontrolled climate change
The first half of the Review focuses on the impacts and risks arising from uncontrolled climate change, and on the costs and opportunities associated with action to tackle it. A sound understanding of the economics of risk is critical here. The Review emphasises that economic models over timescales of centuries do not offer precise forecasts - but they are an important way to illustrate the scale of effects we might see.
The Review estimates that the dangers could be equivalent to 20 per cent of GDP or more.
In contrast, the costs of action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change can be limited to around 1 per cent of global GDP each year. People would pay a little more for carbon-intensive goods, but our economies could continue to grow strongly.
If we take no action to control emissions, each tonne of CO2 that we emit now is causing damage worth at least $85 - but these costs are not included when investors and consumers make decisions about how to spend their money. Emerging schemes that allow people to trade reductions in CO2 have demonstrated that there are many opportunities to cut emissions for less than $25 a tonne. In other words, reducing emissions will make us better off. According to one measure, the benefits over time of actions to shift the world onto a low-carbon path could be in the order of $2.5 trillion each year.
The shift to a low-carbon economy will also bring huge opportunities. Markets for low-carbon technologies will be worth at least $500bn, and perhaps much more, by 2050 if the world acts on the scale required.
Tackling climate change is the pro-growth strategy; ignoring it will ultimately undermine economic growth.
Moving to a low-carbon global economy
The second half of the Review examines the national and international policy challenges of moving to a low-carbon global economy.
Climate change is the greatest market failure the world has seen. Three elements of policy are required for an effective response.
The first is carbon pricing, through taxation, emissions trading or regulation, so that people are faced with the full social costs of their actions. The aim should be to build a common global carbon price across countries and sectors.
The second is technology policy, to drive the development and deployment at scale of a range of low-carbon and high-efficiency products. And the third is action to remove barriers to energy efficiency, and to inform, educate and persuade individuals about what they can do to respond to climate change. Fostering a shared understanding of the nature of climate change, and its consequences, is critical in shaping behaviour, as well as in underpinning both national and international action.
Effective action requires a global policy response, guided by a common international understanding of the long-term goals for climate policy and strong frameworks for co-operation. Key elements of future international frameworks should include:
- Emissions trading
- Technology co-operation
- Action to reduce deforestation
You can find more information on the UK HM Treasury department website.