Assertion, unsupported by fact, is nugatory. Surmise and general abuse, in however elegant language, ought not to pass for truth. Junius

2006/10/27

Getting Real on Climate Change

Nick Stern --- Sir Nicholas Stern, to be correct --- is one of those heavy duty British civil servants with a loaded curriculum vitae, and qualifications to match: educated at Oxford and Cambridge, professor at the London School of Economics, Chief Economist and Vice President of the World Bank, and now an advisor to the British government on climate change and development. Not one, you would think, who would be a fly-off-the handle wacko enviromentalist. Yet I will guarantee you that by this time next week he will be thus labelled by certain sections of right wing opinion.

From the Independent yesterday:

Global warming could cost the world's economies up to 20 per cent of their gross domestic product (GDP) if urgent action is not taken to stop floods, storms and natural catastrophes.

That stark warning was given to Tony Blair and his cabinet yesterday by Sir Nicholas Stern, a former World Bank economist, and is said to have left cabinet ministers chastened by the magnitude of the threat posed by climate change.

In a preview of a report he is to deliver next Monday, Sir Nicholas told the Cabinet the world would have to pay 1 per cent of its annual GDP to avert catastrophe. But doing nothing could cost 5 to 20 times that amount. He told them: "Business- as-usual will derail growth."

The massive 700-page report - commissioned by the Chancellor, Gordon Brown - was described as "hard-headed" and "frighteningly convincing". It focused on the economic peril now confronting the world, unless action was taken to combat harmful CO2 emissions that contribute to global warming.

"He left no one in any doubt that doing nothing is not an option," said one Whitehall source. "And he stressed that the need for action was urgent."

His review could be a watershed in overcoming scepticism about the existence of global warming. "It was hard-headed," said another source. "It didn't deal in sandals and brown rice. It stuck to the economics."

Mr Brown believes it could force the oil-dominated White House of George Bush to concede the importance of action to curb climate change. One minister who was present said it destroyed the US government's well known argument that cutting carbon emissions was bad for business.

His report, covering the period up to 2100, warns that climate change could cause the biggest recession since the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression. A downturn of that magnitude would have "catastrophic consequences" around the globe, with the poorest countries hit first and hardest, Sir Nicholas told the Cabinet. Insurance analysts, who submitted their evidence for his report, said they feared insurance claims could exceed the world's GDP.


But, there is some good news, according to the Guardian:

Sir Nicholas will argue that tackling the problem may not prove as economically painful as some experts predict. Investment in low-carbon technologies could stimulate the global economy. Sir David [King, the British government's Chief Scientific Advisor] said: "[Stern's] analysis, I think, will also surprise many people in terms of the relatively small cost of action . . . The massive investment programme that's ahead of us is an opportunity for us to move towards a zero carbon energy system. The investment process is going to act quite possibly in the opposite direction to an economic downturn."

In speaking of the forthcoming report, David King added the following:

"In my view this is the biggest challenge our global political system has ever been faced with. We've never been faced with a decision where collective decision making is required by all major countries . . . Actions being asked of the political system today are only going to play through into mid-century and beyond. So for the first time we are asking a global political system to make decisions around risks to their populations that are well outside the time period of any election process."

Which brings us to the much ballyhooed "balance" of the federal government's new Clean Air Act, the Act which promises to address the challenges and opportunities of global climate change by freeing us all of mold and mildew around the home. A reality check, perhaps?

Given the huge scope of what's required, nationally and globally, do you think the government could have given us --- well, more? More vision, more leadership, more responsibility, a chance to establish Canada in the front rank of nations dealing with climate change and in developing green technologies? Or even seizing opportunities to increase our prosperity?

In fact, isn't this just the "change of attitude" on Canada'a place in the world that Canada's New Government was hoping to generate?

Apparently not. Reality and Conservative Party rhetoric are two different animals, matter and anti-matter, occupying space in parallel universes.

So instead we have half-hearted half-measures --- "real and measurable targets" --- by a government that believes that climate change issue is a matter for PR flummery: mandatory greenhouse gas reductions in 44 years, mysterious "intensity targets" that will actually increase the amount of CO2 emissions, controls on ATVs and appliances, weak auto exhaust standards, and an "historical" three part consultation process with industry, evidently designed to consume a forest the size of Prince Edward Island in paper --- all of which amounts to a mash note to business. The fact that industry --- especially oil producers --- are applauding these measures is telling in itself.

Or maybe the government believes that in the grand scheme of the universe, our greenhouse gas emissions amount to a big bucket of nothing. So we might as well, goes the argument, whoop it up while we can. As Red Tory points out today, "Our collective insignificance is highly interesting."

And that's where the government would have you believe we belong.

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